Who Are You Trying to Impress?

backhanded compliment

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the evil sister of the back-handed compliment- what I like to call “the rude comment”. A back-handed compliment can be described as “a phrase that sounds like a compliment at first, but is actually an insult in disguise”. Examples that have been said to me recently include:

  • “You’re lucky you’re so skinny- you can probably shop in the kid’s section!”
  • “Have you considered acting? You have such a unique look- they would love you!”
  • “Your hair is so long- have you ever thought of donating it?”

Saying that I’m skinny is usually seen as a compliment in our society, but shopping in the kid’s section as a grown woman is seen as embarrassing. Telling me I should look into acting is a compliment, but saying I have a unique look implies I’m weird-looking. Complimenting me on the length of my hair is a compliment, but to tell me that having long hair means I should automatically donate it is somewhat of an insult. There are things I can’t control (like being naturally skinny) and things I can (like the length of my hair), but neither of those gives you the right for these snappy judgments.

Which brings me to the topic of the “rude comment”, which is when someone glosses over their insult with some flowery words and a smile. Usually the person is an acquaintance and sometimes they are even a family member or friend. Lately, and as far back as college, I’ve been receiving one rude comment in particular. It comes in the form of a question and usually is phrased as “Who are you trying to impress?”

Example 1: Back in my sophomore year of college, I became friendly with a girl who I had 2 classes with during fall semester. We would talk while walking back from class twice a week, so we got to know each other pretty well. She loved to complain about all her boy drama. She complained about having to look perfect every time she was in public so guys would notice her (including never wearing sweatpants in public, always having her makeup done, and religiously hitting the gym). One day after a rant about all of the issues I just listed, she turned to me and said, “You’re so lucky you don’t have to worry about this stuff, since you have a boyfriend and don’t have anyone to impress”.

The context and way in which she said it came off as “You can look ugly and not care about yourself since you’re in a relationship, but my standards as a single girl are set much higher”. It hurt a little, but I knew she wasn’t being malicious so I understood. She was just an insecure girl who said something she shouldn’t have.

Example 2:  Although this isn’t a specific example, rather a mash-up of a few, there are many times where my appearance comes into play with the “Who are you trying to impress” line. One time I curled my hair and then went to a basketball game. My then-friend snapped at me, wondering why I was primping myself to look good for a stupid basketball game. I didn’t realize it was a crime to curl my hair and want it to look nice. Who knew!?

When I wear a nice dress for a night out and all the other girls end up wearing jeans, they’ll playfully ask who I’m trying to impress with my dress. The truth is, I’m looking nice because I want to. I like wearing certain clothes- including a dress that might be tighter. I like wearing makeup. I like doing my hair. I like all of those things, but that doesn’t mean I’m doing them for someone else. It doesn’t mean I’m superficial and it certainly doesn’t warrant judgmental comments.

I wish more people would realize that just because you are a. in a relationship, and b. like to dress nice and wear makeup, doesn’t mean you are or aren’t trying to impress anyone. Asking me “Who are you trying to look good for- you have a boyfriend?” or “Why are you wearing that?” comes off as rude and doesn’t make me value your friendship or opinion all that much.

Has this ever happened to you? What is the best (or worst) back-handed compliment or rude comment you’ve received? 


  1. See I’m really good at spotting insecure women and I never ever befriend them, well let’s just say after high school I learned my lesson and ditched all of them. They probably think I’m mean but I am determine to not have anyone in my life that will be so catty or insecure. My friends and I are usually very supportive of each other, we all have our issues but we also don’t need to put anyone down to validate ourselves. Sorry you had to deal with this 🙁

  2. Oh yes, I’ve heard this a million times over. I actually never wore sweatpants to class, EVER. But that was for me… I LOVE getting dressed up and or just getting dressed haha… it made me more focused in class, vs. wearing what I would wear to bed, but I always had people ask me that, especially since I was in a relationship in college. I’ve had that happen to when we had group events or settings, I just like to get ready, doesn’t mean I spent 3 hours in the bathroom, it means I spent 15 minutes to put on a little bit of makeup and throw in some curlers. But honestly it does always seem to stem from insecurities. Even when I was studying abroad and all the other girls were aware I was in a relationship, one of them said to me “I’m glad I don’t have to compete with you”… WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN!? People are interesting. I try to just go with the flow in these situations and smile because the people who love and care about me know that getting “dressed up” or wearing a dress vs. jeans is just who I am. Also, don’t you agree that a lot of the time dresses are easier to throw on than choosing a top to go with your jeans?!

  3. Maybe it’s just me, but I just don’t give rude people the time of day. I don’t have friends who would ever say things like that. But one time I was with a group and there were a few people who weren’t really my friends there as well. We were all out to dinner. Afterwards, I ordered a dessert and one girl said to me “it must be nice to get to eat dessert”. Well, yes it is. And I am going to eat it with a smile on my face right in front of you! Haha. 🙂

  4. I don’t know why people can’t understand that maybe someone wants to look nice because it makes them feel good! Why is that such a bad thing?

