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Appreciation or objectification?

It can be confusing walking the line between admiring the way someone looks and making them feel as if they’re only valued for their physical appearance. So in this article, I answer some questions about the nature and nurture of physical attraction.

Is it okay to compliment the opposite sex?

The giving and receiving of compliments can be really lovely, but it’s a very personal thing. Some people feel uncomfortable with them and what one person perceives as a compliment, can be an insult for another! This is particularly so in a cultural context and is a definite consideration when dating online internationally. Comments about weight gain/loss are best avoided and it’s important to ensure that the recipient doesn’t feel like you’re just focusing in on appearance. Try opening with a conversation based on the person’s bio rather than the photo and it’s always best to keep it genuine and personal, as people are much less likely to respond to a generic message sent en masse.

Am I just too focused on appearances?

Although attraction is totally natural and plays a part in choosing who to date, judging someone purely based on it, or having a “type” really narrows your search field (and ultimately may very well rob you of the chance to get to know a wider range of potential mates, one of whom may turn out to be just right). Will you only consider dating someone who has certain physical characteristics? Do you spend a lot of time-consuming main stream aspirational media and celebrity culture? If so, your perception of attractiveness and value may have become heavily biased or skewed. Keep your heart, mind and options open and you might find love with someone unexpected.

What should I do if I feel someone is objectifying me?

We can’t control the thoughts or actions of others, but we can cultivate our own self-worth, self-respect and boundaries – something that’s really important in life in general, not just dating. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent, so refuse to allow anyone’s projection of unhealthy values to stick on you. On a practical level, it’s often worth having a delicate conversation with the other person about how their behaviour is coming across. However, if it’s more severe and intentional, then it’s best to disengage, firmly explaining that objectification just isn’t acceptable.

How do I show someone I want to date that I’m interested in them as a person, not just attracted to them?

Actively listening and taking notice really counts – find out what he or she is passionate about, intrigued and fascinated by. It matters to be heard and understood, but it’s not about being continually silent – remembering details, striking up conversations on related topics and asking relevant questions shows the person that you think they’re captivating. When we’re nervous we often end up over talking in an attempt to impress or seem interesting, but in fact, it works the opposite way.

Can I play a role in changing a culture that’s obsessed with image?

Yes, definitely. We all have the opportunity to make a difference – even if it’s small – to build a better world. That starts by building one another up, being encouragers and standing against sexism, body shaming and the obsession with image. You can make the choice to not give custom to certain publications, musicians or films, or engage with campaigns and charities that work to bring about change in this area.

Never forget that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, deserving of value and respect and that it’s our collective responsibility to let others know that they are too.

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