“Girrrrl! Do you play hockey?!” My friend was a bit taken aback by the question from the bouncer outside the club she was heading into. “What? No. Why do ask that?” Checking out her short shorts, he answered, “Look at those muscles! You’ve got hockey player legs!” While I’m pretty sure he meant it as a compliment (who doesn’t love hockey?), my very fit friend was not complimented. And I don’t know many girls that would take that one very well, frankly. But if you can’t compare a girl to your favorite pro sports team then what can you say to compliment a fit girl on her hard-earned physique?
Unfortunately, as NCAA women’s basketball phenom Brittney Griner discovered, sometimes it’s easier to define what not to say to fit girl. A few weeks ago a coach on opposing team Notre Dame made headlines by saying that Griner “played like a man with women.” Clearly he is proud of his star player and meant it as a compliment. I’m guessing he was trying to say that Griner played basketball well enough to take on a male pro ‘baller. Which kinda makes it sound like he thinks the rest of the female players aren’t as good as the men. Or maybe that she has the mentality of a dude. Which kind of makes me wonder if he thinks women’s brains are too tiny to appreciate real basketball? You can see how quickly this became convoluted. It didn’t help that the 6’8″ Griner is known for not wearing makeup and has a rather low voice which inspired a host of “fans” to up the ante. On Twitter so many people called her a dude or asked to see her d*ck that she got her own manly hashtag. Obviously that’s not complimentary anymore.
Okay, whoa, full stop. Her coach meant it as a nice thing! Why do people gotta go reading all this other crap into it? Because, it turns out, calling a girl any permutation of “manly” is really not very nice. On the flip side, I don’t know any men who love being called “girly” either — and even my gay friends who call each other “girrrrl!” all the time still do not like to be compared to an actual woman.
So if calling women “manly” is out, what can you say? Well, calling us super girly things like “cute” and even “pretty” in the wrong context can end up going very badly as well. Is pretty a compliment? In an effort to clarify things (or muddy the water, whatev), here are just a few of the many comments I’ve gotten about my body and how I felt about them:
“Hey you look like you workout!” (Good)
“Check you out: a pull-up on the monkey bars!” (Even better!)
“That’s a pretty decent squat!” (Pretty decent? Okay?)
“Do you compete?” (Eh, pretty flattered)
“So are you in the heavy weight class?” (Whoa! Crash and burn!)
“Are you a lady Marine?” (Cute and even more so because it came from a sweet little old man)
“In my day ladies didn’t exercise like you girls now do. It was unseemly.” (Maybe he’s not so sweet)
“You sure are strong. For a girl.” (EGADS)
“I’ve never seen a girl sweat as much as you do!” (I have no answer for this one)
“Love those guns!” (Holla!)
“You have athletic thighs.” (Translation: Pants will never fit you. Sigh.)
“You have the perfect body.” (Such a crapstorm erupted from this one! Because I was drastically underweight at the time it sent me to ED hell faster than you can say trigger.)
“For someone who works out as much as you do, you should have the perfect body by now.” (By far the most irritating thing someone has ever said to me.)
As you can see, there’s a fine line between nice and nasty and it’s even trickier because the line can be different for every girl. Some girls love being asked if they are bodybuilders; many others will freak the heck out and drop all weight lifting hoping for atrophy. Some girls adore being told they are pretty; others feel patronized. Some girls even love being compared to men! And none of these reactions are necessarily wrong.
For me, one of my fave compliments I’ve gotten was “No way you popped out 5 babies! You look too young to even have 1! It must be all that exercise you do.” (Does it still count if it was from a woman trying to sell me a very expensive blender at Costco??) I also appreciate anything along the lines of “You work really hard and I’m impressed with how far you’ve come!”
Help me out: What’s the best compliment you can give a fit girl? What’s the least complimentary thing someone’s said to you? What do you think about Brittney Griner’s coach’s compliment??