The Art of the Backhanded Compliment

English: Sleeping baby boy
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was an undergraduate studying abroad in China, I observed the Asian value of deflecting compliments or modesty. You tell a friend you like her hair or that she’s good student and she would promptly find an inherent flaw in her personality to negate your compliment, least you find her arrogant or prideful.

No worries on that front living in the Arab world surrounded by people from cultures who bask in direct assault of honesty.

Has it happened to you? Someone begins a sentence, that sounds like praise. Your face stretches into a smile. Then, the sentence ends. Instead of feeling good, you feel slightly down on yourself but you can’t put your finger on why.

This has been par for the course in my post baby #2 world. Not only did all and sundry give unsolicited opinions about their thoughts on my size, shape, and wardrobe, five weeks into life on the outside for our newborn and apparently it’s open season on comparisons.

“Your face is much smaller than when you were pregnant!” Some people have exclaimed as though this would make them my best friend.

“You’re much smaller than after you had your last son,” others have nodded seriously.

The list goes on. The most common refrain: “You look great for someone who has just had a baby.”

Have that sentence said to you enough times and you’ll wish for a period in more ways than one.

What’s the most backhanded compliment anyone has ever given you? And what did you say in response?


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Reader Comments

  1. Jessica Burde

    I don’t know if it’s the most backhanded compliment I ever received, but it’s certainly the one that stuck out in my mind. “You’re a much better mother than I expected you’d be. I’d say you are better than 50% of the mother’s out there.”

    This came from my shrink, who was also the closest thing to a healthy father figure I had growing up. And, to be fair, given how unbalanced my emotional state was for so long, he had legitimate reason to worry about what kind of mother I’d be. When I recall it there’s always this mix of pleasure and chagrin. “Wow, I impressed him.” “Yeah, but not that much.”

  2. eden baylee

    Ha, Moha…I may be guilty of giving those back-handed compliments, though not intentionally, and only to really close friends who know I’m brutally honest.

    I’ll usually say something like — “You cut your hair again, I see. I preferred it longer.”
    Thankfully, my friends know me well enough to just tell me where to go!


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