Sure, it’s always a compliment to know that someone thinks I’m attractive. But here’s what I find much more of a compliment.
As I’ve written about before, I do side work as a model to help make ends meet. This means that I hear that I’m pretty/striking/voluptuous/whatever probably more frequently than the average woman. That’s not to say it means anything — on the contrary, working as a model has caused me to not trust it whenever someone says I’m attractive. When it’s part of your job to be visually appealing, the very meaning of outward beauty seems to vanish.
So as a response to all the people in my life who mean well when saying I look pretty today, here are some words that are MUCH more complimentary to my heart and soul:
I remember a day three years ago, when I was staying at my friend Greta’s house for Easter. She lived on the outskirts of a small town, and her family owned a bunch of land. On this land were some trees, which included a homemade zipline.
This was not a classic zipline. It was homemade, and crossed a length of about 30 feet before hitting the ground (it looked like the hypotenuse of a triangle, with the tree and the ground as the other sides). My friend Jiao Jiao was too afraid to go down the zipline, and Greta was already down on the ground with her dad, waiting for us. I took a chance and threw myself down the zipline, bobbing hazardously more than once. From then on, Jiao Jiao called me “Brittany the Brave,” (this is before I went by Brit) because I had done what she could not and Greta would not. Needless to say, it was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.
For me, “clever” goes beyond being smart. It’s probably closer to being cunning, or being scrappy. It takes more than just being book smart — it means taking book smarts and putting them into tangible practice in the real world.
The times I’ve been called clever usually involved getting myself out of money troubles. I had to work through college because my family couldn’t support me at all financially. And so to make ends meet (and occasionally get new jeans or sneakers if it wasn’t yet payday), I had to pull ideas out of thin air. Plasma donation. Pawning items. Being a participant in psychology experiments… I had to be clever in order to survive. So whenever someone called me that, it felt great.
This is another word connected with my growing up poor. In order to stay sane while surrounded by poverty, I tried to educate myself to the best of my ability. I listened to podcasts on a variety of subjects. I took an interest in dance and opera. When I wasn’t in class, I tried to surround myself with friends who were just as interested in learning as I was.
I guess this phrase means this much to me because it signifies that I’m “making it” as someone trying to rise above her circumstances. Sure, I can’t afford a Cinderella-like gown. Or even the tiara on her head, let’s be honest. But I can dance like she did in the movie. I worked at cleaning jobs involving duties similar to what she had to do for her evil stepsisters. And hopefully I’ll have just as happy an ending as hers.
This word sometimes has negative connotations, but for me it’s anything BUT a negative word. Being called passionate doesn’t imply that you’re “difficult” or hard to handle. It means that you’re capable of both feeling and expressing extreme emotions. It means that you’re not afraid to express yourself, to be vulnerable.
The best story I can give regarding this took place last year. My boyfriend and I went on our first official date at a tiny French restaurant. The kind where the candles are held in Mason jars, and the tablecloths are paper strips the owner tears off a roll whenever a new customer sits at that table. We were looking at the menu, and I mentioned that a particular chese appetizer looked good. He ordered it, and we each tried a bit of the cheese with fruit (I believe it was brie with apricot).
It was so good that I nearly fell out of my chair. I think I said something like, “Oh my GOSH, that’s good stuff!” My now-boyfriend says now that my reaction to that new taste, unashamed and uninhibited, was what made him start to fall in love with me. He saw my ability to react viscerally, to react with passion, as a gift. And so, whenever someone calls me passionate, I take it as an immense compliment. I’m proud of being able to express my true feelings, and be a commanding presence because of them.
It finally happened — this summer, someone actually called me a “ballbuster.” And the weird thing was, it made me happy! It was someone I had worked with, a younger guy who was new to the campus magazine I wrote for. I marked up his drafts a lot (as his editor), passed on advice that had helped me when I was first staring out, and tried to compel him to be his absolute best. I also had to schedule meetings with the rest of the group, which wasn’t easy to do during the beautiful summer. I tried to be firm but kind, because I genuinely wanted everyone to do well on their stories. And I was called a ballbuster because I wasn’t flexible about deadlines. I took the name as a compliment, because it meant to me that I was firm about the things that mattered to me. And it meant that I wasn’t someone to be trifled with.
Don’t get the wrong idea, Lovelies — I don’t jump down the throat of anyone who ever calls me pretty. I know they’re just trying to be nice. It’s just that after working in a job where people tell you you’re pretty as a way of convincing you to work with them (or to get you to relax during a nude shoot), the word has lost a lot of its real meaning. I’d rather be complimented on an aspect of me that I worked to have, or something that’s more lasting than any sort of external aspect. Even if I am dressed prettily that day or something, what does that really matter in the long run? I’d rather be liked for being the tough, brave, clever bitch who read all the books she ever wanted to read.
Do you take it as a compliment when someone calls you pretty, or does it not mean that much to you? What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
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