The Un-Compliment


Each morning, my routine is simple; I rarely stray from straight hair and neutral makeup, and my closet is made up primarily of stripes and solids. But we all have those days when something goes awry, especially when toddlers constantly interfere.  Alarm clocks don’t ring (or are shut off), a child has an accident on the shirt or pants you carefully selected, lipstick tubes end up empty and all over the floor…or mirror…..or table. I have to call an audible in those moments and inevitably leave the house feeling just outside my comfort zone, wearing an outfit that I question or rushing to get to a meeting that started 10 minutes ago. And on those days – the days where I am already self-conscious – I seem to get the un-compliment. The flattery that catches you off-guard because it comes with a caveat:

You look great for having two kids.

You should wear that dress more often. It’s so slimming!

I don’t know how you do it. It must be hard to be away from your kids during the day.

Your hair is so pretty when it’s curly.

I suppose the appropriate response is to say “thank you,” but it’s difficult when your head and heart are struck by loaded words. As someone who struggles to feel as confident on the inside as I may seem on the outside, I critique myself based on what was just shared.

What should I look like after giving birth to two children?

Yes, it is hard to work full-time and have a family, but aren’t I setting an example for Braden and Brynn AND providing for their future?

Rather than the support and encouragement an actual compliment provides, I am left wondering if I have fallen short as a woman, a wife, a mother. I am aware that there isn’t always malicious intent when it comes to the un-compliment, but words – and especially how they are delivered – can profoundly impact the way we see ourselves and our world.

Recognizing my frustration with the un-compliment, though, has given me clarity. It has forced me to be cognizant of the compliments I give to others, focusing not just on physical appearance but on their joyful spirit, the way they listen, their sense of humor. Telling someone you like their sweater or their shoes is effortless; those routine compliments are typically given without much thought. Reminding a friend of what makes them exceptional requires intention. Un-compliments also have caused me to accept, not deflect, the true compliments I receive. If someone takes the time to offer me kind words, my response should be one of acknowledgment – without my own commentary. My new routine is to accept the words I receive as they are, steering clear of the negative connotation I may add in my head.

I like having a morning routine. I like experiencing familiar moments in my day – the ones that make me feel grounded and normal. But sometimes, it’s nice to feel extraordinary, too. Sometimes it’s important to remind family members and friends about the ways in which they make our days better. And in some cases, like compliment-giving, it’s okay to break free from routine and give life to the words we choose.


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