A few years ago, I had a coworker that everyone thought was the nicest person. And indeed, she was bubbly, upbeat, and social. Despite those things, I couldn’t stand her. Nearly every time I saw her, she’d exclaim, “You just don’t look old enough to be working here! You look like you’re twelve!”
Hearing over and over that I looked like I was twelve years old was NOT what I wanted to hear when I was actually in my mid-twenties, and I was offended every single time she said it. Every time I had to hear her gush over the fact that I looked like a middle-school aged child, I would think to myself, “Well, you look so old, I can’t believe YOU still work here! They let you leave the assisted living facility every day to go to the office?”  (She actually didn’t look especially haggard or anything, I just thought those things because I was feeling snarky.) I never said any of it out loud. Instead I went home and stared at my reflection in the mirror and cursed genetics for giving me a baby face and little boobs. It seemed extremely unfair that at a time in my life when I wanted desperately to be perceived as a beautiful, successful woman, that all people saw when they looked at me was a kid.
I have no doubt that the woman who said those things to me thought that she was somehow being complimentary, or at the very least, didn’t realize that what she was saying was harmful. But what she said was burned into my brain, and it did horrible things to my self-image. It baffled me that it was okay to tell a young woman that she still resembles a child, all while knowing that if I had retorted that SHE looked like she had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, that it would have been horrific and unacceptable. Polite people don’t generally walk up to a woman and say to her, “Wow, you look SO old!” And yet telling me I look like a pre-teen doesn’t shock or horrify anyone.
Well, anyone but me.
Over time, the self-consciousness I felt after repeatedly being told I looked like I was twelve subsided, especially after I moved away and more or less forgot about that thoughtless coworker. In fact, I hadn’t thought of her in years, until last week when a friend jokingly called me a ‘skinny bitch’. That person was teasing, and we have a relationship where we CAN joke like that without either of us getting offended. But it got me thinking about how it’s seemingly acceptable to call someone ‘skinny’, but by contrast it’s rude to call someone fat.
Personally, I hate being called skinny, because I am not and I do not strive to BE skinny. The word ‘skinny’ in this context means “very lean or thin, emaciated”. Well, I am none of those things, and have no desire to be. I know people that really and truly are skinny, and they hate it. Now, before you think to yourself, damn, wish I had THAT problem!, remind  yourself that these people struggle with their weight just as much as heavier people do. Whether you are fighting to lose unwanted weight or gain pounds you only wish you had, it sucks to feel uncomfortable in your own skin. The difference is, somehow ‘skinny’ is perceived as something to be coveted, and therefore it’s okay to call someone skinny. And I think that’s also why it was okay for my former coworker to tell me how young I looked, but it would not be okay for me to tell her she looked old. Looking young is something that some women strive for, so maybe in her head, I was lucky.
Perhaps because I never told my coworker that she was hurting my feelings by telling me how young I looked, I did myself a disservice and suffered needlessly. It’s not that I’ve ever been shy about telling people what I think, but I could never figure out a way to bring it up or call her on it without sounding like a royal bitch. When it comes to being called skinny,  I’ve just said something along the lines of, “Ugh, I hate being called that!” That stops people short. They think ‘skinny’ is a compliment. But the nice thing is, more often than not, they ask me why I hate it and I explain, and then they stop. A few think they’re comedians and they continue to do it, and now I just avoid them or shoot them mean fuck-you looks.
I guess my point is that we all have our insecurities, and commenting on someone’s size or age just never seems like a good idea to me. Even if you mean for a comment on one of those subjects as a compliment, it may not be taken that way, and it could do more harm than good. If you want to pay someone a compliment, there are better ways to go about it. My rule of thumb is that I save compliments for when I genuinely mean what I’m saying, and I try to steer away from things that might point out an insecurity and stick to the staples like, “You look amazing today”. At Zumba, I continually find myself amazed at how fit some of my friends are, and I’ll tell them so.
And as always, remember: if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.

1 thought on “Uncomplimentary

  1. Well done Veronica! The golden rule certainly applies here. Just remember that people only project their emotions. Whether they are happy, sad, angry, insecure…all of those internal emotions are then projected on everyone around them. The co-worker(s) you were dealing with are simple products of their own thoughts; insecure, unhappy and out to make others feel the same.
    Nice post to share, that we all go through these experiences in life, its important to be reminded to be impeccable with our word. Words are very powerful. xo

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