What Right Have You to Comment?

Is It Ever Appropriate to Speak About Appearance?

Image: Pexels

Here comes a woman with long brown hair and legs that go on for miles — just the kind of woman who really gets your engine running. It’s a hot day and she’s wearing shorts. What do you say to her as she passes you on the street?

Nothing! You say absolutely nothing at all!

You have no right to comment on her appearance or otherwise disturb her just because she is attractive and out in a public place. You might make a slight nod or say a brief “hi” if your eyes happen to meet, but if they don’t, leave her the hell alone. You have no more right to comment upon her appearance than you would to tell a stranger that you think that hat they’re wearing is stupid, or to ask them what they weigh.

Never ask a stranger questions about their body or make comments about it. We can’t help but take our physical selves with us everywhere that we go, but that doesn’t mean that they are there for public consumption. I’m nearly 6'1" and have been since about the 10th grade. I’ve had a lifetime of being asked by strangers how tall I am and for most of my years have been at a loss for a way to answer this that wasn’t rude in return, so I’ve just told them, even though it also made me angry to have my privacy violated in that way. It still happens from time to time and now I say something along the lines of “very tall.”

But what I’d really like to say is, “Why do you want to know? I don’t ask you how old you are, if you got that haircut on purpose, if you picked those clothes out in the dark, or anything else about your physical self. Why do you think it’s OK to ask me?”

“But those things are rude,” you might say. “I was just trying to give a compliment, or I was just wondering.” What I’m here to tell you is that this is also rude. The long haired, long legged woman on the street did not dress for your approval or comment. She just wants to go about her day. She doesn’t really care if you find her pleasing, or if she does, not enough to have you violate the sanctity of her personal space to tell her. She is not there for your personal consumption. And no, you do not actually need to know how tall or how far along in their pregnancy a stranger is. You really don’t. Get a hobby or something, for goodness sakes!

I’ve had plenty of times when I’ve experienced someone noticing me, but in a way that was not invasive or creepy. That was just fine and dandy. In some instances it was actually flattering. I’m not asking you to pretend that you’re dead; I’m just saying that there’s a big difference between appreciating and entitlement. There’s a big difference between idle curiosity and trying to make conversation. I’ve spent time in what are commonly known as “swinger’s clubs” where women regularly go about wearing things that are fairly bare or fairly sexually provocative. No-one in a club like that would say something as crass as the things that are routinely said to fully clothed women on the streets, under the guise of “compliments.” No-one would ever yell something across the room either. If you want to actually compliment someone, someone that perhaps you are interested in getting to know better, do so in the course of a conversation — and a conversation that is about more than all the things that you like about their appearance.

Pro tip: Anyone can make a compliment about appearance. If you want to truly impress someone, give them a compliment about their personality, depth of insight on something, field of expertise, etc.

And no, just because someone is wearing a low cut top or a short skirt does not mean that all bets are off and you can say what you want. What I learned about wearing skimpy outfits at the club is that it feels damn good to inhabit your own sexuality. I am a person; I wear what is pleasing to me. Sometimes what is pleasing to me is something that makes me feel sexy to myself. Are there women who dress to get male attention? Of course there are, but contrary to what movies and TV might want you to believe, not everything a woman does has the male gaze in mind. Sometimes you just want to be -whatever it is you feel like being in that moment.

I’m sexually attracted to both men and women. I appreciate beautiful breasts and kissable looking lips on women as much as I am drawn to big arms and chiseled jaws on men. But that doesn’t mean that I feel that I have license to stare, ogle, make comments, try to touch or drool. And you don’t either. Keep your comments about the physical appearance of strangers to yourself. For the most part this applies to acquaintances and work colleagues as well. Unless you already have a fairly familiar relationship, zip it! Jane in accounting did not dress this morning with your pleasure and approval in mind. Leave her the hell alone unless you have an accounting-related question!

Over-familiarity is rude. It just is!