Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the evil sister of the back-handed compliment- what I like to call “the rude comment”. A back-handed compliment can be described as “a phrase that sounds like a compliment at first, but is actually an insult in disguise”. Examples that have been said to me recently include:
- “You’re lucky you’re so skinny- you can probably shop in the kid’s section!”
- “Have you considered acting? You have such a unique look- they would love you!”
- “Your hair is so long- have you ever thought of donating it?”
Saying that I’m skinny is usually seen as a compliment in our society, but shopping in the kid’s section as a grown woman is seen as embarrassing. Telling me I should look into acting is a compliment, but saying I have a unique look implies I’m weird-looking. Complimenting me on the length of my hair is a compliment, but to tell me that having long hair means I should automatically donate it is somewhat of an insult. There are things I can’t control (like being naturally skinny) and things I can (like the length of my hair), but neither of those gives you the right for these snappy judgments.
Which brings me to the topic of the “rude comment”, which is when someone glosses over their insult with some flowery words and a smile. Usually the person is an acquaintance and sometimes they are even a family member or friend. Lately, and as far back as college, I’ve been receiving one rude comment in particular. It comes in the form of a question and usually is phrased as “Who are you trying to impress?”
Example 1: Back in my sophomore year of college, I became friendly with a girl who I had 2 classes with during fall semester. We would talk while walking back from class twice a week, so we got to know each other pretty well. She loved to complain about all her boy drama. She complained about having to look perfect every time she was in public so guys would notice her (including never wearing sweatpants in public, always having her makeup done, and religiously hitting the gym). One day after a rant about all of the issues I just listed, she turned to me and said, “You’re so lucky you don’t have to worry about this stuff, since you have a boyfriend and don’t have anyone to impress”.
The context and way in which she said it came off as “You can look ugly and not care about yourself since you’re in a relationship, but my standards as a single girl are set much higher”. It hurt a little, but I knew she wasn’t being malicious so I understood. She was just an insecure girl who said something she shouldn’t have.
Example 2: Although this isn’t a specific example, rather a mash-up of a few, there are many times where my appearance comes into play with the “Who are you trying to impress” line. One time I curled my hair and then went to a basketball game. My then-friend snapped at me, wondering why I was primping myself to look good for a stupid basketball game. I didn’t realize it was a crime to curl my hair and want it to look nice. Who knew!?
When I wear a nice dress for a night out and all the other girls end up wearing jeans, they’ll playfully ask who I’m trying to impress with my dress. The truth is, I’m looking nice because I want to. I like wearing certain clothes- including a dress that might be tighter. I like wearing makeup. I like doing my hair. I like all of those things, but that doesn’t mean I’m doing them for someone else. It doesn’t mean I’m superficial and it certainly doesn’t warrant judgmental comments.
I wish more people would realize that just because you are a. in a relationship, and b. like to dress nice and wear makeup, doesn’t mean you are or aren’t trying to impress anyone. Asking me “Who are you trying to look good for- you have a boyfriend?” or “Why are you wearing that?” comes off as rude and doesn’t make me value your friendship or opinion all that much.
Has this ever happened to you? What is the best (or worst) back-handed compliment or rude comment you’ve received?