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Do you default compliment on people’s appearance? What if always leaning on the “you’re beautiful” or “you look nice” or my fave (insert eye-roll) “you’re looking fit/ healthy/ strong” (as if those are things you can see) is not the feel-good antidote to the body negative world we live in? What if there’s something way more important?!

In this blog, I want to tiptoe into the waters of self-objectification and body image, and how we can strike a balance with our complimenting ways. My hope is you’ll consider adding some non-physical compliments to your repertoire such that those you love feel valued for the person they are (rather than just the body they inhabit).

The other day I saw a friend that I hadn’t seen in real life since pre-pandemic. The first thing she said to me? You’re looking so great!

I know she meant it kindly. And I was looking pretty cute. Rocking my fave wide-legged cropped jeans, an easy-breezy linen top, and my fave dangly earrings. I was feeling pretty boho chic! Some might say with the effort I put in, I should be happy she complimented my physical appearance. Shouldn’t I?

I mean it did feel good. Positive compliments generally do.

But as I’ve explored more of the research around body image, and the costs of self-objectification (nerd alert), I’ve begun to question whether the aesthetic focus of most complimenting is worth reconsidering. Because ultimately, when our compliments are always aesthetically driven it leaves us feeling (often subconsciously) like our body is the most important thing about us.

Obviously, we don’t want our loved ones feeling that way – because we think they’re awesome on the inside too! But what’s the answer? Do we have to stop aesthetic-based compliments altogether? Because let’s be honest… a compliment on your cute outfit, your hair, or that you’re looking beautiful today – it does feel good.

It’s a conundrum right?! Let’s dig in.

What’s wrong with appearance compliments?

Nothing, per se. There’s actually some cool research that would suggest that some aesthetic compliments, given genuinely with the right intention can make someone feel good. But, there’s way more to this conversation.

The challenge with appearance-based compliments is that as a cultural collective they predominate our complimenting ways. Take a minute and reflect on the compliments you’ve received in the last 24 hours or week. What were they? What did they focus on?

I’m willing to bet that the majority of them were appearance-based, and many of them off-the-cuff cursory compliments. You know the type, the bounce back compliment (when someone compliments one person they immediately find something to compliment the other on). Or the nearly reflexive appearance based compliment when you see someone you haven’t for some time or if you’re out for a special event.

Listen, I’m not suggesting we have to do away with all compliments, just consider how we might balance our appearance based compliments with non-appearance based ones.

Why?

As I shared earlier, focusing on someone’s aesthetic is ultimately objectifying them. And when you are consistently objectified, one of the outcomes is an internalization of this objectification called self-objectification (ie. viewing your body as a third party). Not only does self-objectification (think: that internal CNN ticker tape of commentary about what your body looks like) eat up your mental real estate, self-objectification is correlated with negative body image, increased body shame, appearance anxiety, depression, and (no surprise) eating disorders. For more on self-objectification and what it costs us read this blog. Today I want to focus on what we can do, instead.

What we can do instead: give non-physical compliments!

Rather than consistently lean on traditional physically grounded aesthetic compilments, consider using a non-physical compliment. A while ago there was a fabulous post going around from therapist Sara Kuburic. It was a simple list of non-physical compliments. And it inspired this blog and this list.

Here’s a list of non-physical compliments to inspire you:

  • I appreciate you.
  • I love your energy!
  • Thank you for your presence.
  • You are so kind.
  • I really admire your adventurous spirit.
  • I constantly learn from you.
  • You make me feel so fabulous.
  • You are such a good listener. I always feel heard.
  • I appreciate how authentically you show up
  • Your confidence is something I aspire to
  • You’re such a go-getter.
  • You are so strong!
  • Thank you for showing me how to relax/ rest/ set boundaries.
  • You make me feel like I belong.
  • Your resilience is inspiring.
  • I love that you don’t hesitate to apologize when you’re wrong.
  • I love how transparent you are.
  • Thank you for your vulnerability – you help me feel seen.
  • You bring out the best in me.
  • You’re dependable. I always feel safe around you.
  • I love that you are always learning – and sharing what you learn!
  • Your passion is contagious.
  • I love your enthusiasm.
  • Your dedication is inspiring!

Explore the list, and consider some non-physical compliments that you’d like to give and receive. Then get giving them! And consider having a conversation with those you love about the power of giving them (heck, maybe share this blog with them).

I know what you’re thinking….but Gillian…

What if I want to compliment somebody physically?

Cool! It’s totally ok. Just make sure it’s genuine. And try and strike a balance between physical compliments and non-physical compliments.

Like my friend did. Later in our conversation, she gave me several non-physical compliments about my dedication to my work, my innovative business ideas, and my passion for this work. So I was left feeling truly valued for the person I am, not just the way I look! #winning

Want to explore this idea of self-objectification and reclaiming your power – body, mind, and spirit? Join me for the Super You Mindset. This 12-week course dives into ALL the juicy goodness and so much more. Learn more here.