Why I’ve Stopped Telling People They Look Good

There are more meaningful ways to compliment the people you admire

Nina Jervis
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readAug 1, 2019

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Photo: Nina Sinitskaya/Getty Images

“She’s pretty, but only when you look at her closely.”

The year was 1988, the place was the school changing room, and the person speaking those words was Lisa, an indisputably pretty classmate.

Lisa was talking about me.

Strange as this may sound, she was actually trying to be nice. Her group of friends, the “in crowd,” so to speak, were standing in a giggling huddle, skinny and flawless in their grown-up satin underwear as the rest of us struggled with our towels, trying not to show too much of our bodies.

“Michelle’s quite pretty. Not stunning, but okay,” one of them said loudly, as her eyes scanned the room for prey. “And Sarah needs to wear more make-up.”

Then her sneering gaze landed on me, silently getting dressed in the corner of the stale, deodorant-scented room and wishing I was somewhere else.

“Nina’s so ugly that even makeup can’t save her.”

That’s when Lisa had spoken up. And as much as she meant well, I suppose, her defense of my looks meant that, for the rest of the day, I became the unwilling center of attention. My classmates, along with a few other people I’d never really spoken to, made a special effort to stare ostentatiously at me, trying to see what Lisa had apparently seen in me. They inspected me, looking for evidence that I was pretty if they just looked close enough.

I realized that people only ever commented on my looks if they had something critical to say.

“Nah, you’re pig-ugly and that’s it,” one boy said, after he’d cornered me in the school canteen. One other girl had followed me in there, muttering a fascinated: “It’s so weird… You really do get prettier the more I look at you! But you know, most people won’t bother. They’ll just look once and think you’re ugly.”

As I wandered home from school in a daze, I realized that people only ever commented on my looks if they had something critical to say. My dad hated the fact that I had typical teenage acne (something he had never suffered from), my…

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Nina Jervis
Human Parts

Writer and professional empathiser (not necessarily in that order).