10 backhanded compliments that aren't compliments at all

Antonio GuillemNot all compliments make people feel good.
  • Commenting on someone’s body size is generally not appropriate, and pregnancy isn’t an invitation to comment on a woman’s body.
  • Telling a person of colour that they’re articulate or pretty for a [insert minority here] makes insulting assumptions.
  • Don’t tell a person with disabilities that they’re “inspiring” just for living their life.

Some “compliments” are best left unsaid.

Even if someone intends for a remark to make someone feel good, the underlying assumptions driving it can do the opposite.

Here are 10 backhanded compliments that are actually offensive.

“The way you’ve overcome your disability is so inspiring!”

It shouldn’t be shocking when someone with a disability is able to accomplish just as much as their able-bodied peers, and the fact that they perform mundane tasks such as grocery shopping or going to the gym shouldn’t be held up as brave or inspiring. Doing so reduces people with disabilities to their disabilities.

I want to live in a world where we don’t have such low expectationsof disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning,” comedian and activist Stella Young said at TEDxSydney.

“You’re so articulate!”

ShutterstockWhy are you surprised that someone is articulate?

“When a white colleague tells a colleague of colour ‘You’re so articulate’ or ‘You speak so well,’ the remark suggests that they assumed the person in question would be less articulate – and are surprised to find out they aren’t,”Christine Mallinson, professor of language, literacy, and culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, previously told Business Insider.

“You don’t even look pregnant!”

WPA Pool/GettyMeghan Markle is due in the spring.

Everybody experiences carrying a baby (or babies) differently, and pregnancy is not an invitation to comment on or scrutinize women’s bodies.

“You’re amazing for going back to work. I could never let a stranger watch my kids!”

Getty Images/Fiona GoodallDon’t judge other people’s parenting decisions.

Parents get shamed both for choosing to stay home with their kids and for going back to work after having kids, but every family should do what’s right for them. As parenting blogger Kristina Kuzmic says, “Mind your own motherhood.”

“You look great! Have you lost weight?”

iStockWeight loss isn’t always good.

It’s generally not a good idea to comment on the size of someone’s body. There are plenty of unhealthy reasons why someone could have lost weight, such as an illness or disordered eating, so weight loss is not necessarily a good thing. It also implies that they didn’t look as great when they weighed more and reinforces the idea that “pretty” has to mean “thin.”

“Your English is so good!”

PexelsWhat makes you think someone doesn’t speak English?

Telling a person of colour that they speak English well without knowing anything about their background means that you’re assuming they can’t speak English well in the first place. It also implies that they’re somehow “foreign” and don’t belong when it’s entirely plausible that they were born and raised in America.

“You clean up so well!”

Ciara Appelbaum / INSIDERGetting ready.

You’re basically saying that they normally look awful.

“You’re so pretty for a [insert minority here]!”

silverkblackstock/ShutterstockNot a compliment.

This insults an entire group of people, whatever race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or other category that may be, and stereotypes them as unattractive.

“You’re gorgeous! What are you?”

Nicky J Sims/Getty ImagesDon’t ask people ‘what’ they are.

It’s offensive to ask someone “what” they are, even if you’re just trying to compliment their appearance. It’s none of anyone’s business what someone’s racial or ethnic background is.

“Your hair looks so good straight, you should straighten it more often!”

Andrew Benge/GettyImagesThere’s pressure to have straight hair.

This reinforces the idea that straight hair is considered more attractive and professional than one’s natural hair texture.


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