When I was about 10 we had a school camp. I can’t remember where we went but it was out bush somewhere and there were cabins and a tennis court and some really awesome swimming pools that no one supervised us using because it was 1991 and life was different back then. If one of us had of drowned it probably would have been our fault and the whole class would have gotten detention or something. And the drowned kid probably would have been threatened with the cane. Anyway, while we were there we had a formal dinner and everyone was supposed to bring a nice dress or, for the guys, a nice pair of pants and button up long sleeved shirt.
THIS WAS A BIG DEAL.
Seriously it was a huge deal. Because not only was it a formal dinner but a guy had to ask you and you had to pair with them and it was expected that he pull out your chair, fetch your plate and dance with you at some point. You wouldn’t get away with it these days. Can you imagine? You would probably get sued because girls are capable of getting their own plates. But again, 1991.
So anyway, my mother is a wonderful seamstress. Now days if you make your own clothes they have a kitch term called ‘handmaiden’ which is a play on ‘handmade’ and ‘maiden’ which is probably also not very PC but back in 1991 if you sewed your own clothes you were just a seamstress. Mum took to the challenge of a dress for a formal dinner with an enthusiasm that shocked me. She found a pattern for a gown, and I mean it was a serious gown with wide off the shoulder bands, a sweetheart neckline, a full skirt that was tea dress length and a fabric rose pinned between my boobs if I had of had any, but I didn’t because – once again, it was 1991. She made it from yards and yards of white puffy sheer fabric with little black felt dots the size of a match head and I basically looked like Cinderella.
It was over the top. The other girls were sporting the very best Myer had to offer or whatever but no one had a Cinderella dress because we were 10. To add to the Cinderella effect I am not sure anyone had ever even noticed I existed much before unless it was in the capacity of best friend to my best friend who was this adorable little elfin thing and a twin to boot so everyone loved her. I was the 1991 version of that ugly friend that the cute chick has. (Don’t worry, when puberty hit I became completely rocking but back then still totally invisible). I don’t know if I had ever worn a dress in front of these people before. I did own the world’s ugliest tracksuit I wore without a care because it was warm and I didn’t give a shit about fashion. I wore sneakers with basically everything I owned. I wore socks with flats. I shouldn’t have been allowed to dress myself but it was 1991 and parents didn’t care if you looked weird so long as you came home before the streetlights.
Okay, so here we are. It is early evening at camp and I’ve showered and washed my hair and donned my Cinderella dress and flats (with no socks) and emerged and basically all the girls went, “Ahhhhh” and the teacher asked if she could braid my hair which was pretty much the most fancy my hair had ever been in it’s life.
We got to the hall for dinner and people kept saying, “You look really pretty.” Or “You look beautiful.” And this had never happened to me before in my life so I was mortified by the attention and kept saying, “No, I don’t.” Which was 10 year old speak for, “Shut up and stop talking to me.” After about the tenth time this happened a female teacher pulled me aside and said, “Hey, if people are telling you you look nice or that you’re beautiful it’s because they think you are. No one is forcing them to say that to you. When you say you’re not that means you’re saying that their opinion doesn’t matter. They are wanting to tell you this because they believe it, so just say thank you.” And I felt bad because truthfully me disagreeing with them did just seem to make the conversation awkward. So the next time someone said, “You look lovely”, I replied with, “Thank you. So do you.” And they beamed at me and went away.
And I feel like maybe no one has ever pulled aside many of my friends and ever told them that. One of them will put up a profile picture or something and I might say, “You look amazing.” And more often then not they will say, “Oh, no. I look dreadful, look at the bags under my eyes, I look so tired.” Or something similar and I think, “Dude. Ain’t none of us perfect here but I said that because that is my truth. I don’t willy nilly hand out compliments for fun. I don’t tell you it because I want you to say, “No, you are” and I am not saying it because I’m just being nice. If I say that you are beautiful, it’s because to me, you are. Just say thank you and know that whatever you’re seeing, this is my honesty.”
I grew up watching women deflect compliments as though they were waving away flies.
“I’ve had this outfit for years.”
“I need to lose some weight.”
I didn’t know how to accept a compliment with grace and just allow it to be their truth. That right at that moment I was beautiful to that person.
So practice it. Thank you. Just two words. Ready?