I read an article once (this is how I start 93% of all my conversations; the other 7% start with "did you hear about...") about how our self-perception is almost fully fixed by age 14. If you were a pretty girl then, you think of yourself as a pretty girl now. If you were a gawky boy then, no matter how handsome you are now, you probably think of yourself as gawky, awkward, shy, goofy. I'm sure there's an article that contradicts this one, but in my own experience with self, family and friends, it rings deeply true.
There are a few standout compliments I remember as a child. As a general rule, I was laughed at when I said things I thought were perfectly serious - observations about the world, thoughts about my family - and it was deeply painful. One I remember well was saying to my parents that I couldn't fall asleep at night as a young girl, because "my mind keeps talking to me." The Dalai Lama would find this quite profound, right? I was laughed at. Perhaps because I was wise for my age. Perhaps because I was an indignant 6 year old with very large eyes, peering up at two loving adults.
But, back to the blog post title. I remember both my first intellectual compliment and first physical compliment, from people who were not my parents. In first grade, Mrs. Estes praised me, in front of the whole class, for being a very good speller, and I was excused from the test one week because I already knew all the words. It was a shock. Excused from the test? Unheard of, ladies and gentlemen! 22 years later, I am a fabulous speller, and it has often been praised, noted, even financially rewarded. Do I have a natural affinity for spelling? Or did that simple compliment turn me into someone who began to enjoy learning to spell correctly, ever after? Will we ever know?
Around the same age - 6 or 7 - my Aunt Joan praised my long, thick eyelashes. I was a bit puzzled, so she explained mascara. How grown-up ladies like pretty eyelashes to help make their eyes bright and beautiful. And that I was lucky enough to have naturally nice lashes. In the 21 years since this event, I have rarely believed any compliments about my physical attributes - about my hair, or my figure, or anything at all. But when someone compliments my eyelashes? I am as warm-hearted as that 7 year old girl, as filled with genuine appreciation as only a child can be. This compliment came my way recently from a very gentle and authentic woman. She is a person who exudes honesty, and while anyone would believe kind words from her, being that she repeated the first thing I believed about my body, I believed it so deeply again.
And you? Do you remember your first - compliment, or compliments? When they're said again now, do you believe them in a way you don't believe anything else?