Please raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by the words: “you’re pretty.” No? Yes? If you identify with the latter—us too. Because in the realm of compliments, “pretty” feels forgettable and arbitrary. It’s like the blundering filler equivalent of “um” within the human lexicon. However, at least with “um,” we’re typically transitioning from one idea to the next with something more thought-provoking to come. While “you’re pretty” just kind of sits there.
We know we’re supposed to find the word flattering, (and if you do, all the power to you, and we’d love to hear your thoughts), but what does “pretty” even mean? For some, it might suggest a sparkling personality, and for others, it might mean a beaming gap-toothed smile. So why do we feel the need to beat around the bush, stuttering “um” and “your pretty” when we could commend the qualities we’re drawn to instead?
When I think back to the compliments that have meant the most to me over the years, it’s the unexpected and unstudied observations that have made me smile or given me an internal flutter of butterflies. For instance, I have this really bizarre thing I sometimes do with my lips when I’m caught off guard or feel uncomfortable in social situations. It’s an out-of-body twitchy reaction I only became aware of after it was (horrifyingly) caught on camera a few years back, and it falls somewhere on the spectrum between pursing and, I don’t know… sucking on my gums?
(I wish I could explain myself.)
Anyway, a couple of years ago I was on a date at a magical little place in Santa Monica with a guy I had only seen once or twice prior. There was a pause in the conversation, and after staring at me for a second he randomly blurted: “I love that funny thing you do with your lips when you’re uncomfortable. It’s so adorably weird.”
Even though he immediately chuckled at my likely stricken expression of horror, my soul was soothed and I haven’t forgotten the compliment since. I was not only touched that he noticed that small flash of insecurity but that he somehow understood when and why I did it in the first place. And then, bless his heart, he went and appreciated it. Despite the fact I was probably a couple cocktails in (and ultimately, it didn’t work out between us), I’d never felt so inexplicably exposed yet simultaneously understood. Especially, might I add, when it had to do with something I always assumed was unflattering and embarrassing.
So why am I spilling my guts to you about this? Well, this February, we’re working to challenge some of the normative themes we typically see this time of year, and we wanted to hear from you! Sure, as beauty editors, we have lots of thoughts on the topic of “pretty” and we will be sharing a bit more on that below, but we were curious to know what our readers would rather hear in lieu of “you’re pretty.” Thus, we opened up Instagram last week and asked you for your thoughts on the topic. And as always (and because Byrdie readers are the best), you exceeded our expectations.
Keep reading for 49 compliments team Byrdie (editors and readers alike) would rather hear than “you’re pretty.” Enjoy!
“I pride myself on picking up on people’s energy, fast. If the vibe is off or on, I know. Therefore, I work fairly hard to protect and honor my own energy. Instead of telling me I’m pretty, tell me I have beautiful energy. It shows you’re in tune beyond the surface of my looks and interested in who I am.” — Maya Allen, Byrdie assistant editor
“You inspired me to do___” — @sakur.skin
“I love that you do what you love, or, I love your determination...” — @missaleolivas
“You make me feel alive.” — @blueseaweed
“You’re brave, you’re inspiring, you’re intelligent, you’re hardworking, you have great style, you’re creative, etc. Literally, anything other than ‘you’re pretty.’ Women are so much more than just a pretty face.” — @taylorparkhill
“You’re very comfortable with yourself. You have a beautiful spirit.” — @nads9188
“You make my heart smile.” — @skrllstavi
“Wow, you’re so damn persistent. I admire that.” — @karina16k
“You are worthy. You matter.” — @carolinelewis232
“You’re well-spoken, you’re articulate, you’re a good listener, you're a good friend…” — Deven Hopp, Byrdie beauty director
“‘You’re glowing’ or ‘you’re radiant’ is always so lovely. But one I got today (not so much to do with looks) was: ‘you’re vibrant!’ After I did a presentation at work and it made me feel all the happy feels.” — @epv_91
“You are always unapologetically yourself.” —@sofiamalinn
“You’re very straightforward.” — @estrella5628
“You’re so brave.” — @elizberkley
“You’re such a genuine soul.” — @therealquirkyteal
“I’d rather someone think I’m funny—that’s kind of my thing. Of course it feels good to be lauded for my looks, as I’m only human (although I prefer a different adjective because ‘pretty’ makes me cringe). But humor is usually the first thing I put forward into the world. I’d rather be recognized for what comes from my mouth than what genetics happen to inform my face. I have no control over that.” — Hallie Gould, Byrdie senior editor
“I feel peace with you.” — @blythejulep
“Your smile is contagious.” — @sparkliingeyes
