18

I had a look at that excellent earlier question, but think that these two questions are too different from each other.

Situation

It's about a group of friendly acquaintances and friends who have known each other for a few years already. We were sitting together and talking about clothes, certain dresses in particular. No man was involved in the conversation. "Eve" laughingly said:

I couldn't wear dresses like that with my small breasts. (The expression she used was actually a bit more colloquial than that and put it more forcefully and she also made a gesture with her hands).

After that, everyone kept silent for a short while and then the conversation resumed but followed another thread.

About Eve

She is in her 20's. We have known each other for a few years already. She doesn't completely conform to the Western beauty ideal (but in my opinion, she is quite pretty in her own right). Her observation was correct, and her laugh gave me the impression that she was (also) trying to soften it a bit. And I know that she is dissatisfied with her body.

Question

How do you respond when someone makes a self-deprecating remark about her looks?

My goal is to avoid an awkward situation from arising and to make Eve feel comfortable.

She could have just skipped it and I admire her for being so brave to make such a (joking, but true) comment, so I wouldn't want the reaction to somehow "punish" her for that.

Awkward silence may make her feel as if she killed the mood, but her comment also left her vulnerable. That's my dilemma.

I also considered that Eve may have wanted to shut down the conversation this way. I didn't feel that this was her goal back then and also don't think that it removes the problem of how to respond in that situation. That's also not something she usually does.

To avoid misunderstandings:

  • This conversation was not out of place. Such conversations are quite common among us. Also opening up and talking about one's feelings / problems. Self-deprecating comments are quite rare, though.
  • Eve didn't use offensive language, so that was not the problem. It was not extraordinary in that respect.
  • How about: "Maybe, but you look quite stunning in that one outfit that you wear". I would be specific. – Pete B. Oct 3 '17 at 12:46
  • 9/10 people who make a remark like that are looking for a compliment, which is why you'll often see a girlfriend say something along the lines of "oh nooooh, you could definitely pull this off!", regardless of whether or not she means it. However, some people simply mean it as a joke and that's that. Without knowing more about Eve's character, this is hard to gauge. – Tijmen Nov 30 '17 at 17:40
  • "Ey, we can't all be dairy cows." – RedSonja Dec 19 '17 at 13:46

12 Answers 12

10

She doesn't completely conform to the Western beauty ideal... And I know, that she is dissatisfied with her body. ...My goal is to avoid an awkward situation from arising and to make Eve feel comfortable. ...Awkward silence may make her feel, as if she killed the mood, but her comment also left her vulnerable. That's my dilemma.

I would probably take a kind of "grass is greener" approach.

If I understand you correctly, she knows she's small and she doesn't like it. You don't want to invalidate her and her disappointment, but you also want to build her up. There are a number of things you can say that leave it up to her to take a compliment or continue the conversation.

  • Eve, big breasts are overrated. It's embarrassing to have men stare at (my?) breasts while (I'm) trying to have a conversation.
  • I'd kill for your (x) (something really nice: hair, eyes, smile, legs, etc.)
  • With your (wit/intelligence/sweet nature/sense of humor), who needs big breasts?
  • You're beautiful. Don't let Madison Avenue dictate how you feel about yourself.

At my age, one has to let go of Madison Avenue's hype (and AARP's as well!) I've also had breast cancer, so there's that. But you really appreciate that what's inside counts for much, much more.

25

I've made self-deprecating jokes. In fact, where I come from, that kind of 'humor' might be a little more common, since you write that "self-deprecating comments are quite rare, though."

If I take the trouble of making a joke, even though it is at my own expense, I would appreciate it if people laughed, or at least smiled. It is, after all, a joke. If it helps, I only make such jokes around people that I'm very comfortable with, the kind of people of which I'm sure they have learned better than to just judge me by my looks. So feel free to smile/ laugh for a short while, that's what the joke is for.

Since this was about a particular style of dress, a good reply might have been:

Oh, but you look so good in [other style of dress]! I could never wear one of those, for fear of my boobs falling out.

At least, that's the kind of joke my friends would have made back, and it gives Eve a chance to laugh a little with you, and move on.

This only works if you're very sure that Eve made the comment as a joke to begin with. If she didn't, such a response might sound like you are belittling her (maybe self-perceived) problems.

  • 4
    To appear belittling was also my concern. – Anne Daunted Oct 2 '17 at 9:54
  • 1
    @AnneDaunted If you are not sure that the comment is a joke, I think a compliment response is still appropriate, but perhaps pick something else to point out. – jackwise Oct 2 '17 at 15:04
7

Eve's remark:

I couldn't wear dresses like that with my small breasts. (The expression she used was actually a bit more colloquial than that and put it more forcefully and she also made a gesture with her hands).

From what you said:

Such conversations are quite common among us. Also opening up and talking about one's feelings / problems. But self-deprecating comments are quite rare, though.

I assume that you have talked about what kinds or styles of clothes look good on you all or don't look as flattering on you all, before. If this is the case and being open is also common among you then I see no reason why you wouldn't comment on how that dress looked on her, whether it was flattering or not so flattering.

