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A complementing compliment
I was sitting in the bathroom stall during third hour, trying to waste as much time as I could so I wouldn’t have to be in class. As I stared at myself through the front camera of my white, rhinestone-covered iPhone, I heard the door open and two girls walked in, talking.
“Did you see Cailin today?” one of them asked.
I pulled my feet up, I wanted to hear all the good things they had to say about me.
“Yeah, her hair looked amazing. I’m so jealous,” the other one replied.
I smiled. Of course you’re jealous, your hair probably looks just as fake as your shoes, I thought.
The first girl laughed. “Me too. If only there were enough amounts of hairspray, makeup and cute clothes to cover up that horrible personality.”
“Yeah, seriously. She’s just straight up mean.”
My jaw dropped. Seriously? I am not mean, I have a great personality! How could they say that? No. I am not mean.
The bell was about to ring, but I didn’t want to leave the stall. I didn’t want them to see that I had heard everything they just said.
I made sure the girls were long gone before exiting the stall. I took one last look at myself through my phone. I needed to make sure my eyes weren’t bloodshot and my mouth and teeth were clean of vomit. I slid a piece of mint gum into my mouth to get rid of the taste.
I went through the rest of the day in a fog. Mean, mean, mean. I had heard people say bad things about me before, but this one stung, and I don’t know why. “Dumb” and “conceited” were nothing compared to mean. If there was anything I never wanted to be called, it was mean.
Some girl I don’t know came up to me in the hallway later that day and complimented my hair again.
“Thanks,” I said. I couldn’t even smile back at her. Sure, I have nice hair, but apparently it wasn’t nice enough to overcome my awful personality.
I went home that day and got on Facebook. Jumping from profile to profile, I looked at the profile pictures of different girls I had clicked on. Double chin, bad makeup, cute dress. Then I ended up on my own profile. I grinned. I began looking at all the pictures of me with all of my friends, me dancing and playing softball.
How could anyone think this girl is mean?
Then it hit me. I thought back to just a few moments ago when I was looking at other girls’ profiles. All I could do was bash them. Yeah, one girl had a cute dress on, but anyone can buy a cute dress, and really, I just thought it would look good on me. Maybe this was what those girls in the bathroom were talking about. I criticized people all the time.
If only those girls knew how much I actually criticized myself.
Well, fine. I’ll show them, and anyone else who thinks I’m mean, just how nice I am. I’ll go to school tomorrow and compliment someone. And this person better feel pretty special, because this doesn’t happen a lot.
As I stepped out of my black Range Rover the next morning, I was determined to accomplish my mission for the day. I went to my locker and then met up with my friends, observing everyone walking by me, searching for a compliment to give. I was having a hard time finding things to compliment besides clothes. Actually, I was finding it hard to see anything good at all. I kept observing all day, in the halls and in all my classes. But with every person I looked over, I found myself mentally criticizing even more than I normally do. I felt like I was on Facebook all over again, clicking through profile pictures.
This was going to be harder than I thought. I wasn’t going to give up, though. I had to prove to everyone that I was a nice person.
It was finally time for lunch, and I was yet to even find one thing I liked about anyone. I sat with my friends at our usual lunch table. My stomach was screaming for food. I scarfed down my turkey wrap, crackers, apple and granola bar to quiet its pleas.
I looked out across the lunch room, studying each face. With each person I inspected, I noticed their flaws, even the girls everyone else thought were pretty.
Then I began comparing myself to all of them. Reassuring myself that I was skinnier and prettier than every girl I glanced over.
Stop, stop, stop. Find something good, stop comparing. You know what happens when you start comparing, Cailin.
That was it. I crumpled up my brown paper lunch sack, stood up and threw it away. I stormed into the bathroom and locked myself in the stall. I sat there once again, hoping no one would come in and gossip about me this time.
You can do this, I told myself. It’s not that big of a deal. Just one stupid compliment.
I stood up and opened the stall door to find Brooke Raider, one of the other so-called “pretty” girls, washing her hands. I needed to get this over with. I came up to the sink next to her and started washing my hands as well. I stared at my hands under the ice cold water running over them. I kept taking a breath to talk, but I couldn’t get myself to say it. Finally, just as she opened the door to leave, I looked at her through the mirror.
“Hey Brooke,” I began. She whipped around and flashed her shining white teeth.
“So I don’t think I’ve ever really talked to you before, but I just wanted to let you know that I think you’re pretty.” I smiled and tried to make it seem as genuine as possible.
“Uh, thanks Cailin,” she said. She gave me a confused half-smile, turned and walked out the door. I watched her long brown hair swing as she walked away. I refrained from mentally criticizing how damaged it looked.
Finally, I did it.
I smiled to myself, Look who’s “mean” now?
Before leaving the bathroom, I checked under all the stalls to make sure no one was in there. Luckily, no one was. I quickly locked myself in a stall and emptied my stomach of the food it was begging for earlier.
I cleaned myself up and left the bathroom. I happily went through the rest of my day, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt accomplished. Those girls wouldn’t have anything bad to say about me anymore.
As I walked to sixth hour, I saw one of the girls I was pretty sure was talking about me in the bathroom just yesterday. Luckily, the halls were mostly empty, so she looked right at me. I flashed her the biggest smile I could foster. She smiled back, as if nothing was wrong. I looked down and saw she was wearing the same fake shoes I saw through the bottom of the bathroom stall. I giggled to myself.
After passing by her, I realized she was friends with Brooke, the girl I complimented.
Good, Brooke probably told her about the compliment. Now she really won’t have anything to say about me.
Just then, the girl called my name.
“Yes?” I grinned, I knew she was going to either acknowledge my brand new shoes or thank me for complimenting Brooke.
“So I’m friends with Brooke Raider,” she said. My smile grew even bigger, “and she told me about the compliment today in the bathroom. Why did you do that?”
“Well, I’ve always thought she was super pretty,” I said, even though I didn’t really think so. “And I just thought it would be a nice thing to do, you know, just to boost her confidence a little bit.”
She laughed. Here it comes, I thought giddily.
“Well I don’t think Brooke’s the one in need of a confidence boost.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Cailin, you’re beautiful, don’t get me wrong,” she said. I stared at her, confused. “But I know you don’t think so. I know why you’re so hateful, Cailin. It’s because you hate yourself. You hate everything about yourself, so you take it out on other people. Well, just in case you didn’t know, criticizing others isn’t going to make you any skinnier or prettier. And if your one attempt at being kind is giving someone an insincere compliment, you might need to reevaluate the term nice.”
By this time, my mouth hung wide open. I couldn’t form words. Where was all of this coming from? How would she know how I feel about myself? I thought I never let it show.
As if she read my mind, “I know you’re bulimic, Cailin. I’ve heard you throwing up multiple times, which is horrible. You don’t need to do that. But being the prettiest and skinniest girl in school isn’t going to make people like you, and neither is one wimpy compliment. And trust me, I know it’s hard to find the good in others when you can’t find anything good in yourself, but until you start doing that, good luck changing your reputation.”
She turned and walked away. I stood frozen, my mouth still hanging. The bell had rang, but I couldn’t move. I felt like I had just gotten hit by a bus. I couldn’t even form complete thoughts. I finally forced myself to turn around and walk to my class.
The next day at school, I sat at my usual table with my friends, slowly eating my lunch. Once I finished, I walked out of the cafeteria, passing by the bathroom. And for the first time in two years, I didn’t making my daily stop.
In fact, I never made that stop again.
It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. But I stopped. I stopped criticizing myself and others. And that girl from the bathroom was right, once I found the good in myself, I started seeing it in other people too.