Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Non-pliments

So, I recently cut my hair. It's a pixie cut. And I love it. And the majority of my friends and acquaintances love it. However, some people don't seem to know how to deal with it. For some reason, a drastic hair change really freaks people out and they say awkward, Tourrettes-like statements while staring at a weird space above my head. And inevitably, they blurt out non-pliments. What's a "non-pliment?" Well, it's a compliment that's really not a compliment. Non-pliments range from innocent and poorly worded utterances to completely passive-aggressive dickishness. We've all received a non-pliment and most people just let it slide, in the interest of not turning our afternoons into a pointless tire-fire of anger. I, however, hold onto and internalize that non-pliment until it is a parasitic twin of insecurity in my stomach. I can tell you the date, time, place and barometric pressure of every non-pliment I've ever received. I have a hard time letting things go, is what I'm trying to say.
However, as guilty as I am for holding on to a non-pliment; I also have given them out...most completely unintentional and not meant to cause harm; I just chose my words poorly.  A few, however were WAY fucking intentional; like direct eye-contact, "Parker Posey in Dazed and Confused" intentional. I'm not proud of this. But it happened.

If you are still unsure of what a non-pliment is, I can give you a few examples...7 examples to be exact; with subcategories....because nothing encourages further blog reading like the word "subcategories." Do I still have any readers left at this point? A few? Blink twice if you are here against your will....No matter; on to the non-pliments!

1. The Factual Statement Non-pliment: This is when someone just states a fact, but thinks they are somehow paying you a compliment. Here's an example that I get at least twice a month: "Wow, your hair is really white." This is not a compliment. You are just identifying hair colors. You have not uttered one word that can be construed as a compliment in any way; so I have no idea how to respond to this. Which brings me to one of the major ways to identify if what you are saying to someone is a compliment or a non-pliment: can the person you are speaking to say "thanks" to your statement without it feeling awkward or sarcastic? No? Then what you are saying is not a compliment. Whenever someone tells me that my hair is white, I can't appropriately respond with the word "thanks," because that makes no sense. Usually what happens is I end up nodding and saying "yes, it is," then we exchange painfully awkward eye contact and I slowly back away. The thing about the Factual Statement non-pliment is that it tinged with judgement. Why did you feel it necessary to point out that my hair is white? Probably because it is different than yours? I'm guessing there are a lot of differences we have. Are we going to stand here all day and list them like a couple of Sesame Street puppets? If so, I call dibs on being Oscar the Grouch.

Other examples of other factual statements that are not compliments: "You are tall," "Your hair is short/long," "You wear a lot of black," "That lipstick is really red." And, when you add a modifier such as "a lot," "really," "very," etc., it really drives home the fact that what you are doing is not a compliment because you adding a superlative to your judgement. Not cool.

2. The Previous Time Comparison Non-pliment: Again, I'll use a hair related example because that's what's on my mind (Get it? On my mind? *crickets*). Anyway,  "I really liked your hair when it was long/red/curly/whatever." Ok, well it's not right now, is it? I was hot before but now I am an unfuckable mop bucket? What are you trying to say? Why are you bringing up old shit? 

Other examples of The Previous Time Comparison non-pliment: "That was you in high school? You looked amazing!" "I liked your old house," "Last time you added more butter to this casserole, and I really liked it!" You may think that you are offering constructive criticism, but you are just offering unsolicited criticism, which is a dick move. Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful to compliment someone on a past achievement, but comparing it to a current situation with a thinly veiled air of superiority is just rude. And it doesn't make anyone feel good. Don't criticize my current casserole with a comparison to my past casserole...you ass-erole.

3. The Marginalizing Non-pliment: Pretty much anything involving the words "unique," "unusual," "interesting," "eclectic," "exotic" or any other word that conveys an idea of being outside the norm. When you do this, you are not-so-subtly passing judgement. These words are not rude in themselves, but in certain contexts, they can be quite insulting. "You have a unique opinion," "Your singing voice is unusual," "That's an interesting choice," "your style is eclectic," or the worst: "Wow, you are so exotic looking." Um, you should only say that if you are speaking to a parrot...and even then, it's weird. Essentially what you are doing is comparing someone's looks, talents, abilities, etc. to the standard ideal and marginalizing them. Just say, "I like your style" and leave it at that.

4. The "My Priorities Are Different Than Yours" Non-pliment: Every time someone says to me "You're so dressed up all the time," or "How much time do you spend getting ready?" I want to cry blood...but that would ruin my makeup contouring. Yeah, I spend a lot of time getting dressed, putting on makeup, doing my hair, then subsequently changing my outfit again.
So. The. Fuck. What?
Does the fact that I spend anywhere from 10-40 minutes every day just applying winged eyeliner affect you in any way? No? Then why bring it up? Just say, your makeup looks nice. Or don't say anything at all. These kind of comments almost always stem from insecurity and/or judgement. How do I know this? Because I've given the "My Priorities Are Different Than Yours" non-pliment myself. I've actually said to people; "Wow, you spend a lot of time at the gym; I could never find the time." WTF? I just admitted that I spend about a fortnight (full disclosure: I don't know what a fortnight is) working on my "look," so how could I not have time to work-out? The truth is, I do have time; but it's not one of my priorities.... and I feel guilty about this, so I have to non-pliment someone who chooses to make this a priority, ultimately to make myself feel better. And that, my friends, is completely fucked up thinking. And I'm working on it. So, can we make a deal? I won't non-pliment your interest in hiking, camping, running, (and generally being a good, healthy person) if you don't non-pliment my shallow vanity and all-consuming quest for the perfect eyebrow arch.

