When is a Compliment Not So Much?

More often than we think. Several years ago I ran into a former neighbor at the mall and rather than start with small talk, she immediately asked if I’d had work done. “On my house?” I asked innocently.  “No,” she replied. “On your face.” My face? What was wrong with it? Apparently she thought my skin looked so beautiful that the only possible explanation was that I kept a plastic surgeon on speed dial. But when I explained that my skincare routine was pretty basic, a good cleanser and moisturizer from L’Oreal or Oil of Olay, her eyes narrowed. She was pissed that I wouldn’t clue her in on the real source of my youthful appearance.

I think of about that encounter often because sadly, off-handed compliments between women are very common. Instead of saying, “You look beautiful” we bend the praise like a pretzel. “You look beautiful. Are those extensions?” And guess what. Those off-handed compliments are even more common when it comes to weight. Somehow we’ve been brainwashed to think that calling attention to someone else’s body is fair game. “You look amazing, Saralee. How much did you lose?” Or, “What’s your secret?”

Thank you?

Yes, yes, yes, I know all about diet culture and how it’s become engrained in us to eat clean, eat plants, count carbs, intermittent fast, spin on a Peloton until we can’t feel our legs, cut calories with gluten-free, substitute everything delicious with cauliflower, pretend carob tastes like chocolate… the list of hacks go on. But to assume that EVERY WOMAN feels the same, that we are all on a relentless quest to wear skinny jeans two sizes smaller than our best friend, or pray every night to wake up and magically weigh less…. it is just not true.

A lot of women wake up happy to be alive.

I’m especially focused on the terrible injustice of diet culture because of my new novel, TOUGH COOKIE. It’s the story of a 12-year-old girl who struggles to understand why her friends are suddenly so judgy about her looks. Why her mom pressures her to wear a fitness tracker… why nobody thinks her dream of being a chef is a good idea. It could also be called, HELLO FATPHOBIA, but you get the point. The burden on girls to give in, so they fit in, starts young.

And then it lingers forever. Even to a point where we don’t recognize any of the telltale signs:


Wouldn’t it be better to encourage girls to be who they want? To support their passions? Urge them to believe in themselves? Accept themselves exactly as they are? To compliment them and mean it! Because if we let goals of the perfection trap them too, as it did our generation, then all we are doing is perpetuating a terrible myth.

Joy has absolutely nothing to do with Diet Coke or a number on a scale. Joy is being true to our heart and sharing that heart with others early and often.


  1. Wendy DeAngelis on March 3, 2022 at 7:44 pm

    Saralee, brilliant! I thought I was pretty savvy about this topic, and after reading your diet culture comments, I see that there is room for greater awareness. Thank you

    • Saralee Rosenberg on March 4, 2022 at 8:39 am

      Thank you Wendy. Yes, diet culture has become so pervasive we don’t even realize its affecting so many of our words and actions. It’s especially troubling when young girls mimic their mothers’ habits and then find themselves unable to cope with their sad feelings about themselves. Instead of it being the age to discover their superpowers, they are consumed with doubt. Raising awareness would be a huge help.

  2. Joanne Kuhn Titolo on August 30, 2022 at 2:06 pm

    oh my, yes. “ what a gorgeous hair color- what’s it called?”, and I have to answer “mine”.
    disbelief on her face. I just sweetly say “thank you” and go on my way. grrrr

  3. Saralee Rosenberg on August 30, 2022 at 3:41 pm

    Grrrr exactly. It’s not much of a compliment if the message is, please tell me the artificial means by which you improve your appearance. Good for you for having the last word and walking away. And by the way, you’re as beautiful and vibrant as I remember in high school. Don’t change a thing!

  4. Linda Block on December 17, 2022 at 10:15 pm

    So often I was told “You have such a pretty face” which just made me feel more shame about my body from the neck down, as I have struggled with my weight since I was six. I was also assured I would never find a husband unless I were to lose weight, like size is the only thing that matters in a relationship! Maybe they were right because I remain unmarried, but I like to think that is for
    other reasons than merely my obesity. At the moment I am no longer obese, merely overweight, and I am treated with more respect. In my experience, obese people are often judged very harshly, by friends and family as well as total strangers.
    I am glad you have written about this topic.

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