How many times after receiving a compliment have you deflected it, or in turn put yourself down? How many times has another woman done this to you? This all too common phenomenon becomes a vicious cycle and creates a culture where it is not okay to take or to give genuine compliments.
Amy Schumer in her sketch 'Compliments' highlights this phenomenon.
Did you laugh? That is because, sadly, there is a lot of truth in this hyperbole.
We can make guesses about how this came to be the norm, and create villains out of our patriarchal society, but really where would that get us? The more important conversation considers what is underneath this phenomenon. Based on this behavior, many women feel unable to take the compliments we are given. In a conversation about this with a friend, we noticed that often compliments are implied as superlative. From this perspective, who would want to take a compliment if it meant stating you were the most beautiful, smart, thin, well dressed etc., thereby putting down all other women, your friend bestowing the compliment included.
What if we don't have to be beautiful in comparison to anything or anyone else? Does being and acknowledging one's beauty really take away from anyone else's beauty? Beautiful is not a title for just one woman to win. Owning your own beauty does not make anyone else any less beautiful. Owning our own beauty is contagious and empowering. Owning our own beauty, and celebrating that of others, offers an expansion from a narrow definition of what is best. Beauty isn't an age, hair color, size, shape or complexion. Google defines beauty as a combination of qualities that pleases the aesthetic senses, intellect or moral senses. Take that definition and run with it.
Want real-world proof? I was in Santa Barbara recently for the She.Is.Beautiful race. Coming from a running family I have attended many races, but none like this. Far from a Lululemon fashion show that an all-women's race could turn into, this was a gathering of women in support of each other, where differences were seen as unique qualities that highlighted rather than separated. Along the course there are inspirational signs, racers fill in blank temporary tattoos stating what they are grateful for, and the entire day is designed to be empowering and celebratory (tutus were even worn by many runners).
The founder Melissa started the race five years ago to "create a space where women can be reminded that the combination of inner and outer strength morphs into confidence and happiness, the true essence of beauty. When women feel good about themselves and about their bodies, they are truly unstoppable. They also often stop looking to other women in comparison. Running is so empowering for everyone, but women especially. It teaches goal setting, independence, and perseverance."
Make no mistake, this is no ego-fluffing, 'finishing means you are a winner' type affair, it is about doing and being your best. Melissa's sister and S.I.B number two in command Sara remarked about this year's Santa Barbara permutation, "What blew me away was that so many of these women gave it their all -- from the professional runners sprinting for a close, gutsy win, to the lady who was one of the last to finish, but pumped her arms harder and walked considerably faster those last yards. Each of these women did their very best and that is beautiful, for they will take that courage into the rest of their lives."
The next time you get a compliment try accepting it. The next time you give one and it is deflected call it out. She.Is.Beautiful and so are you!
(While this post is all about the ladies, boys we see you too, own your adjectives: handsome, smart, kind, etc.)