About 10 years ago, this lovely gem of a movie landed on screens everywhere, and while I will readily admit that I think most of it is quite hilarious, there are a few scenes and lines that unfortunately depict reality today that I’m not cool with.
Regina: “You’re like really pretty.”
Cady: “Thank you.”
Regina: “So you agree? You think you’re really pretty?”
Cady: “Uh…” ::awkward::
Cady, played by Lindsey Lohan, had just come back to America after spending the past 12 years with her parents in Africa. This scene is towards the beginning of the movie. The conversation with Regina was very abnormal to Cady as she didn’t grow up that way. A compliment was a compliment…something you say “thank you” to.
The scene is funny, and we often grin, quietly nodding at the familiarity. Most people probably wouldn’t be as bold as Regina to question someone like that after dishing out a compliment, but because of our culture, we quietly nod because that’s what we assume everyone wants to say, or is at least thinking.
We don’t say “thank you” when someone compliments us for fear of appearing arrogant, prideful or egocentric. Instead, we respond with a compliment back or a negative rebuttal.
In another scene shortly after this in the movie, “The Plastics”, Regina’s group, are all standing in front of the mirror complaining about their appearance.
“My hips are huge!” “I hate my calves.” “I’ve got man shoulders.” “My hairline is so weird.” “My pores are huge.” “My nail beds suck.”
After the three girls make their complaints, they all stare at Cady, waiting for her to join in this teen, self-loathing, ritual that is entirely foreign to her. Cady innocently responds, “I have really bad breath in the morning.”
How has this culture – self-loathing and deflecting – become the norm? AND, more importantly, how can we change it?
My idea for this post came when I was meeting with someone a few weeks back, and this person admitted to me that they feel really uncomfortable accepting compliments. I continued to compliment this person, not out of compulsion but genuine excitement for their contribution and giftings. However, after the conversation, I thought about their response a bit more.
There is this inward dichotomy that happens when we receive compliments. On the one side, we feel flattered or encouraged that someone has noticed us or thinks we are doing a good job or whatever the compliment may entail. On the other side, though, we feel awkward and uncomfortable for the attention.
We respond by either deflecting and turning the attention back to the person who initiated the conversation, or we reply with the “anti-compliment”. “Oh I’m not really that great…” “Whatever! I need to lose so much weight.” We put ourselves down.
Our culture has been heavily influential on us, and a lot of day-to-day interactions that are seemingly normal do in fact point back to our culture. It has influenced us. Our culture has told us that we have to look and act a certain way. It’s blasted photos of the perfect body and hair everywhere, and serenaded us with the idea of a happily ever after. I get that. I get the influence they have.
If we are going to change anything, though, we have to stop putting all the blame on our culture and recognize our own responsibility in the matter.
We are just as responsible for continuing that culture when we do things like refusing to receive the compliments others give us. Even if we don’t believe them, denying them will only perpetuate the problem.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:9-10
I love encouraging people. I love affirming their giftings and ways they have displayed God’s character in their own lives. I love complimenting others on their outfit or how nice they look today. It’s something that naturally comes out of me.
I also know that it took a long time for me to train my mind to “just say thank you” when someone would compliment me. And yes, I do admit that everything people say isn’t necessarily something I feel in that moment, but I don’t want to perpetuate this negative culture that we see in this movie and all around us.
So what can we do?
Say “Thank You”
Saying “thank you” does not mean, despite what Regina George implies above, that you are full of yourself. It simply means that you are thankful for another person’s pursuit to encourage.
If you are like my friend who feels uncomfortable when people compliment you, take it to God and ask Him to show you why. It’s probably an identity area that would be good to work through with God anyway, and I’m sure He wants to affirm and encourage you in the process.
Encourage & Coach.
We all need those people in our lives that say, “Ashley…just say thank you!” I had those people, and I hope to be that person for others. It’s not a rebuke – it’s a subtle “let’s change this culture in our own lives” comment. Keep encouraging, too. Even if you don’t think a certain friend will receive it, compliment or encourage anyway. We need to sow positivity into this negative world.