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6 Foolproof Comebacks For Every Backhanded Compliment

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    By the time you entered pre-school, you knew the rules. It’s important to share. Always say please and thank you. And some things are better left unsaid. But that was the '90s, and in 2016, it seems like we could all use a refresher.

    It’s true we’re not as polite as we used to be. In the sixth annual Civility in America report, a whopping 95% of the 1,005 adults surveyed agreed that civility is a problem and nearly three-quarters said basic manners are on the decline. And coming off of an especially nasty election season, it’s no wonder we’re hyperaware of it.

    But the rudeness we’re talking about is not on the news. It’s with people we know: our friends, our colleagues, and our fellow wedding guests. So when they spew backhanded compliments or judgements — we’re not talking about blatant bigotry here — it’s not so easy to figure out how to stand up for ourselves, gently correct them, and maintain a positive relationship.

    That’s why we teamed up with Lane Bryant, whose #ThisBody campaign is designed to fight negativity, and a group of etiquette pros. Together, we’ve created a guide to overcoming six common quips, politely and effectively. Whether it’s a food-shaming lunch date or a marriage-pusher, here’s how to proceed with grace, dignity, and a good feeling about it all.



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  2. Illustrated by Isabel Castillo.

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    “You’d look so beautiful without your tattoos.”
    Although nearly half of millennials have at least one tattoo, many people still hold strong opinions about them. In fact, 47% of adults surveyed in The Harris Poll consider those who sport ink to be less attractive than those who don’t.

    “It’s important to recognize that, in some instances, people have already made up their minds,” says lifestyle and etiquette expert Elaine Swann. “More often than not, there isn’t anything you can do to change this, so you just need to let them know you’re comfortable with who you are.”

    That’s why all of our experts recommend acknowledging the other perspective but remaining firm in your convictions. “Oh, that’s so funny because I think I look so beautiful with my tattoos” or “I find that people are really interested in them, and I was proud to put them on my body” should do the trick.

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    “When are you guys getting engaged?”
    Not only can it be frustrating to be cornered with this inquiry, it also may dig into a fundamental disagreement with your partner. But whether you’re ready to take the next step or not, it’s important to acknowledge that most likely the comments aren’t coming from a bad place. Rather, great-aunt Sue or that friend of a college friend is probably looking to fill a conversational lull.

    Work to put on a genuine positive facial expression — e.g. a smile — and let this person know, “If and when we get engaged, you'll certainly be on our list of people to tell.” “Using conditional words like ‘if’ and ‘when’ cover whatever your unique situation may be,” says Lizzie Post, cohost of the Awesome Etiquette podcast. “And if you have decided marriage isn’t in the cards for you, it’s okay to let people know you’ve made a solid choice for yourself — even if it’s different than what their decision might be. Try something like, ‘We’re really happy with our relationship the way it is, and we don’t feel the need to change it.’

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    “You’re a democrat? It’s okay; you’re young. You’ll learn.”
    The presidential election has left people, suffice it to say, passionate, and often this democrat-versus-republican sentiment is based on the widely held but false belief that young people only care about social issues. However, according to the Harvard Public Opinion Project, the top issues for 18- to 29-year-olds are health-care policy, job creation, education policy, and income inequality. While this is one point on your side, you don’t necessarily need to smugly share.

    Similar to how you would speak to someone hating on your tattoos, Post recommends replying with conviction and positivity. “When you say, ‘I feel like I have a good handle on the issues, but thank you’ or ‘I feel pretty confident in where I’m at, but I know perspectives are always evolving and changing,’ you send the message that you are willing to appreciate the other person’s view even when it is different from yours. When someone hears that, it’s increasingly difficult not to extend the same courtesy.”

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    “I can’t believe you’re going back to work already.”
    When it comes to parenting, there is no shortage of opinions. And when a game plan — whether it's to return to work, take some time off, or try something in between — is questioned, it hurts. After all, we’re all striving to do the very best we can, and we’re doing it in a wide range of circumstances. “If you never plan to see [the person who says this] again, it’s not worth going into it,” says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. “If you see him or her on a daily basis or he or she is part of your family, you need to address it, but you need to address it privately. Calmly say, ‘You’ve mentioned this several times, and I have to tell you, I’m uncomfortable. This sounds like a judgement.’” This way, you’re being direct and calling the offending party out, but you aren’t building on their rudeness with your own.

    If that doesn’t end the discussion, continue to affirm your decision. “It’s really your business if, when, and how you choose to work after having a child; that goes for mothers and fathers,” says Post. You can do this by saying, “Yes, I am going back to work” or “Yes, I am still off work,” and adding, “This is what I need to do at this time in my life.”

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    “Do you really want to eat that?”
    Sixty-nine percent of women have both felt judged and judged other women on their bodies, so it’s no wonder that the food police spur a visceral response in us. Whether your lunch date is passionate about how great she feels after giving up gluten or is backhandedly commenting on recent changes in your weight, it’s no one’s business what you do or don’t put in your mouth — or why you do it.

    “This is an instance where you may respond in a manner that might ruffle someone’s feathers, but if nothing else, you should stand your ground and be strong in who you are and the decisions you make about your body,” says Swann. “It’s as simple as saying, ‘Yes, I sure am.’” Still haven’t heard the end of it? Once again, acknowledge that your companion’s choices are just as valid as yours, sending the message you expect the same courtesy. For example, “I’m glad that works well for you, and I’m really comfortable with what I eat and how it makes me feel.”