You wouldn’t think that if someone says, “You are beautiful,” that would be problematic. However, it can be. It depends on a lot of situations.
For instance, who is saying it? When are they saying it? Under what circumstances are those words uttered? When is it being said? And how on earth do you reply, in each situation?
How you respond to “You are beautiful” depends on whether it is appropriate or awkward in the situation. If this phrase comes from your loved one, any response is correct; with strangers, say “Thank you” briefly and in a dismissive voice and turn away.
Let’s take a look at some different situations and how to respond appropriately.
Uncomfortable and Inappropriate Situations
There are reasons that laws for sexual harassment came about, and having a phrase like “You are beautiful” is a prime example. This is completely inappropriate. So what to do?
Say you’re working on a project and your boss or co-worker utters this phrase. Our recommendation: Either ignore the remark, or a cold, non-encouraging, “thank you.” And then change subjects, or leave the situation.
“Non-encouraging” means that you make it clear, by your demeanor, that this remark was not welcome. Shut it down, in other words.
If that doesn’t work, you are being harassed, and it needs to stop. You can tell the person, “It makes me uncomfortable when you say that.” Boom. Those are the magic words to put a harasser on warning notice. If that doesn’t work, then you may need to contact Human Resources. In this day and age, everyone should know that harassment is not okay.
Here is a scenario . . . a meeting of volunteers, during the social hour. A male volunteer tells a female volunteer that “You are beautiful.”
Hit the brakes! This is also uncomfortable and inappropriate. She is also surrounded by fellow volunteers. Odd, right? How does she respond, gracefully? (“Gracefully” is important because how we handle ourselves in social situations is, fairly or unfairly, a judgment situation.)
How do you respond gracefully in this situation? Our advice:
And change the subject, move on, etc. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Others observing will note your graceful response.
Hopefully, the “inappropriate” person will be discouraged from making these sorts of remarks again. If not, you still have handled the phrase to the best of your ability, and it was noted.
Here is another odd one that happens: Remarks from strangers. This can happen in bars, laundromats, gas stations, you name it. It can throw you off because it’s unexpected and odd. Yet, it can be sort of wonderful and a real mood booster. And, it can come from the heart.
Is it wrong to appreciate beauty? Not really, unless for a nefarious purpose. Why not enjoy it? The best response? Again, just say, “thank you.” Give a smile, if you feel safe doing so.
These are hard times, and some random appreciation of beauty isn’t a terrible thing, is it? Alternatively (sigh), if you feel unsafe, that is a different situation and you need to take action. Don’t encourage the stranger.
When dating, this is the sort of remark you hope to hear . . . eventually. We say “eventually” because “You are beautiful” is a remark that can be a “too soon” issue.
- Date 1: too soon.
- Date 2: too soon.
- Date 3: if there is chemistry, we’ll allow it.
But a first date is just weird. You should only see appreciation in eye contact at that point.
As far as a reply, if you are dating, you may hope for unilateral appreciation.
You can say:
“I think you are handsome”
or, in an alternative relationship,
“I think you’re beautiful, too.”
If someone is rushing the “You are beautiful” statement, it feels weird and desperate. How to respond? Use the “thank you.” And then, if you are dating, you need to gauge appropriateness.
Beauty doesn’t always mean physical beauty. It can also involve a situation where a person does beautiful things, or acts.
Perhaps that is a better kind of beauty than physical beauty! Maybe you have done something helpful, altruistic, or kind, and somebody notices that and says, “You are beautiful.”
In that instance, it may be your inner beauty that they are acknowledging. If that’s the case, and it feels genuine — and not creepy — then just embrace it with a smile or a gentle “thank you.”
There are times when hearing “You are beautiful” is a good thing. Let’s have a look at those and how to respond.
The first one that comes to mind is with your spouse or partner. Hearing, “You are beautiful” is suddenly the best compliment you can hear, isn’t it? You will probably melt. We’d throw our arms around the person and show our appreciation. “Thank you, that’s sweet!” is still appropriate and we would say it with a big smile.
“You are beautiful” doesn’t have to be a romantic situation. Why not tell a girlfriend? We love it when our girlfriends compliment us. Be sure to repeat the phrase, at the right time, or right occasion. This can be a really reassuring or mood-bolstering thing to hear. So often, people think the work or effort they put in is not appreciated. Let someone know it is. Pay it forward.
Another situation is with a child. Children are all beautiful, aren’t they? And why not tell them so? It builds self-esteem and makes them feel good. Odds are, they will share that expression with their little peers. Some of them will repeat it to their mommies, which is the biggest heart-lurch, ever.
It’s the right thing to do to tell a child they are beautiful. If they don’t know what to say in response, tell them:
“You can say, thank you!”
Should “You are beautiful” be used sparingly? If it is over-used, people may not appreciate it as much. Let’s face it, it’s a killer phrase (otherwise, why would it be a subject to be addressed?).
Alternatively, in difficult times, shouldn’t we appreciate beauty, if doing so can be done appropriately and sensitively? Art is beautiful. Music is beautiful. People can be beautiful. But how to respond is harder. We hope we have helped.
Sophie Hammond is a journalist, psychologist, and freelance speechwriter for people in politics and business. She lives on the edge of the Rocky Mountains with her dog and a lifetime supply of books. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop.