the back-handed compliment vs. the behind-the-back insult

i got my first writing assignment this weekend when a friend of mine, genghis khannie, a fellow blogger, put up an entry on the butterface phenomenon.  she and i discussed the situation that caused her to write this post, and the fact that she had gone quite some time on this earth without ever hearing the term.  i believe her introduction to it (the term, not the manifestation) was this summer. 

after getting over her shock that a) this idea existed and b) that everyone else knows about it, we discussed the seeming preference for the “butterface” vs. the “shehassuchapretty face.” 

genghis and i are nice, fun, interesting gals.  we’re funny, we kick back and know how to drink, discuss the virtues of doc gooden’s curve ball and barry sanders agility, cook, are independent, but not cold, and, as she so eloquently put, “have lovely visages.”  it must also be noted that neither she nor i are heifers.  far from it.  we’ve got a few extra pounds on us, to be sure, but there are no rolls or extra chins nor cankles to be found.  in fact, if we’re being honest (and we’re always honest with each other, aren’t we, internet?) i could give an hourglass some lessons on curves.*

this led me to think about the pretty face vs. the pretty body and how the latter is definitely the more popular, at least amongst the male members of our vast urban tribes.

this is not going to be a post bemoaning the lack of gentleman callers we have (though, for reals, we should be beating them off).  rather, i want to talk about the back-handed compliment that i’ve been getting for years, and why, it is, that people feel no compunction about paying it.

would you, whilst discussing some one’s physical attributes, tell them that they have a lovely personality?  no?  i didn’t think so.  not even crazy great aunts do that.  then why would you say “oh, you have such a pretty face?”  saying “you’re pretty” in our culture implies that you are discussing the person’s face, and, possibly, hair.  “you’re hot” implies the whole package.  “you have a pretty face” implies exclusion.  by inserting that one word -face- you are implying that the rest of her is not.

now, now, i am not being unreasonable.  think of someone saying “you look nice today.”  nearly everyone i know backpedals immediately after saying that, insisting, in fact, that it’s not that you don’t look nice every day, you just look especially nice this 24 hour period. 

there is no need for the addition of ‘today’ or ‘face’ or whatever other qualifying word you want to add to a compliment.  why do it?  if you want to issue a compliment, do so only when you are sincere.  and if you sincere, there is no need to mitigate it.  let’s spread the love, people, the pure love.

all that being said, i’d rather have the back-handed compliment than have people use a positive-tinged-insult (is that the opposite?) behind my back.

* please know that i am not as conceited as this post implies.  by necessity, the subject matter dictate that i put aside my normal humility (which annoys us all anyway, doesn’t it?) and be as truthful as possible. 

post script: i wanted a visual to accompany this post, and i started thinking of famous icons of women with pretty faces, but possibly not the greatest bodies.  i went to botticelli first, but then called my sister, herself an artist, and asked her for a good renaissance artist that painted women as i described above.  she asked why i wanted renaissance- that was about painting women as they are- real faces, real bodies.  even better, said i, because that’s what i was getting at.  she directed me to michelangelo.  his works are things of beauty, but there is an underlying reality there- boobs, curves, muscles, bones, the whole shebang- and the opposite of our airbrushed rib-less, plastic doll model culture.  so, i bring you the delphic sybil.  the perfect embodiment of an archetype- the woman with “a pretty face.”

the face

* incidentally, while searching google images for an icon of a “butterface,” fergie came up quite often (the singer, not the duchess.  i mean not the english royal family duchess).  i’m just the messenger, people.

the original post


3 Responses to “the back-handed compliment vs. the behind-the-back insult”

  1. 1 santoki 11 November, 2007 at 23:38

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. No seriously, I couldn’t without sounding petty…

    I love you more than bagels!

  2. 2 isosceles 14 November, 2007 at 11:58

    imagine getting paid to be the actual butterface!

  1. 1 bitchslapping compliments - Part 3 « cunctabundus Trackback on 15 January, 2008 at 10:32

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“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Upon common theatres, indeed, the applause of the audience is of more importance to the actors than their own approbation. But upon the stage of life, while conscience claps, let the world hiss! On the contrary if conscience disapproves, the loudest applauses of the world are of little value - john adams
November 2007
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from the man who taught me everything:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”



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