  5. You hit the nail on the head. I have a (super close) family member who does this to my sister and I. I recently wore a cotton dress to my little brother’s baseball game and she couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t just throw on a tee and shorts. It was blazing hot and I was comfortable! I think it stems from jealousy, as bad as that sounds. You are gorgeous and have a good head on your shoulders! Keep doing what you’re doing 🙂

  6. Oh my god. You know what is so frigging annoying? When I am wearing what I want, am comfortable and appropriate for the occasion and someone makes me freaking feel awful for looking like what I put some work in. I hate it especially when it comes from moms. Sorry I don’t have kids. You live your life and I will live mine.

  7. It is so aggravating when people seem to think that if you put any sort of energy into your appearance, you are trying too hard. Yes, I spent twenty minutes getting ready for the day. I look good. It doesn’t mean that I’m trying to impress someone specific, and it doesn’t mean that I am shallow or vapid.

    Whenever someone says “I can’t imagine wasting time on hair and makeup in the morning” all I want to say is “I’m sure that you spend time doing things during the day that I can’t imagine doing. It doesn’t mean you are wasting time, it just means that we have different hobbies. Get off your high horse!” I’m always too afraid to say that though — it seems too snarky!

  8. Great post! It’s so true! I dress up to go to the grocery store because I want to for me. I like dressing up so why not take advantage of it. That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to going out in public with no makeup and comfy clothes but if I have time to dress up, I will. I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m just wearing what I want 🙂 And omg! people can make such rude comments about skinny people. I think they think because you’re skinny, your feeling won’t get hurt when they comment about your weight. I always hate it when people subtly (and sometimes bluntly) accuse me of being anorexic. It’s just plain rude! You are gorgeous and have gorgeous hair too! 🙂

  9. Sometimes, people suck. That’s just all there is to it.
    My fave comment recently has been, “Oh, Ashley spends A TON of money on clothes.” As if they know exactly what I spend, what I do and don’t get on sale, what my budget is, etc. And don’t forget the underlying judgement that I “get to” spend my money on clothes because I don’t have a baby. Oy. Whatever, man.

    You’re adorable and super savvy and you just keep on keepin’ on. 🙂

  10. ugh YES such an aggravating topic. I distinctly remember an incident when a friend and I agreed to walk our dogs together one morning and I -GASP- put on some mascara and dabbed on a little cover up before heading out in public. When I arrived at our meeting spot, my friend raised an eyebrow and joking asked if I was planning on meeting any eligible dogs at the park. I’ve never felt so self-conscious about looking nice!

  11. YES. This happens to me often as well. I really hate when people ask, “Who are you trying to impress?” when I’m just being me and dressing how I like. My favorite is being asked that when my friends know that I don’t have a dress code at work and I still dress up anyway. I just like to be presentable because it makes me feel good.

  12. I think the two examples you list are definitely back-handed compliments, but the first three short examples don’t really sound like negatives to me–however, perhaps the tone could send it over the edge? I can’t think of a back handed compliment curently, but I will say that it is a form of passive aggressiveness and that is the WORST kind of people.

  13. Wow I hadn’t thought about these kind of comments in ages. And I’m not even sure I can recall the last time I heard something like that. Though I’m probably not paying attention. I always try to give people the benifit of the doubt lol. I need to keep my ears peeled though because someone disguising their insults with “compliments” is definitely not ok.

  14. I get a lot of, “You look nice….today” comments when I wear anything besides blue jeans at work, haha. Basically they’re telling me I’m a slob most days, but on the days I put more than 5 minutes into my appearance I look decent. Bahaha, at least they noticed, right? xx

  15. Oh this is so spot on!! I dress and look nice for myself!! It makes me feel good and ready to tackle the day! This isn’t a back handed compliment but I hate when people are like oh you look tired – thanks I look like crap is what you mean!

  16. UGh this is so true! I honestly think the people who do it don’t mean to; that they just don’t realize how they are coming off. Doesn’t make the comments sting any less, though!

  17. I completely agree with you. I think it is one of my top annoyances when someone dresses up an insult to look like a compliment. You called it tho as it almost always comes from that persons insecurity. Well said!

  18. My friends almost always say something to me if I’m more dressed up than the rest of them, but I don’t think they mean it in a mean way. I think they just mean they didn’t get the “let’s wear dresses” memo… But yeah, I can see how it comes off as snappy/ jealous/ rude… I agree that it’s important to think about what we’re saying before you say it because sometimes comments can be hurtful, whether you intend for them to be or not.

  19. My sister in laws grandmother told me, “You’re much prettier than I thought you were going to be” What?! I get so annoyed when people say, “Are you going somewhere special?” Just because I do my hair and makeup. I’m a hairstylist for crying out loud! My hair should always be done!!

  20. I hate the who are you trying to impress type comments. They’re really uncalled for! And backhanded comments in general are SO rude! I wish I was more witty so I could have some great comebacks for them!

  21. ughh I hate back handed compliments! I have an instance like the one you mentioned, where I met up with a group of friends the morning after they all went out. they were all hungover, messy hair and gym shorts but I had a restful nigh of sleep, plenty of time to get ready and I just love wearing dresses. when I got there, one girl made a snarky comment about how I was overdressed and asked why i had to make everyone else look bad.
    im sorry, I was unaware that just because you are having rough morning meant that I had to follow suit.
    and the “ugh.. you are soo skinny” comments never really feel good, either!

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