Even though self-deprecating comments are quite rare, I would still ask how you might have handled a similar situation in the past.

But let's stay with your example. I agree with @PhrozenSky that a lot of times when women make a self-deprecating remark about their appearance they really want someone to tell them how wrong they are, to tell them the opposite of what they think, OR to just compliment them in general.

Though I don't agree this is the best approach, I am guilty of having done that in the past, and I'm sure others have done it to me. But sometimes, this might mean that the person who said something didn't want to go through the trouble explaining what they really thought, didn't really care so they said something just to answer, or they tried to be overly polite to the point they basically lied OR they didn't want to hurt the other person's feelings (depends on the relationship)

How you respond is really dependent on the relationship you have with Eve and on how well she responds to comments about her look. From what you said Eve does seem to not like certain aspects of her appearance.

What do you really think about that dress on her? First of all, do you agree with her remark? If you disagree just tell her. But if you do agree then,

You could say something positive about the dress in general (comment on the color, length, fabric) or say something positive about the dress on her (how it matches her skin tone, hair) but then add that a different style of dress might look more flattering on her. You could tell her something like,

I like the color of the dress on you, (it makes your eyes stand out), but I think a different style might look more flattering on you.

You could even have the "right" dress in mind, and show her one almost right away.

OR respond more generally (you can always come up with a better way of saying this)

Each body is different. What looks good on one body type A might not look as good on body type B. How boring would it be if we all looked the same...

And with a sign of relief,

I'm glad there are so many styles to chose from or I wouldn't be able to wear..... (make it about you even)

Staying silent isn't necessarily wrong here either. Eve probably is aware that you know how she feels about her looks or that dress, so she might just switch the subject right away. You don't always have to respond. You're not obligated because she didn't ask you a question.

  • In the rare cases, I remain silent. I usually do not make such comments myself. In this case, she was softening it with laughter and so all making long faces appeared a bit unfair. But it may not have been a "simple" joke, though, because it is true and I know that she feels that way. – Anne Daunted Oct 2 '17 at 9:57
  • This. I would have assumed that they want to be "proven" wrong. Sometimes people just want to be comforted. – Vylix Oct 2 '17 at 15:44
6

You've said Eve is your friend; a lot depends on how your interactions usually go. Do you guys regularly tease each other? Do you guys treat her as fragile usually?

If y'all are the teasing types, you might poke and soothe at the same time:

Oh, you're lovely and you know it. Now shut it, chickadee.

That is what I'd expect to hear among my own crowd -- in spirit at least ... my crew is guys, so the actual insecurity source would be different, and the words would be much coarser.

If Eve is a little more fragile, or more deeply concerned about her appearance, you might tell her that she is pretty, maybe she needs help to bring it out properly. Note her positive points -- maybe she has a nice figure; maybe she has beautiful eyes; look, everyone has at least one good feature. I'm talking about looks here ... right now is not the time to tell her she "has a great personality". Depending on how invested you are, you might offer to help her with a makeover.

There are entire industries and generations of lore accumulated about how to make the most of what one has. I'll tell you this, though, being a guy ... mien and attitude make up a surprising amount of what attracts. I'm half-convinced that this is a good chunk of what a makeover does ... it makes the makeovee (?) feel more beautiful, and that means that, well, she is. The other chunk has to do with the esoterica of color wheels and cloth drapeage which I don't understand well, but do in fact have a lot of art behind them.

(Side note ... one could argue that our society is too looks-focused. Maybe. But that's a larger issue, and when your friend reaches out in sadness because she wants to be beautiful, you don't scold her for wanting it)

4

In my experience, most people make self-deprecating remarks about themselves to garner some acknowledgement or support of the opposite of their statement.

In your friend's case, she probably wanted the group to say something like

Don't be silly, you could wear any dress you like. It would go great with your figure!

I typically go the other way. Something like:

Yeah, I didn't want to say anything, but now that you mention it...

Make sure you say it with a smile, you still want to keep it light and funny.

  • 3
    I like the second line. The first one I'm not sure about. In this case, it would be a blatant lie and she knows it. She may regard it as a nicer approach to make her be quiet. – Anne Daunted Oct 2 '17 at 9:47
3

Deprecation is when you take something that's big and talk it into small.

I believe that what Eve did carries no signs of deprecation, it was merely an accurate, but intimate observation. In modern culture, in pursuit of "everybody is beautiful", it's often overlooked that not every body looks good in every dress. A dress has to match the body type. She was talking about her breasts as much as she was talking about dresses. I believe that your interpretation of her statement was incorrect, hence the awkwardness.

How do you react? Talk about dresses that look good on her body type. I believe that was what she expected.

make Eve feel comfortable.

She was already feeling too comfortable to share something like that, to talk openly about her flaws. Apparently, she misjudged the level of intimacy the rest of the group was comfortable with. To handle that aspect, you'd have to pull the group closer together. That would be risky, as you could make other gals feel uncomfortable. From the silence you're describing, they're not ready to talk so openly about their body issues. Neither are you.

