Published April 12, 2012, in MSUM’s, The Advocate
Flattery abounds in this nation more than ever; at least, I’m noticing it “more than ever” in my 21 years of experiencing humanity. The words “gorgeous,” “beautiful,” “stunning” and every other synonym for something aesthetically pleasing have been cheapened. Most women and more feminine men (and players — those boys who are only out for one thing, the kind your parents warned you about) are the worst when it comes to this.
Self-esteem issues continue to make headlines. This is often blamed because of what we’ve had to grow up with — seemingly perfect humans called “models” filling impressionable heads with messages of what is idyllic — gorgeous, beautiful, stunning, hot, hott, haute, hawt, etc. The realization that Photoshopping and airbrushing do, in fact, exist and are used constantly doesn’t seem to make much of a dent in our skewed outlooks.
As a sort of antidote, this country decided that reversing the devastating effects of selling an unobtainable image of “perfection” could only be accomplished by over-complimenting everybody every day, whether it’s genuine or not.
Encouragement and kindness were, perhaps, the original plans of action to enforce as a remedy to the problem of girls’ and boys’ lack of self-worth, but unfortunately, those pure actions have been mutilated and infused with lies. White lies have often passed our cultural lie detecting tests as fine and acceptable. However, things have gone too far.
Every day, though the intentions may be good, flattery is thrown every which way like a continuous game of ping pong. “You’re so gorgeous!” “I LOVE that dress!” “OH MY GOSH, I WANT YOUR HAIR!”
Now, don’t get me wrong (I say that too frequently, I’m sure). Saying nice things to people is “lovely,” but when you are telling every other person how “gorgeous” they are, people will start taking notice. They’ll stop believing you and roll their eyes (figuratively, and maybe literally, speaking).
What began as a worthy cause to up everyone’s self-esteem has begun to show cracks. You, through flattery, have cheapened the messages you are sending. You, because of your striving to be considered nice, have (to more observant folk) created an image of fakeness obvious to your viewing audience.
In “Nicholas Nickleby,” Charles Dickens wrote, “Although a skilful flatterer is a most delightful companion if you can keep him all to yourself, his taste becomes very doubtful when he takes to complimenting other people.”
I have more support for my claims from the likes of Lord Byron, no less. “The reason that adulation is not displeasing is that, though untrue, it shows one to be of consequence enough, in one way or other, to induce people to lie.” And, Edmund Burke, an 18th century Irishman, author and statesman, among other notable positions, said that “Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver.”
Am I saying you shouldn’t tell someone how cute they look or how much you love their shoes? Of course not, but make sure you genuinely do admire what you are saying you do. Don’t spew adulation out of your mouth like you’ve caught a bad case of influenza from the Disney channel. Mean what you say and stop exaggerating.
If you solely want to cheer someone up and their outward beauty isn’t exactly notable that day, encourage them or find some other way to brighten their day. Don’t use “gorgeous” when you mean “cute.” Don’t say “adore” when you only “like.”
There are other paths you can take to encourage people other than automatically turning onto Flattery Avenue. You don’t have to instantly resort to saying, “Well, hello gorgeous,” when they’re wearing sweats and a T-shirt. I’m sure they’ll be OK with a less glamorous “Hey,” if said with enthusiasm. You can tell me someone looks gorgeous no matter what until you’ve worn out your cords, but I won’t believe you. Everyone can look less than lovely some days, and that’s fine. Why should we expect to appear “stunning” when the fact of the matter is we just rolled out of bed?
Maybe I should just start wearing sweatpants to school with a high, messy bun. Someone will probably wonder what’s wrong with me and tell me I look great when I actually look like a frumpy Scandinavian on a strict diet of lutefisk. If you don’t tell me I look gorgeous, feelings of inadequacy may cause my self-esteem to crumble.
A compliment a minute turns you into an idiot (say like, “idient.” It’s supposed to rhyme like a Ben Franklin saying).
In really simple terms, here’s what I propose: If you really admire someone or something, tell them. If you’re just trying to think of something nice to say, think of something else. Boom (yes, I did just say that).
It is possible to find genuine compliments to say to each and every person, be it about their inner or outer qualities. However, if you compliment them every two seconds, the meaning in the message won’t be memorable and they’ll doubt your genuineness.
BY MEGHAN FEIR