I want to tell you a story about this picture.
It was my friend’s 40th birthday party, and she had this big party, and then we went salsa dancing afterwards. I was also dating a new guy, and my friend invited him to the party as well.
So after I finished coaching that day, I was going to change and then head to the restaurant, but I wasn’t sure which dress to choose. I had three choices: a plain navy cocktail dress, a purple-sequined party dress, and the blue one in the photo.
My coworker offered to help me decide. He didn’t need to be home, so he said he’d give his opinion and especially consider the perspective of the guy I was dating.
Sounded great, and it’s always more fun to prep for parties with friends.
Ok, so, armed with my dress options, I headed into the back room to change, when suddenly I paused.
“Eric*,” I said. “Before I change, I want to establish some ground rules for what we’re about to do.”
“I look incredible in every single one of these dresses. None of them make me look fat. None of them make my ass look big. In every one of these dresses I look beautiful, sensual, charismatic, and like a woman you want to get to know at parties. It is possible that one of these dresses makes me look MORE sensational, or is more appropriate for the event, but at no point do I look anything other than amazing. Clear?“
I think he laughed nervously at first, but quickly grew somber. “Kathryn, I would have never said anything bad about how you look.”
“Ok good. I’m glad we’re on the same page.”
I was telling someone once that my special superpower has to do with the fact that people speak the truth when they’re around me.
I’m crazy about it. I love that I can always have deep and real and true conversations, even with people I’ve just met. I love that they trust me enough to tell me the truth. I love witnessing their truth.
Ok, so I told someone that, and she responded, “Oh I always tell the truth. I’m the friend that’ll tell you if those jeans make you look fat or if you’ve gained weight. I don’t care if it’s harsh.”
I was dumbstruck when she said that. Is that how she views the truth? Is that how she views friendship?
I tell you these stories because how we interact with compliments and bodies is something that’s important to me.
What’s more, I believe that the truth, if spoken without love and compassion, is not really the truth.
I am not interested in unsolicited comments about my body, honestly, even if they’re nice. It triggers in me the idea that you love me because I’m beautiful, because my appearance is pleasing to you. It opens up a space for me to lose that love if my body changes.
When I wrote that compliment post, I tried to really focus on having the complimenter own their reaction. So for example, “I love seeing your face!” Rather than “You’re so cute!” The heart-eye emoji is a completely accurate representation of me when I view people’s social media posts.
Do you see the difference?
I can see why people might think it’s a kindness to tell me when I look fat. We’ve equated fat and cellulite with rejection and unlove for a long time. They’re trying to save me from a terrible fate, or warn me about it at least.
But I am not interested in relating to myself that way. I am not interested in picking the lesser of evils when I dress myself. I’m not interested in wearing things that hide and conceal me.
I only want to wear my favorite clothes, the ones that make me feel beautiful, and charismatic, and sensual, and like a woman I want to get to know at parties.
I see that our culture has some unlearning to do on this topic, and so guidelines are helpful.
What would you tell people they’re allowed to say to you when giving you compliments? How can you help people learn a new way to interact with appearance?
Oh! Also, Eric* picked the blue dress in the photo because, in his words, that’s my color. He thoughts of me in bright colors, and so even though all the dresses were lovely, I looked most like myself to him in that dress.
(*Eric is not his real name. But he is really awesome.)