/edit: Damn, after re-reading this I've realized it sounds harsh. To clarify: You're not ready to talk about it and that's OK. Nobody should be forced to talk about things they find uncomfortable. The silence was merely how you all communicated that to Eve. Everything is fine.

2

I put myself sometimes in a situation like Eve. I make self deprecating jokes on a health problem that I carry.

Most people laugh it off when I do it or have a similar reaction to:

Ouch! That dark humor man. -laughs-

I find those reactions acceptable and I laugh it off with them. After all that was the point of making the joke myself.

That's my recommendation. Notice the joke and react accordingly.

2

In my experience the older you get and the number of this kind of jokes will raise. That's because you will generally accept yourself and go on with your life.

As an answer and for future reference, you could always laugh and keep the joke running and at the same time say something positive about her to re assure that she is not "everything bad", like:

You know what they say: big breast mean's small brain.

Of course I'm just joking, I hope you get the idea.

You could always talk to her alone and address her issue in personal.

2

First of all I wanna say that it is completely normal to make those kinds of remarks (it is a different story if it happens all the time).

As you have known her for years she has the confidence to express her insecurities/weaknesses in front of you. It is a bit difficult for us humans to share a bit of "self-incriminating" information about ourselves. So we tend to do it in humoristic way (as a coping strategy).

Speaking from personal experience. We just want attention and acknowledgment. Depending on the circumstances (personality type/subject) u can:

  1. Comfort her by "attacking" her remarks. Tell her that her boobs are normal. And that she is beautiful. Make it believable! Don't lie. Tell her she has nice lips, eyes, hair, x.

  2. You can share your own insecurities with her. To "normalize" her own insecurities. It is completely normal to have some insecurities. (Perfect secure people don't exist!)

  3. You can combine 1 and 2 for extra effect!!

Just make her feel good and happy. Thats what friends should do. Never ignore those kinds of remarks in an awkward manner.

And also for you. Don't be shy. If you have any questions about your friend ask them her yourself. You have known her for years. You should be able to ask and talk about everything with friends.

1

Since you agree with her comment, some responses in agreement are proposed, such as, "Ha!", "Haha!", "No kidding!", "I guess that's true...", "Well, yes. But ..." (fill the space with some self-deprecating comments of your own or some positive comments about her), or simply say nothing and give her a hug.

More seriously though, if you are in a situation where a comment leaves you and other listeners speechless, you can hardly rely on some talking points proposed in a forum to come to mind when you need it. You could practice them of course, as if you were some telemarketing agent who was programmed to respond in predetermined ways - but that doesn't seem like the right way to speak to a friend. You might instead just continue along the thread, saying something honest in the moment. Or, honestly express how difficult it is to respond to her comment.

In general, awkward silences like this one are caused, you might say, by an incapability of the listener to give a response that she can expect will maintain some pretense or will cause an intended effect. So one easy answer to this situation is simply to remove pretenses or release control of the conversation by actually saying what is on your mind right then.

0

You didn't describe your relationship with "Eve". Friend or acquaintance? I'd say about the worst the group could do (other than rubbing her nose in it) would be a collective silence. So big thumbs down since that's exactly what you did. It is good that you've realized the faux pas. You also didn't give me enough information to even guess as to whether she was attempting to change the conversation, expressing her own feelings of inadequacy, or expressing a wry feeling of acceptance (or some combination of those things). Another question would be how long had the conversation been fixated on decolletage (or had it)? Talking about clothes for large sizes is exclusionary if some of the group aren't large. Putting it another way: talking about X (excessively) when some of the conversants aren't X is either rude or requires positive feedback (some indication of interest) by the non-X members. This is just common sense. It seems to me (but gosh, I'm a guy) that claiming that a large class of clothing (i.e. "dresses like that") wouldn't fit shows more a lack of imagination than a statement of fact. I think all most dresses need is 2 shoulders and a torso, but maybe I'm wrong? I do agree that certain styles are more suited to some forms than to others, and I do agree that many dresses are designed to draw the eye to the cleavage or other anatomical features. So, one possible remark to "I'm too flat to wear dresses like that." is "Oh, I'm not sure. With the right alterations..." Another possible reply is "If you like it, wear it." or perhaps "Unless you're trying to get on Maxim's Hot 100 list, you should wear what makes you feel good." and there's always "Self-confidence looks good on anyone."

0

What Eve said sounds to me like an appeal for empathy from you. While I don't have much personal experience with this, I worry that a lot of the responses people have suggested (e.g. "Eve, big breasts are overrated. etc") will make her think you don't sympathize with her insecurity or consider it valid, and then she would feel more alone.

In that situation I would probably try to empathize first before trying to bolster her self-esteem. Here are some things you could say:

Are you worried that guys won't find you attractive? (Assuming she is straight as you seemed to hint at in OP)

Are you feeling frustrated with the styles of dresses that work well for you?

I think she will be much more likely to take compliments to heart if you honestly but gently acknowledge and validate her feelings first.

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