“You’re so smart and funny.” — @mrs_d_b_p
“You’re so motivating!” — @sandrasaturne
“A few months ago I was at a bar and this guy kept telling me that I was pretty, so I finally turned to him and said, ‘Thank you, but I’m smart, too,’ to which he angrily replied, ‘No you’re not’ and walked away. I would much rather be complimented on things other than looks, like being told, ‘You are smart/kind/genuine/compassionate/honest/understanding.’” — @yracemaayde
“You have a great sense of humor.” — @erriccaaaa
“I appreciate you.” — @khirakaram
“A few years ago, a friend of a girlfriend told her that I was Aphrodite. I couldn’t help but feel flattered; but after thinking it over, I realized a much more true compliment would’ve been, ‘Your friend is brilliant, she’s strong, powerful; a force to be reckoned with. She’s Athena.’” — @lizmonzon
“‘You brighten up the room with your smile,’ or ‘that was a very smart idea!’” — @carolinasoto99
“Someone called me effervescent once and I thought that was nice (way nicer than being told I’m ‘pretty’).” — Faith Xue, Byrdie editorial director
“My biology teacher once told me that I was the ‘Leonardo da Vinci of the 21st century.’ Honestly the best compliment I’ve ever received!” — @karelaka
“If you want to comment on appearance, there are hundreds of alternatives: Love your haircut, love your lip color, love your outfit today. Better to be complimented on a choice than on genetics.” — @gollyoli
“You have a good heart. You are worthy. You bring so much light to other people’s lives.” — @diaryofamadbrowngirl
“Whenever I’ve heard someone described as having the ability to ‘light up a room,’ I’ve always felt somewhat envious. It’s a compliment that encompasses and represents so much more than physicality: To me, ‘lighting up the room’ means having positive, reverberant energy and an overall bright disposition. We’ve all seen the movie scenes where a girl walks into a party and there’s a light beaming behind her and a fan blowing as the camera zooms in. In these instances, we’re focused on her looks—she was cast to be beautiful for this very reason. But when I’ve noticed this sort of sunny presence in real life, personality and kindness were always the source of electricity.” — Lindsey Metrus, Byrdie managing editor
“You’re fascinating!” — @jijikinz
“You are inspiring. I appreciate your warm spirit. You motivate me to be my best self. You show me how to be a better person. You challenge me. You are creative. I notice how hard you worked on that. Children love being with you. Your energy is contagious. I look up to you. You have integrity. I appreciate your willingness to take that risk. I applaud you for making the choice to take care of yourself.” — @womanofsteele16
“You walk with such determination. It looks like you can take over the world.” — @sarcasticdimples
“You’re a one-woman empire.” — @norahenick
“You’re a great mom.” — @tanjagold
“‘You’re glowing’ because it implies both inner and outer beauty.” — @marlamini
“‘Your energy is fire,’ and/or ‘Meet my homegirl, her energy is electric.’” — @wrdolandia
“Your love for others makes me want to be a better person” — @hanners_14
“It’s about the way you move. It makes people want to notice you.” — @yogurtmonster
“If we’re talking compliments about my physical appearance, I’d way rather hear someone call my look unique or interesting, rather than pretty. After all, I don’t have short hair and tattoos and smudge bright orange lipstick all over my whole face to be ‘pretty.’ I do it to reflect my personality and my quirks. When someone calls me ‘pretty,’ it doesn’t make me feel understood or seen for who I really am. But when someone tells me something more like ‘Whoa, that eyeliner is so weird, it’s so you, I love it,’ that’s when I really feel the most complimented.” — Amanda Montell, Byrdie features editor
“Beautiful!!” — @domakaya
“You’re fearless! And you make me feel welcome.” — @the_good_chemist
“‘I appreciate you,’ ‘you make me laugh,’ ‘you are wise,’ ‘you radiate confidence and love,’ ‘you are a shining soul.’” — @rebecca.shoe
“You’re so fun to be with (without sarcasm).” — @jenpadrigo
“I’m not going to pretend being told I’m pretty isn’t flattering, but I feel especially proud when I’m seen for things that used to be points of insecurity for me. Things like my sensitivity, tendency to quietly observe rather than be the center of attention, my weird and borderline-dark sense of humor—I’ve only recently learned that these are my superpowers, so it’s always gratifying to know that other people appreciate these traits too. It’s how I know I’m actually being seen.” — Victoria Hoff, Byrdie wellness editor
“I like the way your mind works.” — @meerarituals
“You’re considerate and compassionate.” — @lanehoke
“Your energy is infectious. Your personality shines as bright as your smile.” — @diarrhaxo“
I’d rather be told I’m funny. I love people who have a good sense of humor, those who don’t take life too seriously, and have the ability to find laughter in the little things. I just think it’s such a high compliment to hear from someone that you can make people laugh and express happiness.” — Kaitlyn McLintock, Byrdie contributor.