"You did your nails? It looks very... noticeable."
November 30, 2015 3:06 AM   Subscribe

I am a wimp who shies away from changing things about my appearance (even when I want to) because I get so self-conscious about comments I get from people. What are some good ways to respond and how do I work through this ridiculous hang-up?

Because I am pretty low-maintenance most of the time, any change in my appearance causes people who know me (close family, colleagues, friends) to flood me with comments. Some real examples: "Good grief! Is that LIPSTICK?" "Since when do you wear SKIRTS?" "Oh, you did your nails? But you never do your nails! It looks very... noticeable."

As you can see, it's not really like these are actual compliments so much as comments on how different I look. It makes me feel so self-conscious and leads me to do stupid things like remove make-up before my family visits or hide my hands in my pockets if I've got nail polish on. (While there is the possibility that I'm looking really horrible and that's why people are being so weird with their comments, I really know I am not. It's usually really minor stuff like skirts instead of trousers, nail polish instead of bare nails, etc.)

I am 33 and tired of being such a wuss. How can I respond to comments like this without feeling embarrassed and is there any way I can prevent people from reacting this way whenever I feel like changing up my appearance a little? I know people who do interesting things with their appearance everyday and they don't get this kind of astonished scrutiny. 90% of the time I am too busy to be bothered but I would like it not to be a Big Deal whenever I do feel like it.
posted by Ziggy500 to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to try getting people used to the fact that sometimes you like to change things up a bit. You could probably do that by responding to each and every comment, lke those that you stated in your examples, by saying 'Yeah! I like to change things up a bit now and then.'
Knowing in advance what you're going to say will most likely make you feel more confident. Good luck!
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:26 AM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]

Comments like that are inappropriate. The people making them are being jerka in that moment. Ignore them and rock on.
posted by Kalmya at 3:46 AM on November 30, 2015 [12 favorites]

Oh man, you are not alone. I know this dilemma so well. My policy is that I only have two possible responses to this type of commentary: "Yup" or "Thank you". That's it. No elaboration, no explanation, no excuses. It tends to make people uncomfortable when they make a rude comment and you give a one-word response, but that's kind of the point. They should be uncomfortable. And it can help train them out of the habit.
posted by neushoorn at 3:49 AM on November 30, 2015 [16 favorites]

What TT says. You've just got to own the changes. 'Yes, I love that colour!' (lipstick/nails). 'Yes, I fell in love with that skirt!' Repeat as required. Your friends and family probably don't mean any harm by their awkward comments but it's not exactly nice to comment on this kind of thing without being enthusiastically positive about the change. In fact, there is a school of thought that suggest you never comment about anybody's appearance so the easiest way to shut is down is for you to be enthusiastic about it but not give them any openers to pursue the topic further.

Alternatively, you could highlight the awkwardness of their comment and ask if you've got lipstick on your teeth or chipped a nail or your tights are laddered or whatever....but they may not get this at which point you'd have to explain that as they didn't give you a compliment you assumed there was something wrong...and it sounds as if you'd find that more stressful so go with enthusiasm for your choice.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:52 AM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I made a decision some tears back that I was going to start looking nicer and knew that I'd face this kind of scrutiny when I did. I am also pretty sensitive about these comments too, so I put it off longer than I should have. Here's what finally got me over the hump:

a) Deciding most of the comments are well intentioned, even if they came off horribly. People want to say something positive but they get caught up in the "this is different" and usually focus on that instead. It's the same when people get a new haircut; 90% of the time the conversation starts with a statement of, "your hair is different!" or "you got a haircut!" That's a frequent enough topic that people are conditioned to then move into, "...and it's great!" but because wardrobe/makeup changes are less frequent most people don't have the script. They mean well, though, and it helped to focus on that instead. So whenever seome said something I substituted something nicer in my head that made me feel more comfortable because I know they meant it.
b) Some people did mean it more as a policing thing. I avoided changing things up around them until I was more comfortable with the change myself. Instead I "practiced" in more low-risk areas first where people didn't necessarily know anything was different. Starting a new job is always great for this reason. Failing that, this is what weekends are for. Even if it means you wash the makeup off before you see a friend, trying it out on the grocery store trip will help.
c) Just biting the bullet and knowing the comments would come and make me uncomfortable. If I expected them I could brace myself better. I came up with preprepared lines to respond. "Yeah, I just felt like a change." "I know, isn't it nice?" "I saw it on Pinterest and figured why not." Or a cheery "thanks!" if I felt it was a catty comment.
d) Increase the amount you change it up. People will continue to comment as long as it's rare, but will stop as soon as the new routine is "Ziggy500 changes their appearance a bit." So if you prepare yourself for a period where you suffer through the comments they will eventually stop and you'll have a lot more freedom to do what you want.
e) Faking it. Pick somebody whose reactions to these situations you admire and pretend to be them. What would someone who's super trendy say? Would they be bothered by that comment soandso made? No, so you're not gonna be either.

