I’m surprised heaps by compliments I get on my FaceBook profile pictures. In my early 40s, I get embarrassed by students who go on and on about how young I look, etc., etc. Don’t get me wrong. I love the adulation as much as the next Jane and I take each compliment with a heaping tablespoon of salt, but most compliments, I think, carry subtexts that say a lot about society‘s expectations of the female set.
Consider the following:
1. “You don’t look your age.”
The way this is said gets me all worked up: am I being chided? Scorned for looking this way past (what most people consider) my “prime”? Berated gently for making the rest of the FortyYearOld-dom look, well, doomed? One must act one’s age, right? So if I don’t look my age, I am defying society’s dictum to “wear wrinkles like a badge”? “Age” in the same sentence as “woman” always seems to mean nasty things.
2. “When I grow old, I want to look like you!”
I’m not sure whether this counts as a compliment, but, ouch! Some ditzy girl gushed this to me once, expecting to be thanked for that (backhanded) compliment. I’m stumped for an appropriately gushy response: “No, you won’t look like me” will probably offend, coming from me, as will “Of course, you will [grow old, bitch.]” The young are forgiven their egocentrism, but how to respond? Do advise.
3. “Wala ka pa ring kupas!” (No acceptable translation.)
This comes mostly from male complimenters. And to this I reply, in the same facetious vehicle as the compliment arrived in, “Damit?” In the (g)olden days, little girls were expected to “be seen, not heard” and I guess, when these girls grew up, society expects this idea to hold fast, like color in a piece of clothing. Women are expected to fade after a while? And pretty much like yesterday’s fashion pieces consigned to a baul (antique chest)? No self-respecting woman should feel excited being compared to a duster/housedress. (And since we’re on the subject: girls who are “heard” are not expected to win beauty contests, too. A “bimbo” is a common enough stereotype we all know and sometimes endorse, to assuage our little insecurities.)
4. “You’re looking younger every day.”
Hearing this reminds me of Benjamin Button. The subtext here, of course, is that no way you could look as young as all that without “technological” help. In the age of botox, Restylane, and CO2 fractionated laser, and in a society where stem-cell treatment is a common graduation gift, it is not difficult to imagine women falling for a “Sixty is the New Thirty” shtick on a billboard in EDSA. Apparently, the most distasteful thing, next to sporting a D-cup when you’re 65, is looking 65. (Men, on the other hand, do not carry an expiration date. Or so they claim).
5. “What is your secret?”
“You must be doing something. Own up!” What many of us do not realize is that, however we crimp and primp, aging is as much genes as habits. The process of growing old is chronologically the same for everyone, but to hasten it or slow it down depends a lot on our habits. There are no secrets to looking young, except to take care of yourself the best way you can, and to remember that
a. too much sun promotes premature aging (and a good sunblock helps stave off many skin problems);
b. water is the greatest lubricant and collagen-attracting substance, next to an excellent moisturizer; and,
c. smoking is best used as a compliment to describe you.
Point is, most women of a certain age will probably not care any more for compliments involving physical beauty, preferring people who treat everything in characteristic je ne sais quoi the best compliment you could give them. Although as a wild and wicked witch, I too have been known to throw compliments here and there (and not mean them). It does happen to the best of us.
And that, as a product of this society, also says a lot about me! ^_^
Putting a face to 40. And, nope, I hadn’t had a facelift. Yet. (2009 photo)
- Why You Can’t Take a Compliment – and 20 Great Reasons to Start (everydayhealth.com)