The Misuses of Flattery

Unwanted compliments? Sister, I feel you. And it’s not just men who are offenders.

I was walking up Lexington Avenue in New York City recently, when a young woman smiled brightly at me from outside a shop. “I like your hat!” she crooned.

It was indeed a standout: a vintage, authentic men’s Panama hat that had belonged to a friend’s late father, Alfred.

I was wearing it that day more out of caution than vanity. My dermatologist had warned me to stay out of the sun after a recent facial peel, which I’d had in anticipation of an old paramour coming to town.

The entire procedure had set me back nearly $200, but what price beauty? I hadn’t seen him in six months; he was a decade younger. I wanted to look good — and friends had told me I did. “Glowing,” said one. “Fantastic,” said another.

I’d also had a few broken capillaries zapped on my cheeks, a facial, a pedicure, and my blonde highlights recharged. Did I mention that I’d started running? I had. My ass was now decidedly firmer and he happened to be an ass man. “He’ll really see what he’s missing,” my best friend said, knowingly, when she saw me in running tights earlier that week.

Walking up Lexington, I’d been reflecting on all those cosmetic procedures and their cost — most of all a growing hyperawareness: The more I looked in the mirror, the more things I saw to fix. This wasn’t what I’d paid for. It was, moreover, a hard feeling to shake.

Strolling uptown, on my way to lunch, I reminded myself of an insight I’d had throughout my life. To feel loved, be loving. To feel beautiful, seek beauty in others.

And so I did for the next two blocks or so, seeing beauty in all I passed: young and old, fashionable and not. The feeling was immediate — and blissful. All thoughts of self-consciousness fell away, until the young woman outside the shop complimented my hat and ruined everything.

She was smiling a big smile and holding out to me what appeared to be a band-aid.

Was I bleeding? I stopped, shaken out of my zen-like recognition of beauty in everyone and everything.

“What’s that?” I looked closer.

“A sample. For your rough hands!” she enthused.

Before I knew it, she was gesturing to my under eyes and nodding sympathetically.

“This will really help get rid of those,” she added, offering me a second sample.

It was then I noted with displeasure the beauty shop behind her. The nerve! My inner-peace vaporized. I wanted to kill her.

I admonished her sternly: My hands were not rough, nor could she see them, obscured as they were by a long-sleeved jacket. Nor had I invited her to comment on my appearance.
I finished by calling her rude. And intrusive. But especially rude. None of which she understood.

“I’m only trying to help you,” she protested.

I looked down at her, not because I considered myself superior, but because I’m nearly six feet tall and she was, at most, a half a foot shorter, not to mention about 20 years younger.
“Let’s turn that around,” I responded, words that appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

Starting at her feet and ending at the top of her head, I gave her a slow once-over. There was, however, precious little for me to comment on. She was rather perfect: Nice skin, nice hair, nice figure, nice outfit.

“Well. First of all, you’re too short,” I intoned, witheringly.

My gaze fell to her waistline. “And you could definitely lose a few pounds.”

I leaned in, looking her in the eye, enjoying the power I’d reclaimed.

“Now let’s get a look at that ass.”

She stood still as I peered behind her, sizing up her posterior, a job that I devoted a few extra moments to, mostly because I could have cared less what her ass looked like. But I couldn’t let her know that. There was a lesson here, and I didn’t want her to forget it.

I stifled a smile as I stepped  back in front of her, and shook my head disapprovingly. I had surveyed her bum, and found it wanting.

“There. How did you like that?” I asked, cocking my head.

“I’m OK with it,” she replied. Her face was a blank. A complete goddamn blank.

I looked at her and couldn’t come up with a smart response. So I gave her the finger and walked off.

I felt triumphant! For about a block. That’s when I passed what must have been two associates: young women, both attractive, standing outside an identical makeup store.

“I like your hat!” one bleated cheerily, holding up samples as I approached.

It’s unwanted compliment season. Be prepared.

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Vickery Eckhoff is a New York City-based writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Newsweek, Salon and AlterNet (among others). Her screenplay, “The Judas Horse,” is under option, and a second script, “The Modern Christian Spinster’s Guide to Love in the Twenty-First Century,” is newly completed.

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