5. The "Validate Me" Non-pliment: "I wish I could lose weight as quickly as you do," "You got a promotion? My boss hates me, I'll never get a promotion" "It sounds like you had a lot of fun in Maui. We can't afford a vacation right now." Or pretty much any sentence that involves the words "you're so lucky." Yeah, I will totally admit to giving these non-pliments with the end goal of having someone feel sorry for me and validate me somehow; and it's not ok. You are just sending out an invite to a pity party...and the person you are talking to can't even pretend they didn't see the invite notification. You have put someone in an uncomfortable position. Just congratulate them on their achievements and quit comparing yourself to them. Now, excuse me while I sheepishly try to follow my own advice.

6. Tattoo Non-pliments: I know, this seems like a bit of a detour and doesn't relate to all of my reader(s), but the tattoo thing needs to be addressed; especially when talking to a woman with tattoos. Consider this a PSA, if nothing else. Humor me. I'll feel better. Here's the deal, The Tattoo Non-pliment can encompass all of the above non-pliments, I'll demonstrate-

  1. Factual Statement Tattoo Non-pliment: "You have a lot of tattoos." Um, not really, but you seem to think so. "A lot" is a relative term; more than the Dalai Lama but less than a Russian prison, I suppose. What the fuck is your point? When you say things like that, you sound like a toddler speaking non sequiturs. What would you think if I just approached you and said "You don't have any tattoos." How would you react? Confused, at the very least? Exactly.
  2. Previous Time Tattoo Non-pliment: "I liked you better with out all the tattoos." This is usually followed by a long sigh, as your mom (or well-meaning, but disappointed relative) stares wistfully into the bottom of her Constant Comet tea. I know; this wouldn't have been your ideal vision of how I would end-up looking and it doesn't fit your world view, but luckily IT DOESN'T AFFECT A DAMN THING IN THE WORLD. So, let's move on, shall we.
  3. The Marginalizing Tattoo Non-pliment: "I bet you stand out in a crowd." Depends on the crowd, I guess...if it's a crowd of Mayflower pilgrims, then sure. I would also be burned at the stake, most likely. It's 2015; I stand out more for knowing how to use a rotary phone. And so what if I do stand out in a crowd? The only one that needs to worry about that is me. 
    • Subcategory: "What does your boyfriend/husband think of those tattoos?" Well, fortunately he approves. Of course, we also had to go to my father and obtain his permission. After they both signed a notarized affidavit, acquiescing that I could do whatever I want to my body, I took the document to my local constabulary and presented my case. After a 2 hour cross-examination of the placement and subject matter of my tattoos, I procured my Lady Tattoo Permit. Huzzah!
  4. The "My Priorities Are Different Than Yours" Tattoo Non-pliment: "I like your tattoos, but I could never do that. I have a career." Oh, really; a career? Fancy-schmancy. I bet you own more than 2 pairs of socks and you speak the King's English too. I have a career as well; granted, my career is that of an old-timey, sleazy n'er-do-well who hangs out in seedy juke joints or outside high schools flipping a quarter seductively and trying to lure innocent people into a life of opiate addiction and white slavery. The pay is decent, but the hours are crazy....Seriously. I get it. Tattoos are not in your wheelhouse and that's fine; but don't assume that I lack anything in my life because of them. 
  5. The "Validate Me" Tattoo Non-pliment: This one is SO uncomfortable, because it is always some dude "complimenting" my tattoos, only to show me his shitty "my buddy did this in his garage" tattoo. You just made it weird, because I have no idea what to say about your blown-out Marvin the Martian tattoo. I'm sad for you now. And I want to get back to my drink.
  6. Here's a bonus one- The General "I Like Your Tattoos" Non-pliment. What's wrong with this, you ask? Well, I forgot to include the context; this is usually said by a complete stranger, usually from a distance so he can't event tell what the tattoos are. This person usually has no tattoos and is just looking for an invitation to stare at you or touch you. What he really means by "I like your tattoos" is "I like the fact that you have tattoos. You are probably an easy/exotic/wild/bad girl and I want to stare at you in a freakshow spectator sort of way." And yes, you will notice that I used the pronoun "he," because I've never had a woman do this to me. Also, I asked my husband if anyone has ever done this to him. He said no. I do believe we'd be hard pressed to find a lot of men who have had this experience....which is why it is called: TAT-CALLING. Yep, you are essentially cat-calling a woman due to her tattoos. And it's annoying and it's not a compliment. Which leads me out of our subcategories and back to the final non-pliment of the blog......
7. Drumroll......The Making A Woman Uncomfortable Non-pliment: Yeah, you knew I couldn't go through a whole blog without dishing up some of my pesky feminist propaganda. Basically, it's this: if your "compliment" makes a woman uncomfortable due to the subject matter, the context, the time, the place, or just general inappropriateness....it's not a compliment. Telling the barista at Starbucks that you like her tight-fitting shirt while creepily leering at her mommy parts, is not a compliment. It's actually harassment. If she has to stop doing her job to uncomfortably mumble a forced "thanks," that should indicate to you that your "compliment" was at best, inconvenient. Read the room, dude. If you are disrupting someone to pay them a compliment, it's not a compliment. It's an annoyance; and harassment. " This may be tricky to discern, but if it's something you wouldn't say to your male co-worker, doctor, boss, or great aunt, then maybe swallow that jagg-off little pill and save it for your Men's Rights group. Oh, and while we're at it; Cat-calling is never a compliment. But, I'm assuming if you got this far, you already know that. I'm pretty sure I lost most of the cat-call prone readers (if I have any) at the phrase "feminist propaganda" anyway. Regarding cat-calls, I have so many things to say, that I wouldn't even know where to begin...but, I really love this What If Catcalls Were Cheeseburgers video, so I'll let it speak for me and close us out.