Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Compliments from strangers

There is this thing that happens to me when I'm out and about doing things in the world, and I've been trying to find the words for it for quite some time. Recently, my friend wrote about the difference between being pretty and being beautiful. I'd never been able to put into words what she expressed but it is very true. I like to think that when I'm wandering abour the world, that I see glimpses of people's beautiful--complete strangers usually.

There is a running commentary in my head of all the things I see. Sometimes it's snarky. Sometimes I tell myself stories about the people I see as I'm running errands. Sometimes it's compliments I can't (or don't or won't) give because... it's weird.

I mean, it's always nice to hear that you look nice, right? And sometimes it's nice to hear you look nice from random strangers in the grocery store... or is it? And if there were a scrolling marquis of all the thoughts in my head on my forehead...well, that's a thought too horrible to contemplate, but if it just put the nice things up there... would it be good for people to know that I think they're lovely?

My un-scientifically tested and just-now-realized rule is that I will usually compliment accessories but not people when it comes to my random stranger-watching ways. It seems safer and less awkward to tell the lovely lady in line in front of me that I like her shoes than to say that I think her skin is the most beautiful color I've ever seen. Complimenting a stranger on their earrings or shirt is easier than saying that I like their freckles.

Why is that? Why is it safer to compliment the things, not the person? Is it just weird to think that there are so many points of beauty in all these passers by? Or is it just weird when you say something about it? I wonder if it's because there is some sort of group consensus that while we see one another and thus we make ourselves presentable in public, that there's also a level of invisibility conferred by body language. I don't want to interrupt someone trying to decide which cereal to buy to tell them that they've got great hair. It's intrusive.

I guess it's easier to compliment people on the things they had a hand in chosing or creating. Not that lots of us don't spend plenty of time and energy on our skin and hair and teeth and what-not, but most of us don't do much about the color of our eyes, or skin (unless you're the tanning type, which as a pasty white girl I am not). That may be the one that catches my attention most often--the beautiful colors that people come in. Oh, it sounds so cheesy and trite when I say it, even to myself, but it's true! There aren't the right words to describe the colors of women (and it's usually women that catch my eye) that I see, and as of this date I haven't figured out a kind, politically correct and non-offensive way to tell someone that they are a pretty color. I've tried multiple variations of the same comment in my head, and it never comes out right.

But I hope they know that they are beautiful though. I hope someone tells them that. I mean, that's what your friends are for, right? To be the voice of encouragement and tell you when everything is going right and you may not see, notice or remember that even on your worst days you still have amazing eyelashes, even if that doesn't solve the problems that make you want to cry? Also to tell you that yellow isn't your color or that the cute little bob that one friend got isn't the best haircut for you... I mean, we rely on our friends for that. Beauty is important. It may be superficial at times and temporary... but that's part of why it's valuable. Spring and summer are glorious explosions of color and we know they don't last and we still enjoy it. Fall and winter have their beauty too. I'm rambling and getting schmoobly and philosophical which wasn't necessarily my intent. I just think the world is full of great hair and good lipstick and pretty eyes.

My friends (hopefully) have gotten used to my random comments about stuff like that. Because I know them, I don't feel shy about telling them about they're lovely hair, eyes, skin, smile as well as their impeccable taste in accessories and what not. Did you know that most of my friends have super-soft skin? And they smell good. Weird that I know this? Maybe. I'm a toucher. I like to touch everything in the stores and when I'm with my friends, I want to be near them. I have non-touch friends, and that's ok too. I don't feel slighted or offended by hands-off people. I don't understand it, but I don't have to understand it to respect it. But this isn't about personal space bubbles* and all that.

I don't understand my need to tell people about the things I think. I mean, after all, what is this
blog for other than spewing my opinions all over the internet? But it's rare that I go out and about in the world and don't see someone or something that makes me want to stop a stranger and tell them that I like their __________. I know I'm not a unique and special snowflake so it must happen to other people too. In fact, I know it happens with my friends, because when we're out together, we can share it with each other. "Oh! Look at her eyeshadow! Isn't it amazing?" etc. etc. etc.

I'm not really sure what my point is, or that I even had one to begin with. Like I said, it's something that I've been thinking about for a while, and maybe I should have waited until the thoughts coalesced before trying to put them out there, but that seems like something that a rational and patient person would do, and you should all know by now that I am rarely either of those things. So the bottom line, as it stands, is that there are lots of people in the world that I'd like to compliment because I just like stuff about them, like their hair or skin or whatnot, but I don't because it's weird, so I settle for complimenting them on shoes or accessories. And I take it out on my friends and compliment them whenever I feel like it because I can.

*My good friend, The Diva, says that her personal space bubble is about half an inch beneath her skin.

1 comment:

Beylit said...

Stupid thing ate my comment...
Umm so yea...
I love the descriptiveness that your compliments come in. When you told me my skin was like the color of good toast it made me smile. Still does in fact. This is me smiling.
I think in general it is easier for people to give compliments about things instead of peoples physical attributes because it is easier for people to accept compliments on their stuff than on themselves.
My entire life I have had strangers walk up to me to tell me what amazing eyes I have, and I still have not managed to get good at taking that compliment. Of course most of the time it is while I am in the middle of trying on shoes or something and they start off with an almost accusatory "Are those your real eyes?!" which is mildly off putting. Once I can convince them that they are my eyes with no contacts (which involves me touching my eye in public a lot) they compliment me and I have to try and take it. I try to do so gracefully but I think I mostly just stammer and blush. I mean I don't want to seem conceited because I know they are amazing, nor do I want to seem annoyed that they interrupted me. I just never know how to appropriately say thank you.
Where as if they compliment my shoes I can easily say "Yea aren't they?" and then point them to where I got them, or brag about the ridiculous low price I got them for, or lament the blisters on my toes. All reasonable ready responses that keep me from looking like an ass.
So I guess in the end it is the expected response which makes the intended compliment viable or not.

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