The transition is awkward, but a few days ago I went shopping with an old friend who used to make these comments to me all the time. And she mentioned she thinks I'm super stylish and remembers when I made the change and how she admired me for it. People don't have to know you're sensitive about it even if you totally are.
posted by lilac girl at 3:58 AM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]

Jeez those are some serious negs. Are you sure these are your family and friends and not a bunch of PUAs in disguises?

If straight out ignoring isn't going to work for you socially, you could try:
- Yep.
- I like skirts/nail polish/any other damn thing sometimes.
- Today is a nail polish kind of day!
- Good job on basic observation skills there, Sherlock.
- ::shrug::
- Well you know, I'm normally a slovenly hag but I figured you'd be more likely to look at my face if I wore makeup.
- Oh you noticed! I got this color because of the hilarious pun names ::proceed to ramble until they get a pained look on their face::
- Seemed worth the effort today.
- Oh babe, I had to make myself beautiful for you.
- No I'm clearly wearing pants, I don't know what you're talking about. ::vehemently defend falsehood until they get that they said a dumb thing::
- Mmhmm. What's the progress on those TPS reports?
posted by Mizu at 4:00 AM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I bet you just usually have a very consistent look, and people are slightly jarred by their expectations being confounded. I wouldn't read insult into it (though those responses aren't what I'd call gracious), and I doubt this feedback is about how successfully you're wearing any of this. I don't think you can prevent it, changes like that are just interesting to witness.

I think acknowledging the new thing would make things smoother. Maybe say something like "Yeah, why not! Trying something new!" Or if it's a friend, do a twirl or bat your lashes and say "thanks!" (because a little sassiness goes a long way!).
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:45 AM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

People are generally terrible at communication. So, when people make a comment, it is generally not a thought-out response to you. It'll be whatever pops into their head when they see you and words will come out of their faces.

So, with people's generally poor communication skills in mind, remember their responses do not reflect upon you; their responses reflect upon them. And what they are responding to is Something Different to What They Expected. They don't get to rehearse a perfect response to you looking slightly different - but you get to prepare a nice cheery response to them. Win!

"Yep, I like the way it looks!"
"Hey, I thought no one would notice! Yeah, I liked this skirt as soon as I saw it!"
"Thanks! I've seen a couple of people rock lipstick and thought I'd give it a go :)"
posted by kariebookish at 4:45 AM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would encourage you to interpret these comments as positive. It sounds like you're a little insecure, but now is the time for you to build confidence. A lot of times people do make observations and then add "it looks great". They might see that it's making you uncomfortable and just back off a bit before the "you look great" part. The reality is that if you didn't look great no one would say anything- especially people like colleagues. Learn to accept compliments gracefully. My suggestion to you - start paying compliments to others on similar things. It might show you how a whole range of other people react. It will help you sort through your own feelings.
posted by KMoney at 5:00 AM on November 30, 2015

"Yes, I really like it!" is exactly the right formula for responses to these kinds of comments.

One more thing that might help: read this Achewood comic. It always cracks me up, and it always helpfully reminds me that nobody really spends as much thought on my appearance as I do.
posted by ourobouros at 5:44 AM on November 30, 2015 [13 favorites]

I'm a big fan of a delighted, "why, thank you very much!"
Pretend they had done the actually appropriate thing and paid you a compliment. It might even jar a few of them into realising compliments are in order!
posted by Omnomnom at 5:58 AM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

I go over-the-top: "I just felt like getting my FABULOUS on today!" Then everyone laughs and the moment is over.

