When a woman receives a compliment, her first reaction is usually to say something along the lines of “Oh, no, you’re just being nice.” I’m definitely guilty of this; when people tell me they think I’m pretty, or thin, or I did my makeup particularly well, I usually fire back with some kind of denial. “Really? I feel so ugly today.” Or “I gained so much weight over the break.” Or “My eyeliner is totally smudged.” It’s almost like it’s in my nature to reject compliments, and I find that this is true of a lot of women.
Amy Schumer does a great job of skewering this concept in her excellent sketch “Compliments,” in which a huge group of women keep denying compliments from one another with increasingly ridiculous responses. My personal favorite: One woman is congratulated on her promotion and she responds, “I’m gonna get fired in, like, two seconds…On my SATs I just drew a picture of a house on the first page and ate the rest.” Like I said, totally ridiculous, but Schumer has a point to the absurdity of her humor: Women have a really hard time accepting compliments.
Watch the clip below (f-bomb warning!):
It’s not that we’re fishing for more. I remember being snapped at by a friend when I was younger and insecure about my looks, and she had been complimenting my clear skin. I had been particularly nervous about a breakout on my chin, and I said so, and she narrowed her eyes and said “Just take the compliment, geez.” At the time I just sat back and muttered “thanks,” but had this happened today, I would have liked to have told her that it isn’t that simple. It’s not just a matter of wanting more validation, or even simple insecurity. It’s that if we do accept a compliment, we’re looked at as being arrogant or conceited.
In Schumer’s aforementioned sketch, the punchline isn’t just the insane responses drawn from the characters when they receive praise. It’s a lot more powerful than that. At the end of the sketch, one woman compliments another’s jacket and she immediately responds, “Thank you!” She’s met with silence and glares for a few moments, and then each of the women in the group commits suicide. The woman stares at the bodies across the ground, gets a notification on her phone and exclaims, “Yay, one new twitter follower!” She’s seen as self-absorbed and even self-obsessed, simply because she agreed that her jacket was cute.
This is the outlandish world of Comedy Central, so of course the situation is totally unrealistic, but the point remains the same, and it hits the viewer pretty hard. Women are not expected to accept compliments; deeper than that, women are not expected to love themselves.
We can challenge this by accepting compliments, but saying “thank you” when someone calls us pretty is meaningless if we don’t really believe it. The only way to move past this is to embrace the self-love revolution. We need to learn how to love ourselves and find something in ourselves that we think is amazing. Maybe it’s our looks, maybe it’s our brains, maybe it’s our character, maybe it’s all those things – no matter what it is, we need to start embracing it! We need to teach young women to do the same.
The next time you look in the mirror, find something you like about yourself. Maybe it’s your eyes. Maybe it’s your lips. Maybe it’s the color of your skin. Whatever it is, appreciate it, and maybe the next time someone compliments you, you can thank them – and agree.
Kathleen is a twentysomething aspiring TV comedy writer and independent filmmaker. She is passionate about feminism, education, and politics, and can often be seen trying to balance a cup of coffee in one hand and a huge bag of camera equipment in the other.