The Pain of Praise

Sometimes people tell me I’m pretty. Often, I ask for it directly.

How do I look today?

You look fine.

Just fine?

You look great, gorgeous. Absolutely stunning, happy now?

Thank you, baby.

Sometimes, I ask for it indirectly.

God, I feel so fat lately.

You’re not fat.

Ugh, I just like – feel it. I mean, maybe it’s not even true, I just can’t shake it.

You look great! It’s absolutely ridiculous that you’d think you’re fat.

Thanks! You always know the right things to say.

Sometimes I don’t ask for it, and people will tell me unprompted.

Oh hey, new haircut? It looks good.

Oh, yeah! Thanks!

And, sometimes complete strangers will stop me on the street and tell me I look good. Some phrasings are more crude than others, but some people do seem genuinely interested in paying me a compliment. They will stop, look me in the eye, and say “Wow, has anyone ever told you you’re really pretty?”

I smile and say thank you, when the reality is people tell me I’m pretty all the time. Because, one way or another, I *ask* them to tell me I’m pretty all the time.

Thing is, I think this is highly counterproductive for my current personal goals. Every time someone tells me I’m pretty, I don’t leave reassured about my appearance. I leave with the reinforced belief that my appearance matters, which triggers a deeper fear I have. “How long will I be pretty for? How long will this last?” I may start asking my friends to say “Looks don’t matter,” every time I ask them for a compliment.

This doesn’t just apply to appearance, however. Many forms of praise I find counterproductive. For instance, I started this blog intending to write directly what was in my heart and not worry about what other people thought. I showed some of my writing to some of my friends, and some of them really liked it, and now every time I sit down I think “what I’m about to write isn’t going to be very good.”

But, it doesn’t matter if my writing is good. That’s not the point.

Praise feeds the watcher. “You’re doing a good job, keep it up!” she says to me every time I get praise, which feels a lot more enjoyable than when the watcher is critical. “How could you have made that mistake? You are so stupid!” Yet, it is part of the same dichotomy – praise and insult, bring me into a mindset where I am not *doing*, I am watching myself doing. I don’t want to be a writer, I just want to write. I don’t want to be pretty, or ugly – I want to be.

I can’t isolate myself from the praise other people give me. I can ask my friends to tone it down, but I will never be able to escape it. People think they are being kind, they are trying to connect with me. I will need to learn to hear these complements without feeding off them, and I’m not quite sure how to do that. Partly, it is to see that it’s not really about me – it’s about them. When people tell me I’m pretty, they’re not usually describing what they see. They are really saying, “I want you to be happy right now, I am trying to make you happy.” Which raises a bunch of questions, why do they want me to be happy? Why did they pick that particular complement? What is going on for them? I think that will help.

But, I also think I just need to learn to not attach to the words.

“You are pretty.”

I am not pretty. I am indescribable, I am beyond words. I am not even “I”- and neither are you.

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