(I too am low-maintenance and, what's more, always in a rut, so whenever I dress up a little EVERYONE comments. In a friendly fashion, but I know what you mean about it being awkward and self-conscious-making.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:06 AM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

People are clods a lot of the time and usually not on purpose. I get this a lot since I normally am a decently frumpy person, comfortably so, and so when I do something dressy the compliments I get often sound to me like "Oh HEY you finally made an EFFORT" along the lines of "You'd look nice if you'd smile once in a while" I am a sort of quiet person and I don't like to be real talkative about other people's appearances but at some level that's about me not about the world. Small compliments are part of the social lubricant that makes the world go round (though it can be overdone and done poorly) so I've tried to both get better at getting and also giving compliments.

So for me part of it was making nice small unobtrusive mentions that complimented someone "Hey your hair looks neat like that" "That sweater shows off your eyes" I am a middle aged lady and this would be me talking to friends, not making inappropriate comments to my students or whatever. And learning how to make a decent compliment can also help you get some perspective in other people's ham-fisted ability or inability to compliment. That is if I think they are trying to be nice but just botched it, I try to be really reasonable "Yeah I thought it was time for a change, thank you" or something. If I think they are subtly negging me by basically saying "Thanks for joining the human race, you are barely making it but thanks for trying!" I'll be a little more straightforward. "Thanks. Um, was that a compliment?" not to be a dick but to be clear that it's not really clear what they're saying or what they're up to.

And more to the point, learning you can't change other people (mostly) is a good lesson. Try to pick out the good things they are trying to pass along and realize it's almost always more about them than you. Ask yourself "Am I feeling self conscious for other reasons and this just brought that to the surface?" "Am I letting other people's opinions of me take too much priority over my own opinion of me?" (that is a big one for me... if I thought I looked good when I left the house, why do I think maybe I don't after someone says something? Is irrational).

I spent my childhood being somewhat neglected and the only things that mattered about me were how much I was able to be in service to others. It's been hard for me as an adult to get used to receiving deserved individual attention without thinking I'm somehow falling down on the job. It's worth it to find your own center where you can confidently be the you that you want to be. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 7:53 AM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

Those comments show a lack of social skills! Jeez.

You could try getting support ahead of time from the people you suspect will be the most annoying about change. "I'm thinking of trying nail polish- what colour do you like?" "I'm going to try wearing skirts this winter- what are the warmest tights?" If the people feel they somehow "helped" you they are more likely to be supportive.

But seriously, those people are being rude. They probably don't mean to be jerks? But they're definitely rude!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:53 AM on November 30, 2015

Try hearing it as "a stimulus has been perceived by my sensors!" rather than a judgment on you. That's really all it is. They saw something different, they commented. People in general are not thinking about you, they're thinking about their own wheelbarrow of crap.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:08 AM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

People are dicks, they really are. I do a variant on pseudostrabimus script by mentioning that I own skirts (that I never wear cos people are dicks) to kind of get them used to the idea while I am not also actually wearing a skirt. They uniformly react as unto a cigarette smoking chimpanzee, so I never do end up wearing my cute AF skirts. "Look, she thinks she's people!".

Get a new hobby and wear anything you want, just there, till it feels like you, then let people do their yokel act when you have a bit of an emotional buffer. For the "are you wearing nail varnish!!??" sort of statement my usual response is just "yeah, I do sometimes". These people don't know all of you.
posted by Iteki at 8:24 AM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I work with scientists. I dyed my hair red once, and my grad thesis advisor said "You changed your hair!" in a confused and shocked tone of voice. "Yes, I did," I replied. "Why?" he asked. At that point I realized that most people who have ever commented on something I'm wearing or something I've done with my appearance, using that non-compliment "observation" phrasing are total and utter dorks, who are lucky to find matching socks in the morning.

Usually when someone does this to me (especially on those occasions where I'm specifically dressed or done and feeling pleased with myself), I either go with the "Yes, isn't it festive! I'm wearing awesome things and I'm happy!" kind of reply, or with "shh! skirts are very shy and if you talk too much you might startle it, and then you'll never see me in a skirt again!" response. The latter is mostly for my actual friends who occasionally come out with something like that, and is often enough to provoke them to rephrase - "Oh, I didn't mean it like that! I think you look nice, I was just surprised is all. That's a good color on you."
posted by aimedwander at 8:32 AM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

I was the same way, and avoided wearing skirts, wearing dresses, wearing makeup, shaving my legs, or doing just about Anything eye-catchingly different for far too long. I finally decided I wanted to brave and try different things, and just started doing them. And I generally upped my look-professional game with the help of a friend who'd done similar. In the ten years since then I've gotten to the point where I can wear make-up (or not), wear dresses or overalls, wear glasses or contacts, wear nail polish (or not), wear tons of jewelry or none, wear scarves sometimes, and I even died parts of my hair pink and peacock for my 40th birthday.

