Because I am well aware of the fact that I am. I am amazed by compliments, or rather, I’m amazed by what people (mostly dudes) think a compliment entitles them to. As a pole dancer, model, burlesque performer, red head, and above all else, a woman, I get complimented a lot. I have a perspective on this frequent experience and it’s outlined below in all of its complicated glory.
On a daily basis, some dude will tell me I’m pretty. When I hear this, I think one thing: Yes, water is wet. He’s not wrong, in fact, I know more than he does how right he is. I am pretty. It’s a statement of the obvious, like the fact that water is wet. It’s just true. I know it in my bones. I mean that literally.
Wow, your abs are great.
Yes, I felt the pain from all the sit ups I did to get them.
Your ass is perfect.
Yes, I do I lot of squats.
Your tattoos are so–
Yes, I worked with an artist to design them and place them exactly where I want them on my body and we talked about Halloween parties and ex-boyfriends while she injected the ink into my skin.
You make such great poses.
Yes, I’ve been dancing my whole life, I know how to move through space.
You really know how to work with that (insert costume/prop/architecture here).
Yes, I have Viewpoints and clown training. I’m a theater kid. I know how to be in relationship with things around me.
You’re so pretty.
Yes. I know. I am well aware of this fact, just as I am aware that the sky is blue. And while stating the obvious to me is not a cardinal sin, there are some other pieces involved in the Instance of a Compliment that are problematic.
Pretty privilege is real. I experience it all the time. People give me shit because I am pretty. People are nice to me because I’m pretty. But this privilege is a double-edged sword and I expend a lot of labor out in the world because of it. People also assume something about my level of intelligence because I am pretty. They assume things about my sexuality. They assume things about my sexual history.
I work as a model. Pretty privilege puts a roof over my head and food on my table and I am not complaining about any of that. I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a freelancer, I do research, I edit people’s writing, I dramaturg, and I model. Guess what earns the most money? The one that is the resource that lots of people want: prettiness. And not only do I have this privilege and use it to my economic benefit, I also am fully, irrevocably aware that I have this resource and that it is one of the many things I can use to live.
When some random dude calls me pretty a few things happen:
- They think they are telling me new information. With every compliment, especially from total strangers, there’s this air of She Has Never Been Told This Before. Actually, the only new thing is who is saying it to me. I’ve heard, “You’re so prettybeautifulgorgeousstunningohwow,” plenty of times. Most likely, I will only hear it from you once. Knowing that I am pretty puts me in an interesting position. I don’t beg for compliments, I don’t pretend that there is much of anything special about these kinds of interactions because they are frequent and usually meaningless. Some might say this makes me jaded, I say it makes me practical because:
- Once the compliment has been given, there is a sense that the Compliment Giver is now owed something. The something they get is usually, “Yes, thank you.” Even this, not just saying, “thank you,” but adding a “Yes,” in front, throws people for a loop. They don’t expect me to agree with them, because like I said, this is supposed to be new information to me. It’s not. I’m loud about the fact that it’s not. When this doesn’t work out the way the Compliment Giver wants it to, when I don’t show undying gratitude for the obvious information that just came out of their face, they try again. They dig themselves into awkward holes about how my hair looks amazing, just like their sister’s. So you want to fuck your sister? I let it get awkward. They started it. I can end it.
- It is this idea that anything more than an acknowledgment that words were said to me, despite their obvious nature, that gets to me. Like I said, my prettiness is a resource that earns me money. As the owner of this resource, the most that you can reasonably expect me to do in response to such a compliment is to hold out my hand with an itching palm, asking you to pay me. No you cannot just have my resource because you mentioned that it exists. A smile costs ten dollars.
Now, some of you might think that all of this is jaded or bitter or mean of me. It’s really not. This attitude was forged for many reasons, among them are my safety, my sanity, and that hearing the same basic thing over and over again is incredibly boring. What would I rather hear instead of “You’re pretty?”
Ask me a question.
What time is it?
When does the next bus come?
What parts of this costume do you want to accentuate?
What story are you trying to tell?
Where did you get those shoes?
Ask me literally any question. I like questions more than compliments for a few reasons:
1. You have to think up a question to ask me. That takes more engagement and brain power than it does to observe something and blurt out the observation.
2. You actually have to listen for an answer. You have to remain engaged in a way that you won’t be if you’re just listening for acceptance of a compliment. You don’t know what to expect. You have no idea what I’ll say. (This is half of the reason I have started to say things other than just “thank you” to compliments. It throws people back into the present moment).
3. Asking a question means you are bringing less assumptions to our conversation than giving me a compliment does. A question, at it’s base level, is an admission that you don’t know something and not knowing is fantastic. We should all do more of it. It rocks. A compliment assumes that I want to be told this information and, like I said, it often assumes that I am straight/single/looking for love at a bus stop in Ballard. (If you must know, I am: not straight/perpetually single/ and definitely not looking for love at a bus stop anywhere).
In short, compliments are cheap. Questions are expensive. I am an expensive person. My time, energy, looks, and thoughts are valuable to me. I do not like wasting them. I do my best to avoid wasting them. Come at me with content and with an intent that is something other than, “I want to get inside you,” Because you won’t ever get that, especially if your first words to me are some variation of, “You’re so pretty.”
Yes, water is wet. Tell me something I don’t already know.
*Pretty is used as a stand in for all related adjectives including but not limited to: beautiful, gorgeous, stunning, strong, stellar, interesting-looking, perfect.