Photo Credit: Getty Images
10 "Polite" Compliments You're Giving That Are Actually Offensive
- "You look like you've lost weight!"
Commenting on others' physical appearance—and especially their weight—has become a bit taboo. You don't know what the other person might be going through, and saying something like, "You look like you've lost weight," can be a knock to their self-image.
"While this may have kind motives, it implies that the person should have lost weight, or that they were less beautiful at a different weight," Carrie Rose, life coach and founder of SunUp Coaching, tells Best Life.
- "You look good for your age."
Commenting on age is another dicey area where your compliments may otherwise be perceived as offensive. Ribarsky says you might mean well by saying, "You look good for your age," but it may not be interpreted that way.
"While it may be meant as a compliment, its qualifier implies that one only looks good when compared to others their age," she says. "Simply removing the 'for your age' can turn this hurtful statement into a positive one."
- "You're so [blank] for a man/woman."
Ribarsky also cautions against "compliments" that are qualified by sex and gender, like saying, "You're so smart for a woman," or, "You're so fashionable for a man."
"This is one I personally encounter quite often. Although I've heard it in many contexts and with many characteristics, I most often hear it when it comes to my physicality," she shares. "I've worked hard over the past few years to lift heavier weights at the gym, so I often hear, 'You're really strong for a woman.' The qualifier ultimately discredits my strength."
- "You are so good-looking—why are you still single?"
This one is another comment that you might not immediately recognize as backhanded. However, asking someone why they're single is never appropriate, even if you're cushioning it by complimenting their appearance.
"Saying, 'You are so good-looking, why are you still single?' is not a compliment," Spencer says. "It's best to refrain from commenting on someone's marital status unless they choose to bring it up."
- "You deserve better than him/her/them."
Telling someone that they "deserve better" than a former partner is almost a reflex when comforting someone who's going through a divorce or breakup. But Rose warns that you should think of what that phrase really implies before you say it.
"While that might feel sort of good to hear, at one point they wanted to and loved being with that person! So saying that they deserve better could imply that the relationship was a dumb choice in the first place," Rose says.
- "You clean up well."
You've definitely heard this phrase thrown around, but if it's something you often say to others, you might want to reconsider.
"'You clean up well' is a phrase that can come off as kind, but it actually is implying they normally do not look as good, which can be very hurtful to the person you're talking to!" Daniel Rinaldi, therapist, life coach, and founder of Live Your F'N Life coaching, tells Best Life. "Saying that they 'clean up well' suggests that their usual appearance is less than desirable and that their effort to look better is a surprise or out of the ordinary. Essentially, it undermines the individual's self-esteem and self-image by implying that their everyday appearance is subpar."
- "I don't know how you do it all!"
When a friend or family member has a lot on their plate and manages it well, you want to let them know how much you admire them. But saying, "I don't know how you do it all," can come off as insensitive, especially if you're addressing a single parent, Ann Runkle, divorce and career coach and founder of Forward With Ann, says.
"In the divorce world, single parents (especially single moms) will often hear someone say, 'I don't know how you do it all!'" Runkle says. "[It's] usually said with well-meaning intent attempting to acknowledge the heavy burden a single parent carries, but it is one of the most frustrating 'compliments' for a single mom to hear."
- "You resemble [blank]."
This one is particularly tough because telling someone they look like a celebrity or famous person might be your form of high praise. Complicating things further, when you tell someone they look like a person you perceive as good-looking, you probably assume the person on the receiving end will have the same opinion. But in reality, you don't know if your doppelgänger suggestion will offend them.
"Avoid telling someone that they look like someone else," Spencer says. "You never know how the receiver will take that message."
- "You look great now!"
Telling someone that they look great is a perfect compliment, but the problem here is the addition of the word "now." Similar to comments on weight loss, this word insinuates that someone didn't look "great" before.
Page Buldini, esthetician and founder of Page Aesthetics Skincare, says that she sees this happen when a client's skin improves.
- You're so brave to wear that!"
When it comes to clothing and style, we all have our own preferences. So it may be perceived as offensive if you tell someone they're "brave" for making certain fashion choices.
"While this sounds like a compliment, and maybe you do mean it as one, telling someone they're brave implies that they need to be brave. So the question on the person's mind may be, 'I am just wearing something I like, why does that make me brave? It wasn't hard for me to put this on,'" Genevieve Dreizen, modern-day etiquette expert and co-founder of Fresh Starts Registry, says.