Your hair looks amazing!
I love your shoes!
You look so skinny in that dress!
How often do we all hear — and give — compliments of this sort about physical appearance, clothing or accessories? My bet is, pretty often. But do they truly elate us or touch our soul?
These very compliments about my shoes, my dress, my hair, were intended to make me feel beautiful and supported at the first major social event I went to after the second of two surgeries. I was deeply grateful for my friends’ and coworkers’ unfailingly kind words, yet they contrasted starkly with how I was feeling inside. I’d barely begun to climb the thousand-mile staircase to being me again. I was wearing a heart monitor under my cocktail dress. Instead of the busy work schedules, charity events, book club meetings and lunch dates everybody was chatting about, my calendar was filled with medical appointments, blood tests and follow-up exams.
All my life I’ve loved dressing up. The look on my husband’s face when he sees me done up and ready to take on the world with him is indescribable. We both needed this party. So, yes, I’d done my face and hair. I gritted my teeth and eased myself into shapewear and a cocktail dress. It took everything I had to wedge my feet into my favorite electric-blue heels, the ones that used to make me feel like Wonder Woman.
Looking back, I can’t help pondering the fact that we’ve all been trained to call out the superficial: clothes, shoes, hair — everything that’s fleeting, unimportant and far more changeable than anyone likes to think about.
One important example: We need to do away with the idea that noticing weight loss is a compliment. I can tell you that doesn’t play well in a hospital where people are emaciated, battling chemo. If you’re already self-conscious about your weight, it’s painful to have it be the center of conversation.
We each have a multitude of characteristics that make us shine and deserve to be celebrated. These qualities are lasting and don’t change day to day. Instead of focusing on the physical, let’s practice honoring our loved ones by telling them how their presence brings joy.
You have such a good heart!
Your laughter is contagious.
It’s so much fun to be around you!
I love the wisdom you bring to a conversation.
These are the types of compliments I love to give and receive. They lift me up and enhance my self-esteem. All the external stuff is fleeting and far less important.
Health is inclusive. Body and soul are stuck with each other, like it or not. The separation of body and soul is the very definition of death. The permanent, meaningful things that make each of us beautiful are with us through it all. These are the true compliments.
I invite you to go past “skin deep” when recognizing people’s qualities and notice what’s emanating from the soul.