Have you ever had a time where you’ve bumped into a friend and they say: “You look good. Have you lost weight?” Whether you have or haven’t is irrelevant – the focus is suddenly on your body. And even if it was meant as a compliment, it could actually make you feel worse. That’s because what they’ve said doesn’t acknowledge you, but your appearance. It might even make you wonder what they thought you looked like before. This is why the best compliments to give someone are often the ones that have little to do with appearance.
But doesn’t everyone talk about their body? Yes, it’s true: body talk is incredibly common, in fact, some 93% of women have engaged in it at some point. Research has found that just three minutes of this type of talk is enough to increase body dissatisfaction. And this is a big deal: low body confidence has been linked to everything from lack of assertiveness and lower grades to anxiety, depression and disordered eating. Strengthening our self-esteem and building up body confidence boosts our wellbeing and benefits everyone, especially children.
With Dove research finding that 54% of girls don’t feel good about the way they look, it might seem like the solution is to praise their appearance more – tell them they’re pretty or their hair is cute – but this is where non-physical compliments come in. Raising a happy, strong and confident daughter or son means taking the focus away from their outward appearance. By doing so, we can improve confidence and smash narrow beauty standards.
For starters, focus on functionality. Help young people view their bodies more positively by guiding them to think about what it allows them to do and feel. Maybe their hands enable them to create beautiful crafts, or their sense of smell helps them bake delicious desserts. Maybe you want to compliment their brain for remembering so many facts or for the way they give great hugs. But remember that not everybody has the same capabilities or works the same way, so the best compliments to give someone should help them appreciate exactly why they’re unique.
And what about personality compliments? The next time you bump into a friend, try complimenting them on their kindness, how they make you laugh, on the resilience they’ve shown recently, or how well you feel they listen to you. The best compliments to give someone are the ones that make people feel good for who they are, not what they look like. Helping people accept all parts of themselves will naturally help them build body confidence, too.