You’re So Nice and You’re So Smart

I wore a dress to work today. That’s not unusual — I like dresses and the way they cover my less work-appropriate bits. It wasn’t a new dress. I’ve worn it to work many times before, but for some reason today was different.

Maybe it’s because our office (actually the entire university where I work. Actually the entire state of Colorado.) falls closer to the casual side of the business casual spectrum. This dress is sort of a half-step up from that — maybe even verging on general business attire. It stands out a little in that sense.

Maybe it was because I usually wear it with a cardigan and now that I don’t sit next to an exterior wall, I can afford luxuries like going without a sweater and eating granola bars that haven’t frozen inside my purse.

I promise that this hasn't become a fashion blog. I'm getting to the point.

I promise this hasn’t become a fashion blog. I’m getting to the point.

Whatever it was, people kept complimenting it. Like, a lot of people. Like, way more people than one can generally expect to compliment a garment in one day. At one point, an entire room of people ganged up on me to tell me they liked my dress. It was pretty much the worst.

That sounds like a particularly idiotic humblebrag. “Ugh. People saying nice things and boosting your self-esteem, am I right?” I mean it, though. I hate compliments a little bit because I’m chronically unable to accept them with any kind of grace and it ends up making the whole situation uncomfortable for everyone. Today, one person actually apologized for complimenting me based on my reaction.

Theoretical Compliments and Examples of My Inappropriate Responses

1. If someone said: “You look very pretty today!”

I would: make an unflattering face, stare them straight in the eye, and say, “Oh, do I?”

2. If someone said: “You have the best Instagram feed of cat barf photos I’ve ever seen!”

I would: say, “Oh, you,” and avoid eye contact.

3. If someone said: “I read your blog post about being unable to accept compliments. Too funny!”

I would: stutter violently before giving up and changing the subject.

4. If someone said: “Good work out there today, Stephanie!”

I would: respond “Thanks, champ/tiger/sport/another sarcastic nickname that ruins any genuineness I might have had!”

5. If someone said: “Cool ushanka!”

I would: say, “It makes me look like Joseph Stalin.”

Although my mustache is much more impressive.

Although my mustache is much more impressive.

6. If someone said: “You’re an incredible birdwatcher!”

I would: say, “And you’re an incredible… wearer… of… that sweater!”

7. If someone said: “Stephanie’s the best hand model in the business!”

I would: blush furiously, shout “HASHTAG BYE!” and run from the room. [This actually happened today. In my defense, I had recently taught everybody there about hashtags, so it was kind of relevant. Stupid, but still relevant.]

The thing is, I’m a pretty confident gal. I know I look good in the dress I wore today. That’s why I bought it. So why can’t I take a compliment?

Apparently it happens to a lot of us and there are a bunch of different theories as to why.

Many Different Theories

1. We’re insecure and don’t believe we deserve the compliment.

2. We’re insecure and think we sound cocky if we don’t argue and point out our weaknesses.

3. We’re insecure and we suspect the compliment is backhanded.

4. We’re insecure and we think the giver of the compliment is hitting on us.

Oh. That’s really just one theory, isn’t it?

Many Different Theories, Revised

1. We’re insecure.

I have a harder time accepting some compliments than others. If the compliment I receive is based on the amount of effort I put into something, I can handle it better. If it’s based on appearance or something else I have no control over, however, I’m bound to respond badly. Not because I have low self-esteem, but because I don’t feel like I earned the compliment.

For example, if you said, “It was really impressive how you rounded up all the cats in the burning building and got them out in less than 30 seconds, Stephanie,” I’m more likely to say, “Why, thank you. The cats and I have been doing drills for the last six months just in case something like this happened.”

But if you said, “You’re pretty, Stephanie,” I’m much more likely to say something that will make us both feel weird. Something like, “I’ll thank puberty next time I see it,” or “It’s genetic — all my grandparents are cuties!”

It’s something I need to work on. Here’s what the internet says I should do next time someone compliments me:

How to Take a Compliment

1. Smile and say thank you.

2. Wait, is that seriously it?

3. Yep. Yeah, that’s all there is to it.

4. I really thought that was going to be trickier.

Now we know.

By the way… you look really nice today.


  1. ragtimecyclist

    This inability to accept compliments…you’re not British by any chance?

    (I am. And before you say anything my blog is rubbish, and dont you dare make me feel awkward by suggesting it’s not!)

    Great blog by the way!

  2. pensitivity101

    Seriously, I know what you mean, having had ‘compliments’ that were back handed or piss takes many years ago. Puts you off and makes you wary sometimes. These days it is with a smile and thanks (but I don’t smile a lot!)

  3. Masters & Disasters

    The truth of the life…jajaja…. It is a good post and yes, I think we should be more open to nice comments… even when we are thinking they are not “really nice”. To feel good about ourselves is our thing and wait a minute, what else do we need??? :p

  4. rixlibris

    I have somewhat the opposite problem. I seem to have a general inability to recognize back handed compliments or snark and treat them as genuine or well meaning. For some reason that tends to piss people off.

  5. Mindy

    I’ve always had a hard time taking a compliment, too – about anything. I’ve gotten better with just saying, “Thank you,” but it’s been hard work. Even when I know I’ve done a good job or wearing something particularly flattering, it’s hard for me to believe anyone else sees it. I guess I always see what I could have done better, or feel I need to lose weight, etc. So many of us fall into that trap.

  6. chrysaliswithaview

    Why, thank-you! The design on my PJs does go with my hair, and these sheets do bring out the colour of my eyes :) That is a really nice dress. I hope you get lots more practice at accepting compliments next time you wear it :)

  7. Puffetic

    In my experience, compliments are only offered when people see something out of the norm. When someone said to me “Brilliant suggestion!” What they were actually saying is, “Wow, I doubt that’ll happen again, normally you’re a dumbass… have a bone.”

  8. Lorna's Voice

    Great post! Men don’t seem to have this problem. A study was done about this (or related to it). Women attribute their success or accomplishments or anything good to either dumb luck or others–never to themselves (of course there are always exceptions and we’ve come across those women and we hate them). Men, on the other hand, attribute success, etc. to something they have done or to their innate qualities/abilities. So they would have an easier time accepting a compliment–they feel they earned it. Women don’t.

    But you are right about how to accept a compliment. Be gracious. Smile and say thank you. Men could learn to do that, too. ;)

  9. kaybaelol

    I just published my first post today, and was looking at other peoples posts on other blogs. You’ve definitely earned a follower!! :)
    If you’re interested…………

  10. Michelle

    Just found your blog anhd I can so relate to what you wrote. Personally, I like getting compliments that actually have something to so with ME as a person and I am learning to just thank the person who said something nice about my work orif I said something they consider funny (even when it’s very likely I do not feel the same way). But when it comes to terms of appearance, I don’t feel flattered at all, most of the times, it makes me even more insecure. And I always ask myself: Is that weird?

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