How do I respond when people insult themselves while complimenting me?
June 27, 2012 9:34 AM Subscribe
How do I respond when people insult themselves while complimenting me? Especially, when those insults are race related.
posted by DorothySmith to Human Relations (52 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure how to word this question in ways that aren't offensive, so please be patient with me while I try to form my thoughts.
I'm a white woman in her late 20s who is attractive by mainstream heteronormative standards. My skin is very pale, with pink undertones. I have large wideset blue eyes with relatively long eyelashes. I'm also pretty good at doing make up and can often recreate what make up artists would do for fancy occasions. Small button nose with average sized lips and straight teeth. I dye my hair very blonde and I often use extensions, and like my make up, I'm pretty good at styling hair. I'm slender, but have curvy hips/butt and I eat well and workout to maintain my figure, some of it, of course, comes from genetics. I often get told that I look like celebrities like Kate Hudson or a young Heather Locklear. As long as I can remember, I've had people stop me on the street to tell me I look like various celebrities. People seem fascinated that I look like a porcelain doll at times too.
Anyway, I'm constantly getting complimented on these features, and while I find it flattering, I often find it more uncomfortable because people will simultaneously insult themselves. For instance, people often compliment my body for it's fitness and say how they wish they could have that same physique. I'm torn between saying, ... 'well, you can, you just have to eat right and exercise' and 'you're beautiful too!' I don't know if it's appropriate to be truthful and say I get it through being healthy or if I should try to boost their ego. I eat fairly clean small portioned meals, workout 3-6 times a week, and drink a lot of water.
These situations are uncomfortable enough, but the ones that really make me uncomfortable are the ones based on race. I realize I'm full of white privilege and in terms of physical appearance goes, I'm definitely at an advantage because of our systemic forms of racism. But, how do I respond to someone when they compliment my eyes or eyelashes or my skintone and how they wish they had the same? Over the past few months alone I've had two Asian women tell me how they had ugly features in comparison to me. Yesterday, a beautiful woman who has impeccable taste in clothing and is the cutest woman you've ever seen told me how she hates her 'Chinese eyes' and would much prefer to have mine. She also said she hated her stubby little eyelashes. It breaks my heart for women to believe that they are ugly or to long for my features when I think they're beautiful. I responded by saying that I thought her eyes were beautiful and when she tried to argue with me I just went on about how she was truly gorgeous. She smiled and said that talking to me always makes her feel pretty. I left the interaction feeling awful and wondering what I should be saying in these situations?
I've had other friends and acquaintances of varying backgrounds do similar things and it just makes me uncomfortable. I'm generally not very good at taking compliments and have an urge to say the opposite, but that's something I know I can deal with, but I'm uncomfortable when others insult themselves in the same sentence. I truthfully can be just as insecure a good proportion of the time, but I'm pretty good at faking confidence during the times I don't have it.
I also don't want to 'dress down'. I love fashion and I love doing my hair and make up. Those around me generally don't put the same time or effort into their appearance, which is fine by me, I just truly have fun doing it, but I hate that my appearance makes others sad or dislike theirs.
I guess, my question is, how do I respond in these situations? I know that most people don't have my background in feminist studies to know that it's a history of racism and sexism that leads women to dislike certain aspects of their appearance so I don't generally feel like it's appropriate for me to try to give people a lesson... or is it?