Backhanded Compliments and Why They're Counterproductive

Written by Lore Villaroya 🤎

Compliments boost people’s confidence. Admit it, we all need validation. Whenever we’re given one, we feel a little lighter. But sometimes, these compliments mean otherwise. They’re called backhanded compliments and often, people don’t see the problem with them.

All over TikTok, there are different users who receive comments that have “no offense,” “just saying,” and “tbh,” among many others. If you’ve seen them yourself, you probably already know what comes before or after these statements. Case in point:


Left: A screenshot from Mykee Mae’s TikTok video where she replied to a user’s unsolicited comment saying her clothes don't suit her.

Right: A screenshot from Kai Javier’s TikTok video where she replied to a user’s ill-mannered opinion about her body.

The thing is, people need to realize that there are things better left unsaid. Additionally, we need to realize how these things can greatly affect the other party and determine the things they can and should say instead. 

Backhanded compliments ARE insults

According to Collins Dictionary, backhanded compliments are insults that can also be understood as compliments. Perhaps you’ve already given one without realizing it was what you gave in the first place. Or you’ve been given one, too.

It’s often hard to notice, but when you are mindful of your words, you realize the way they are structured and the way they can be understood. To give you a better grasp of what backhanded compliments are, here are some common examples.

I love your confidence!

If you’re like me who goes through the comment section of videos to pass the time, you’ve probably encountered this a lot. Personally, I’ve seen it on videos where plus-sized women wear crop tops and tank tops, and also on videos where women nonchalantly show their underarms on-screen without minding its shadows.

The norms we often lock ourselves in are rooted in white representation, especially in Hollywood. Whether we talk about body types that Filipinos coined a term for (“coca-cola body”) or fair skin– it’s largely based on them. 

Why it’s harmful: Beauty standards that were formed off of white supremacy inflict the idea that we have to be white to be considered clean, or that we have to have straight hair to be considered neat, OR we have to look like a mestiza to look beautiful.

The thing is, we don’t have to. We are already beautiful the way that we are. And the reason why the “I love your confidence” comments are harmful is that they assume it takes a certain courage and confidence to showcase people’s natural features.

Dark underarms are natural, and so are textured skin and uneven skin tone. It doesn’t take confidence to understand these are normal. It takes humanity and empathy to go beyond unrealistic standards and embrace all those that are innate.

Your grammar is so good!

In the Philippines, people laugh when others mispronounce words. And if they come across someone who speaks fluently, they equate it to being smart. Filipinos are too particular about the way they sound and the way they seem to people, not minding what matters most – the depth.

Of course, in academic and professional settings, we should pay close attention to our grammar. But in terms of conversational English, and all those that happen on the internet, it is much preferable to be understood than to be lexically perfect.

Why it’s harmful: A certain maxim goes, “Never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.” In class settings, there will always be people who are too shy to participate in discussions. And often, it is because of their fear of being wrong.

The thing is, being so good with language, especially English,  should not be a big deal. To a certain point, sounding smart is validating. But along the way, you will realize sharing your thoughts comprehensively is way better. And there’s intelligence and beauty in explaining complex concepts in a simple manner.

Besides, it doesn’t matter. The way you sound and appear to others isn’t a big deal. What matters is the thought that you are sharing across, and what others can take from it. It is what’s important, and it is something you should pay more attention to than your accent and grammar. So, let no one stop you. 

To women: You’re surprisingly doing well at this job!

Need I say more?  Since time immemorial, women have suffered from prejudice and discrimination. Until today,  we still experience exclusion from opportunities simply because we are women. 

For instance, a former co-anchor abroad has been terminated from her job because of her hair. She’s a black woman. Also, in our very own country, the current president Rodrigo Duterte stated that the chief executive position in the Philippines is not for women, implying that women are faint of heart. 

Why it’s harmful: Being surprised with how people are doing great at what they do is not something anyone should be grateful for. In the first place, why would they doubt? If employers gave the trust, who are we to invalidate?

Prejudice against women is problematic and destructive. It is holding us back and it is invalidating the road we are paving the way for. It is a hindrance to the opportunities we are opening for the next generations to come. Furthermore, it blocks the enlightenment they shed light on in the present time.

For instance, there are only a few women in politics as compared to men. To say that the chief executive position is not for a woman is to say that you are a man whose ego is fragile. You barely survived? Women can thrive. And women aren’t often able to do that because they are not given the opportunity to.

So what should we do about backhanded compliments?

Backhanded compliments are basically masked insults that people unconsciously spill out for varying reasons. Some of which are; (1) they think it’s fine to tell them, (2) they didn’t realize their prejudice surfacing, and/or (3) they don’t care at all.

Now that you already know what backhanded compliments are and some of their examples, may we take the time to choose your words wisely. People’s confidence is like walls built around our system and every word can break it brick by brick. 

It’s already 2022. It’s about time to change our narrative and be a little kinder, to ourselves and to everyone, most especially those we leave little comments to online. What doesn’t affect you may not be the same for others, so let’s be accountable and be kinder.



Lore was born in an unheard of province in Mindanao to an OFW and a teacher that conditioned her in life; she’s privileged. But she spent her teenage years making boundaries and setting things straight; she’s not. To date, you can see her digital footprint in various media platforms trying to carve a world where she is a determined, passionate writer rather than a spoon-fed, first-born daughter.

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