A few weeks ago I was picking up some things in Duane Reade after work with my usual, tired I’ve-got-things-to-do get-out-of-my-way resting b-tch face. As I got on the escalator to go back downstairs to check out on the first floor of the drug store, I noticed a Black woman staring at me from the bottom of the stairs as she stepped on the up escalator. I looked back at her plainly, not sure what her look in my direction meant, but when our paths crossed as she went up on the escalator and me down, she looked right at me and said:
“Girl, you’re hair is bea-u-ti-ful.”
“Yaaaaaas, it is so gorgeous! Mmmmhmmmm”
I could barely even thank the stranger for her compliment for laughing so hard at her unexpected expressiveness. It reminded me of those memes that joke about the way a white woman will send her best friend a simple note for her birthday like, “Happy Birthday Jess! Love you!” whereas Black women will post a shout out on social media to the tune of “Happy Birthday to my A-1, day-1 bottom b-tch! Don’t let them haters get to you. Today is your day and we gone do it big boo boo. I love you like Jesus loved the church!” No one gives a compliment like a Black woman — except maybe a gay man, ethnicity irrelevant — and there’s just something special about us acknowledging the beauty we see in one another.
For years I’d see several women throughout the day whose hair I loved or whose makeup is on point, or who had a handbag I would lose a pinky toe for and have full-blown conversations about how cute, stunning, gorgeous, etc. each of those things were in my head but rarely said anything to the person whom I was admiring because I’m not one to spark small talk with strangers. But about a year ago, I began to make a concerted effort to start vocalizing that admiration. Thinking about how much my spirits are lifted when a stranger unexpectedly pays me a compliment, I decided I needed to start spreading around some of those feel-good vibes myself and so I did. I vividly recall one day on the subway when another Black woman and I locked eyes for just a few seconds and literally blurted out at the same time to one another, “Your lipstick is so pretty!” It was one of those moments that reminded me not to assume every time someone is staring at me it’s to critique me — a hard lesson to learn growing up in a hyper-critical family — and an affirmation that women, particularly Black women, don’t live in this catty world of negativity where every woman on the street is competition in some shape, form or fashion. Generally speaking, we do recognize and appreciate one another’s beauty and open acknowledgement of that is necessary nourishment in a world that still wants us to believe our lips are too big and our hair is too wild.
If you’re already not one to hold your tongue when you see something you like on another woman, congratulations and, please, keep on spreading the love. If, like me, you’re one of those people for whom the saying “give your flowers to people while they’re living” was written, I encourage you to take the time to share a compliment the next time you see a fierce Black woman on the street. It won’t cost but a second of your time and could literally change that other woman’s day and even her outlook on her own beauty.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever given or received from a stranger?