And sure, people stopped commenting on my choices so much, because I'm just doing my own thing all the time. But EVEN BETTER, I stopped caring nearly so much what they thought about my appearance. THAT is a gift it's completely worth giving yourself.
posted by ldthomps at 8:56 AM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

My default answer to weird comments like this is "I know! Isn't it great!" with a very non-sarcastic but genuine tone of excitement to make sure they know that I changed things up on purpose AND I LIKE IT.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:03 AM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I favor some version of "Oh my God!!!!" plus jazz hands.
posted by notquitemaryann at 9:34 AM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]

Yeah. I know exactly what you mean. You are not alone. However much I tell myself that they're just trying to be nice, etc., it's still really embarassing.

Step 1: TRY to find a way to answer "Thank you!" and move on, as though it was just a normal compliment. Abandon "Thank you!" only as a last resort. But if necessary, here are some of my one-liners...

"Yeah, the establishment, what can you do?"

"I'm helping to create a hostile work environment."

"It's a present from my mom, who is like, perfectly groomed at all times."

"I got worried I might be photographed."

Etc. But really, seriously, try to just say thank you and ignore.
posted by 8603 at 10:20 AM on November 30, 2015

Or, if someone is straight-up being patronizing and rude, which does sometimes happen, I say "Thank you for the compliment" with a big smile, to make it clear that they need to review what constitutes appropriate chitchat.
posted by 8603 at 10:22 AM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Skirts, make-up, nail polish - all things that anyone should get to experiment with but which are all too often coded as "appropriate [and necessary] wear for women at work". I do wear skirts and dresses all the time but I almost never wear make-up. When I put lipstick on I get a flood of comments, especially "You should wear it more often". As such I usually say, "Yeah, I'm usually not such a tool of the patriarchy". [I know there are women who choose or have to wear make-up to work and like I note, I wear skirts all the time, but the response usually gets people to respond and think about what they are saying]
posted by biggreenplant at 10:54 AM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, yes. The people who hover around you and assume that anything you do merits evaluation from them, or inane comments. (My favorite: Oh, you look nice today. ARE YOU GOING ON AN INTERVIEW?)

I like the tool of the patriarchy comment, simply acknowledging the obvious.

Tactful, they aren't.
posted by SillyShepherd at 11:06 AM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hah! Oh my. I just lived this experience for a whole damn week because of the (US Thanksgiving) holiday. Out of town family apparently hasn't had the chance to get used to this new Blast Hardcheese who wears occasion-appropriate clothing and sometimes combs her hair, even though she has been doing this since at least 2004.

Basically my thinking is, you can always just say thanks and change the subject. But there are people who will totally not let it go (especially somewhat forgetful, elderly relatives who honestly might not remember that they already noticed and said a thing...) and you'd be well within your rights to escalate (politely) your shut-down efforts.

First offense: "Thanks!" [change subject]
Second offense: "Oh, you know, it's just the holidays/change of season/whatever event!" [change subject]
Third offense/Any time there might be a weird non-compliment: "uh, thanks?"
Fourth offense and onward: I just start going into exhaustive detail about the process behind my clothing and/or hair selection for the day and watch their eyes glaze over with stultifying boredom until they walk away.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:31 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Another of my favorite responses involves looking at them like they're insane, and saying, "It's just nail polish! People wear it sometimes, you know." in that "haven't you ever seen nail polish before?" tone of voice. It basically involves pretending that I have definitely done this thing this thing, maybe even frequently, just not on days that they see me. This is somewhat duplicitous (bad), but also helps remind me that I'm not actually wearing anything that is truly remarkable and that I don't need to rush home and change (good!).
posted by aimedwander at 1:44 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

You could agree it's a different thing but frame it as not being a big deal -
"Yeah, it seemed like that kind of day. I'm mixing it up."
"Don't want to be too predictable. Keeping you on your toes."
"Crazy times, right? What will happen next?"
- that kind of thing.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:33 PM on November 30, 2015

I understand your feeling about this! A couple of years ago, I started to really make an effort to enjoy the feminine stylings available to me, and I could have just died from all the awkward comments.

