The compliment, “Oh my god, you look so hot!” is a typical one among high school and college-age girls. The intent of a comment like this is never harmful, but the outcome still can be.
The concept of “being hot” is inherently rooted in misogyny and unrealistic beauty standards. These standards are too often the catalyst for poor body image, low self-esteem and more. “Being hot” is often associated with a specific body type and style, and this compliment can push for that ideal.
Comments about physical characteristics are unnecessary
I’m not advocating to cancel phrases like this entirely, especially when they’re used in an innocent context. However, it is important to be aware of the negative reinforcements comments like these create, and to seek better ways to compliment people. There usually isn’t a reason to make observations about anyone’s body, especially ones such as “you’re hot.” Calling someone hot automatically makes a comment about their body. It tells them that they are fitting into society’s beauty standards in some way.
To that end, comments about anyone’s body, good or bad, are not necessary. They can do more harm than good, as opposed to compliments about other aspects of a person.
For example, a frequent compliment among women is “you look so skinny.” This compliment may be given with the best intentions, but there’s no way to know what that person might be dealing with behind closed doors. Your compliment about how skinny they are might be fueling an eating disorder. Your compliment about their nose or bone structure might bring attention to a part of their body they aren’t comfortable with highlighting.
You have no way of knowing what someone is going through or what they need to hear in terms of body image. The most well intended comments can end up causing harm when they’re about uncontrollable physical features.
Here’s an example:
Two-time Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics, Aly Raisman’s story echos one told by young gymnasts across the country. There are many that compliment how muscular she is as a result of her years of dedication to gymnastics. Yet, Raisman notes, “In seventh grade, I was wearing a tank top at school and one of the boys told me my arms were disgusting. So I didn’t wear a tank top to school ever again.”
Yes, Raisman now talks about how she has learned to be confident in her muscular physique. But creating this confidence takes time. Imagine if a week after this experience someone commented on Raisman’s muscles. Even if it’s a compliment, it might make her more self-conscious than anything if she isn’t comfortable bringing attention to it. Yes, in this particular case it may have been helpful in the long run for people to compliment Raisman on her muscles. But we shouldn’t be teaching kids to base their self worth off of other’s compliments anyway.
More importantly, why comment on how her body looks when she’s an elite gymnast? Why worry about what her body looks like or how it fits into beauty standards when she can consistently hit some of the hardest routines in the world? This doesn’t just go for elite gymnasts. Why think twice about someone doing yoga or ballet who doesn’t have perfectly defined muscles? Isn’t their balance, concentration, and dedication to physical activity far more impressive than what their body looks like?
It’s much more beneficial for a person to learn body confidence through praise about what they are capable of rather than praise about how they look.
Try something else
Complimenting someone’s body isn’t horrible, but a more ideal compliment would not be about physical appearance alone. Physical characteristics such as weight and bone structure can only be changed so much.
Eating healthy doesn’t automatically make you skinny. Going to the gym every day doesn’t automatically give you chiseled abs. It’s so much more important to accept the beauty of a person’s body the way it is and compliment the things they have control over, rather than simply finding the ways that their body fits into beauty standards.
Even if your friend looks fabulous in an outfit, you can tell them, “I love the way that outfit looks on you!” It seems trivial, but saying this as opposed to “you look hot” takes the attention to the outfit that your friend chose as opposed to their body. Compliment nails, compliment earrings, compliment a hairstyle, compliment something that the person has control over.
Here are some more ideas of things to compliment:
- Sense of style or a specific article of clothing
- Progress on a passion or hobby you know they work hard at