Why Are Women Always Complimenting Each Other on Their Looks?

"That dress looks great on you" or "Those are really cute earrings."

Why are women always complimenting each other on their looks?

Beyond the explanation that it's just a genuine compliment, perhaps the following forces are at work:

1. Reciprocity — The oldest trick in the book. When you tell someone she looks good, you're likely to get a compliment back.

2. Tribalism & Social Bonding — By complimenting someone, you're saying, "You're my friend. I like you."

3. Reaction Formation — This is the phenomenon where an anxiety-producing emotion ("I hate that she has a skinny body and I don't") gets replaced by its direct opposite ("I love your look today!"). Women feel threatened by attractive women. In this page of Jessica Alba bikini photos, the comments are telling: "She looks awesome. Gawd I hate her…" is just one.

Could it be that a good portion of the body image pressure women feel comes from the non-stop, public judging of other women on how they look?

8 Responses to Why Are Women Always Complimenting Each Other on Their Looks?

  1. Jude says:

    For me, it’s probably social bonding. I feel little connection with females, probably because I had two brothers (and a frequently hysterical mother). I appreciate the beauty of women and feel no jealousy (I doubt that female who said “Gawd, I hate her” truly feels threatened–it’s an expression of admiration as much as anything). I have no interest in *receiving* compliments about my appearance, but I like to give compliments. Interestingly, the guys I hang out with pass plenty of compliments my way. They can’t give appearance compliments though, probably because they figure those will be misconstrued as sexual. But they compliment my ability or intelligence a lot.

  2. Roxanne says:

    While women seem to calibrate their appearance mostly under the influence of an omnipresent male gaze (would guys find me attractive if I wear this dress? should it be shorter? does it accentuate my figure/hide it? etc), it seems like it is is women themselves are the main enforcers of all these guidelines and standards for beauty. I have often been chastised by my mother for wearing unflattering clothing and complimented by friends on such minutiae like nail polish or a certain hairstyle. A guy would be hard pressed to notice that my shoes don’t match with my pants or that my nails are pink today, and neither factors would really contribute to my overall attractiveness or unattractiveness.

    All three explanations you have are definitely valid reasons! Although as a girl, I still don’t understand why my gender makes physical appearance such a focal point of our existences, as we could very well just always compliment each other on other factors like ability and intelligence. But physical attractiveness is often a source of power for women, which could explain why women construed as attractive are threatening.

  3. Nothing better than flattery! Especially with the older ladies… get in with the secretaries–know the gatekeepers!

  4. Kevin says:

    Ben,

    Great post, there’s a wealth of knowledge on this subject already:

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    Of course, it’s the PROCESS that the PUA community goes through that gives it true knowledge.

    Keep up the thought provoking posts.

  5. Jenny Blake says:

    I give women compliments because compliments are FREE. They cost nothing (if genuine) and they might make someone’s day. A really good one might make their whole week.

    For me, it is not about getting something in return. I made a promise to myself years ago that when I had a positive thought about someone, particularly a woman, I would let her know. I know how great it feels on the receiving end, and I know how critical women already are of themselves. What’s the use in keeping a kind thought to myself when I know it will pick someone up to share it out loud.

    That said, learning to take compliments is another story entirely. It can be the hardest thing to just say “thank you” without shrugging it off or making a self-deprecating remark.

  6. marc says:

    If we accept that, beyond the commonalities such as kindness intelligence etc, men are primarily motivated by the looks of their partner (and women by the social status) then you’d predict this behaviour from women.

    It’s simply women competing on the level that matters ‘most’ to men. It’s known from evolutionary psychology that women tend to denigrate each other in terms of physical attractiveness (and i presume that compliments are simply the reverse of this – the best way to flatter someone is to compliment something they care about). Men tend to denigrate each other according to the others ability to provide.

    I can send you a really nice review article that i stumbled across recently if you drop me an email.

  7. Here’s Martha, a gal who has the fashion sense of a turnip. (Uh-oh, the Turnip Liberation Movement’s gonna be after me now!)

    If someone were to tell me that I look great today, I would:

    1. Contact all the local media to alert them to a breaking news story.

    2. Weakly stammer a “Thank you,” then not know to say next.

    Thank you, Ben, for helping me with my cluelessness. I’m supposed to say, “Thank you. You look great too.”

  8. Iv says:

    I compliment women, bc I rarely receive compliments myself. So, I think we are used to be judged by our looks so often, and we hate ourselves for not being super models like all kinds of media brainwashes us, thus we feel the need to hear smth nice sometimes. We, the real average women, who are actually not ugly, but not magazine hot too, compliment each other simply bc noone else will. And noone else will simply bc super models, have only one thing to sell – their looks, so they spend huge amount of time and money on their appearance, they have proffesional photographs, make 1k shots session before choosing the best one, and don’t forget the photoshop thingy after. This gives the false expression that those models always look gorgeous, they don’t wake up with messed hair and swallowed eyes in the movies like normal ppl does, so the real life women feels simply ugly and misstreated. That’s why we compliment, noone knows the daily struggle for beauty and appreciation but us.

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