I agree with everyone who suggests you just say "thank you." Nothing defensive, nothing witty. Just "thank you," even though when you were not actually complimented. It really does jar people into realizing they should be saying something nice. (If that seems too self-satisfied, "Thank you for noticing," along with a sweet smile, is a tamer version.) It worked for me.

And be reassured that people will eventually get bored of commenting on every change you make and soon you'll just be thought of as a person who presents well, no vocal recognition necessary.
posted by Knowyournuts at 7:39 PM on November 30, 2015

"And?" (with a stern look) is usually a good way of saying 'your judgement had better be intelligent or I have a bucketful of judgement I'm about to throw all over you'. This usually works because the new look signifies a different you this person hasn't seen before so they're already on the backfoot wondering who this new person is and what else she is capable of! I hope she doesn't hurt me etc.

That's how I look at it anyway.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 8:38 AM on December 1, 2015

For me, having made a recent shift to doing some experimentation around my appearance, all of my replies are basically intended to demonstrate that a) I made this choice myself, b) I am happy and/or comfortable with it, and c) that I understand social norms often require people to point out changes, even if I often would prefer they not do so, and that a lot of people are awkward in how they point things out.

To closer friends, I'll happily admit that I'm feeling uncertain about something, and ask for their feedback, but to everyone else I'm gonna' pretend that I am positive that any particular change is exactly what I wanted.

"Good grief! Is that LIPSTICK?"

It sure is!

"Since when do you wear SKIRTS?"

I wear skirts whenever I feel the urge to put one on - I guess you just haven't seen me in one before.

"Oh, you did your nails? But you never do your nails! It looks very... noticeable."

I know, right? I love lime green and rhinestone kitties!

The key thing is that people will get used to the changes as time goes by - you just have to kind of white-knuckle through the early days. When I started wearing makeup a bit more often, certain coworkers would do this weird GASP! thing and usually point and say something like, "Look at you! Wow!!" and I'd want to crawl under a desk. What I realized, though, is that they were acknowledging my change (which is something a lot of people want!), they wanted to be supportive of me, and that they had no intention of making me feel bad.

Now that I wear makeup a lot more often (and dresses, and..) there are fewer comments and they're much more subtle - "You look really nice today!" or "I love the colour of your dress!" At this point, I'm pretty sure that I'd have to show up in a ball gown to get them to gasp at me.
posted by VioletU at 2:56 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hah! The judo trick here is to answer the question you want to have been asked, and not what you were asked. (This is a prime life skill to use around children, BTW.)

So I love bowties, and wear them whenever I feel like it. Everyone without fail says something dumb, but I simply hear "Mwa-wa, wa-wa, mwa-wa-wa-wa" and then reply with a breezy, "Yep, this one was my grandfather's" or "My daughter made this for me, isn't she awesome?"
posted by wenestvedt at 11:09 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

I just happened upon this on FB and it seems rather apropos! It's a cute video by an adorable (and ridiculously talented) make-up artist about how to feel more confident if you are starting to wear a little make-up. Bucked me up a little anyhow, might try something myself for the fun :)
posted by Iteki at 5:28 PM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

As someone who practically lived in jeans & t-shirt for years, anytime I wore a skirt the world stood still. (yup. that important I am.) So I feel you. Its remarkable how people feel free to comment on anything - just return it with a genuine, gushy "thank you for noticing! I love your tie/eyeballs/shirt!" and just proceed with whatever it was you were doing. just take it til you make it.

and I know this sounds a bit weird, but have you considered going to the gym or do climbing? These get you all focused, sweaty and red and terrible and you'll soon realize no one really cares. not even the girls that look like they fell out of a magazine. and if they do, it says a lot more about them then it does you. My hub prides himself in his pretty underwhelming workout gear. he basically looks homeless (his words, not mine). what I'm trying to say is just own it. Make your look yours, you're not doing it for them. Ooh and taking a yoga class might be amazing for awakening some body love!
posted by speakeasy at 3:25 AM on December 4, 2015

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