Ugly Compliments: The Not-So-Great Animal
It was there when I woke up.
A message in my DMs from someone on my social periphery. Although we share some mutuals, I’m not really friends with this person. Regardless, it wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility for them to have… some valid, albeit loose reason to contact me, I supposed.
I didn’t check it right away because it was 6:30 am and I try to avoid any conversation, even virtual ones, until I’ve gotten the blood flowing through my limbs and my brain has woken up a bit. That said, because I put a picture of my face that I quite liked up on social media the day prior, I had a few notifications that tempted me to immediately pull up my browser.
I’m not sorry. My ego is weak and it was a good picture. I wanted to bask in immediate validation from my friends and family. So I went in to see what the people were saying.
That was when I noticed a public comment from the person who had sent me the aforementioned DM, the tone of which led me to believe that the private message waiting for me might be a proper DM slide.
Naturally, my intuition was right on track.
But first! Some rambling preamble.
One of my favourite movies from my childhood is the somewhat obscure, animated Disney-esque, pseudo-cult classic from the 90s, The Swan Princess. (If you’re not familiar, I highly recommend so you can appreciate all the references in this post.)
One scene in particular, which is crucial to creating conflict in the romance arc, left a lasting impression on Baby Jayne. But not for the reasons you might think.
In it, our heroine, Princess Odette is all grown up and she’s an absolute stunner. Total bombshell. She didn’t start out that way though. In her younger years, she was a feisty, tomboyish, ‘takes no shit from the boys’ kind of girl. (So, y’know, very cool and the kind of girl I either aspired to be or crushed super hard on.) But now that she also has a full rack and long, lush golden hair, she’s also hot. No longer an ugly duckling, yay!
As she’s having her first public dance with her betrothed—the lanky tween-cum-hockey haired hunk, Prince Derek—Odette asks him what he likes about her. There was an entire parade of other princesses for him to choose from, after all. How did he decide that she’s the one he wants to marry?
Dreamboat Derek says simply that she’s all he’s ever wanted! “You’re beautiful!” he exclaims.
OMG swoon, right?!
But Odette is a future queen in every sense of the word and she knows it. She politely thanks him for his comment, and then asks him “what else” he likes about her. Derek is confused by this question, so she digs in.
“Is beauty all that matters to you?” she asks.
Then Derek shoves both feet into his mouth and stammers a, “Wh-what… else… is there?”
Odette promptly kills their romantic waltz and leaves Derek in the dust because she has no time for anyone who can’t see her as more than boobs on sticks.
Looking back, that scene really set a big mood precedent. To this day, I really can’t get behind these so-called compliments about female ‘beauty’ because if you ask me, they’re not what they seem.
(To anyone who caught that reference, my DMs are wide open JUST FOR YOU.)
Which leads us back to the recent situation:
I reminded my Facebook community of my existence when I put up a picture of my cute boyish face. In doing so, I attracted the attention of someone who took it as an invitation to make a flirtatious advance.
“I hope you know your [sic] beyond beautiful,” the message read, “if you don’t, let me prove you differently. Date night when?”
We need to read a little between the lines of drunken stupor—(it came in at 2:34 am)—but the message is clear enough. No malice or ill-intent. Just a guy who thinks a girl is cute in her recent picture and thought he’d take a chance on chatting her up.
That part’s fine. But let’s break it down further.
It doesn’t matter who this guy is. At this point, he’s just any guy. (Actually, let’s be honest — he’s our old pal, Guy at the Bar™)
There is nothing inherently wrong with what Guy did — taking a gamble on asking someone out. After all, not asking is the surest fire way to never get a date.
It’s not that he asked that rubbed me the wrong way. It’s more about the how and the speculated why.
First off, he didn’t so much ask as he told me we were going to go out. I realize that some people actually really dig that kind of bravado. And that’s cool; I don’t disparage you if you’re a fan of that technique. It’s nice when it’s welcome (which, I concede, is not always easy to assess before you make the play). I’ve even used this level of boldness myself in the pursuit of others, with varying degrees of success. However, context is everything and within ours, this wasn’t so much bold as it was a little tone deaf.
But let’s even pretend I’m over-reacting to that part. The real issue lies wherein he tells me that he hopes that I know that I’m beautiful, but if I don’t, that he’ll “prove” it to me.
*eye rolls forever*
Before you pass your reactionary judgment on my hysterical backlash to what you might think is a simple compliment, hear me out.
A compliment is an expression of admiration or praise that is given generously and, ideally, without expectation. It’s a beautiful thing to gift to someone, be they strangers or long-standing friends. Using a ‘compliment’ as a means to buy a ride on the Jayne-mobile? Sorry, your currency is no good here, sir.
Because there’s an underlying insinuation that I need a man to validate my attractiveness, my sex appeal, my ‘beauty’… which is just so sinister. The even deeper implications are that because I’m a woman, I might be insecure about my looks (which unfortunately and statistically could be true); that those insecurities can then be used to manipulate me into bed with a virtual stranger.
And that because a man is attracted to me, my attractiveness exists because and for him, so I just should give him what he is thereby owed in order to validate my existence.
No. Like Princess Odette, this queen does not abide.
I know Guy wasn’t thinking about any of that and didn’t mean any harm in what I’m sure he genuinely considered a harmless message. I know none of this would have crossed his mind sober, never mind in whatever state he was at 2:34 am.
But his privilege-soaked fuckboy ignorance doesn’t change how it makes me feel.
