Why Singaporean Girls Reject Compliments

It’s uncommon for Singaporean women to graciously accept compliments, myself included.

While growing up in a large family provided me with many playmates, I was constantly compared to them. This affected my self-esteem.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve gone“Omg babe no” when I received compliments.

But recently, I decided that rejecting compliments is impolite and constantly sh*tting on myself made me feel like crap. So I made a resolution to respond with “Thank you” instead.

While most people assume insecurity is the main reason why girls disagree when praised, I realised there are far more reasons why Singaporean girls are shy when it comes to accepting compliments.

Don’t want to be seen as hao lian

Picture this: You’re at your family gathering and your aunt compliments you about your recent exam grades. How would you usually respond?

Would you:
A. Disagree (no lah, it’s not that good)
B. Feign surprise (huh, where got?)
C. Deflect (ok only lah, I didn’t do as well as my friends)
D. Return the compliment (heard your daughter scored first in class, so smart!)
E. Share credit (my mum signed me up for tuition class, that’s why).

Or respond with, “Thanks! I got first in class”?

Singaporean culture values humility and modesty. If we easily accept compliments, others might call us proud or hao lian, and pass judgement that we have a high opinion of ourselves.

This is more so for girls. In our Asian culture, we are expected to be demure, modest and compliant. If we don’t act humble, we are seen to be arrogant and not ‘brought up properly’.

This is why there’s a tendency to criticise girls who are confident and accepting of compliments. It gives girls an added incentive to be humble as we don’t want to give people a reason to speak negatively of us.

Raised on tough love

We’re raised by parents who use tough love to push us to be better—we’re Asian, not Bsian. But an unintended consequence is that we’re raised to be crazy perfectionists who are never contented.

Often, we don’t see ourselves as worthy of admiration, telling ourselves that we’re not good, pretty or smart enough and that we should constantly improve.

For girls, this message is compounded by how the media presents us with unrealistic beauty standards. From commercials targeting yellow teeth stains to triple eyelid folds, we’re constantly reminded that our natural bodies aren’t good enough. Come on, do we really need laser whitening to bleach butt holes?

The reluctance to accept compliments come from our own internal standards of knowing we can be better: we cannot accept flattery because we feel undeserving.

The lack of a complimenting culture

Singapore doesn’t have a culture of giving compliments, so accepting a compliment can be perceived as unnatural and awkward.

Also, girls often give each other compliments as a conversation starter. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been drunk in a club, queueing for the toilet and screaming “OMG! Your dress is amazing” at the girl standing in front of me.

Girls recognise how compliments can make each other feel good and create a positive interaction. There is recognition that not all compliments are 100% genuine—it’s the way girls make small talk.

Hence, we tend to doubt someone’s motive when they try to genuinely compliment us: “Wah this person compliment me, is it they trying to suck up to me?”

Accepting Words of Affirmation

Life is already hard enough and if you’re not going to be your own personal cheerleader, no one else can make you self-assured of your abilities.

And if you’re one of those people who constantly offer words of encouragement to girls who never accept them, keep on doing you.