And it makes me feel a lot.
First off, thank you for your concern, Guy. I do know that I’m beautiful. To accept and admit that puts me at risk of being called a stuck-up bitch, but I’mma do it anyways. Because I haven’t always loved my whole self as much as I do today. I’ve worked fucking hard to get here. And I continue to try and maintain a certain level of self-appreciation for the sake of my general wellbeing, so thank you for noticing my efforts.
But I fear you might be missing the mark… Like Odette, I ask ‘What else?’
Beauty is so much more than a nice meat-suit, so I know I’ll be beautiful forever. But I know that you, Guy, wouldn’t use that particular word in that way when I’m 70—don’t you dare @ me.
I know that when you say I’m ‘beautiful’ in this context, what you mean is that you consider my youthful fertility and overall sex appeal attractive; that you consider me fuckable.
Because what more could you possibly mean? You barely know me from Eve—we’ve never had a conversation that grazed the surface, never mind scratched it for you to know how beautiful I really am! Ergo, you merely telling me I have nice wrapping paper is never going to be enough for me to even consider letting you unwrap this gift.
On the other hand…
Like almost everything except, like, the law of gravity or obtaining consent from your sexual partners, this is not a hard and fast rule.
I might sound like I’m contradicting myself, but again—context.
Compliments are in and of themselves a beautiful thing. I love giving and receiving (actual) compliments. And encourage everyone to try it. That act of taking the moment to tell someone that you think that how they’re living their life and strutting their stuff is pretty rad, is pretty rad! The world right can use all the good vibes it can get, and it’s and important part to enriching a relationship at any stage—even if it’s just with the lady with the really cool earrings you pass in the street.
I will absolutely keep gushing over how beautiful my lovers and friends are to their faces. When I notice something big or small in someone I love, from a new hair cut to the colour their eyes seem to take on because of what the weather is doing to “I’ve always liked that shirt” 6 years into a relationship? I do it. Because it feels good. Both to offer them that gift, and feel the way they receive it. Just like I’ll appreciate it to no end when my loved ones offer me such words in kind. When a lover tells me I’m gorgeous, it definitely turns me on.
There is absolutely power in a genuine compliment. From that lady on the street to your partner of 20 years—it feels good to soak in the frequencies of those sentiments that are put out generously and without expectation.
Because it’s an act of love.
It’s not a tool to crowbar me into your bed for the first time. Using someone’s ‘beauty’ as a courtship manipulation or the currency for a sexual transaction is fucked social conditioning that I am so over.
And finally, a lament from the word nerd in me: ’Beautiful’ is a such a nuanced, comprehensive thing. Using it to mean ‘young and fuckable’ is a bastardization of that word’s power—its beauty, if you will—and essentially turns it into something, well… ugly.
As I went on this thought journey and peeled back all the layers, I think I was finally able to excavate what really upset me so much about this.
It’s not the sheer audacity of male privilege that has felt especially potent on a global scale right now. It’s not my assumed womanly weakness being used against me to trip me into bed. It’s not the patriarchal objectification of my physical body. It’s not even the awkwardness I’m going to be forced to face next time our extended friend group gets together because Guy was drunk and horny and has never had to consider the consequences of his flippant actions towards women who pique his interest for a passing minute in the middle of the night.
It’s that this level of ignorance and presumptuousness translates to a kind of slight to not only me, but to all the people I love as well. And that really pisses me off.
I have surrounded myself with some truly beautiful humans, which is also a reflection of my self-perception. My years of conscious, deliberate practice of finding (REAL) beauty in others has contributed massively to help me uncover and own what I love about myself now.
Today, I have several non-sexual, deeply loving relationships that transcend anything I ever thought I knew about love and friendship. I have many sexual partners whom I love and appreciate to varying degrees, who have also enriched my life in varying, important ways.
All of them—nuanced, layered relationships with truly gorgeous people who have helped me find the strength and permission to figure out what it means to be me today.
To assume that I don’t know I’m beautiful and that I need you to prove it to me is monumentally pompous and a huge discredit to me, a confident human in progress, and the people who mutually support and encourage that power.
My beauty can’t exist without all the beauties I have around me to mirror it back. And to use that as a means to ply me for penetration…
Ugh. It’s just so gross.
How dare you think that fluffing me up by playing on insecurities you assume I have because of my gender/age/the fact that I put a picture up on Facebook/something I wore one night will be enough for me to drop any and all standards so you can get your dick wet.
But even more than that, HOW DARE YOU then also by proxy insult the genuinely beautiful humans in my life, some of most truly beautiful humans I have ever known, who contribute to the energy you’re now trying to leech from me with your asinine throwaway drunken message.
Again, I know that no Guy is coming at me with insidious intent. But there is a massive lack of self-awareness that allows people who are just looking to score to make these kinds of moves on others, and I take it as a slap to my own face as well as my entire love web.
And maybe that’s a weird way of feeling about it, but I can’t help how intensely and fiercely I love my people, and now myself. That’s just where I was taken by this unexpectedly impassioning trigger.
This is not to discourage anyone from taking a chance and making the bold move of asking that cute person out. And it’s definitely not to discourage you from offering nice compliments (without the misguided expectation of return compensation!) to others.
In fact, I encourage you to do that more than you already are because it’s sure to make someone’s day and that will make you feel good too.
But I’m a Swan Princess, baby. I know I’m beautiful. And if you can’t give me a stellar answer to “What else?” you better believe I’m just going to make like Odette and fly away.