19 Subtle Insults That Have Been Masquerading As Compliments All Along

There are some things in life that aren't easily understood as a kid but make perfect sense as an adult. I can now comprehend why my parents told me I couldn't eat cake for breakfast. Most of the things adults said to me when I was younger, even if I didn't get it at the time, ended up being logical eventually. But, there are certain things I thought I understood the meaning behind, only to realize now I was totally wrong.

"This will all make sense when I'm older"
Disney / Via Disney +

When I look back, I can't help but notice certain comments adults made at my expense that were super cringe, weird, and/or rude...and how they would say them like a compliment. The amount of people who told me I was really "developing" is so creepy in retrospect. When I was a teenager, I just thought this meant I was getting taller. Nope! For some reason, it was normalized to comment on a 13-year-old's chest and act like this was appropriate.

"Not cool, man!"

When adults would say something like this to me at the time, I would smile and thank them because they were an authority figure and I was supposed to respect my elders, but looking back? What an uncomfortable thing to say to a child. This Reddit thread from r/AskReddit where u/Significant-Cow-934 asked, "What sounded like a compliment when you were young, but you later understood it wasn't?" proves that I'm far from alone in this experience. Here are some of the most cringeworthy responses:

1.“'She’s gonna be a heartbreaker when she’s older!' Just a really weird thing to say to a kid."

GIF of Taylor Swift looking uncomfortable

2."You look 18'...when I was 12. As an adult, I realized how creepy that was."


"Even as a young teen as a guy, I had a few older women that said, 'The things I’d do to you if you were older!' when I was, like, 14–15 or whatever. Realizing later in life what these older women were implying to me at the time was wild."


3."I had the opposite experience. I have always looked younger than my age. It was just as creepy. Old men telling me I looked 12 when I was 18 and then proceeding to hit on me."


4.“You’d be so pretty...if you were skinnier.”


5.“'You’re so mature for your age' really meant I was traumatized and too scared to behave like an actual child."

A kid looking stressed while doing homework

6."When I was young, someone once told me, 'You're so lucky you don't have to worry about your looks.' At the time, I thought it was a compliment, but later, I realized they were saying I wasn't conventionally attractive."


7.“You’re beautiful...in your own way.”


8."I had an adult tell me, 'You've turned into quite the swan.' So...they mean I was an ugly duckling before...?"

Swans in the water

9.“I wish I had your confidence,' usually said to a bigger person."


10."You’re such a perfectionist."


"Many times, people who say that are annoyed because you're taking too long to do a task or that you take over a group task. Many perfectionists go behind and 'fix' what other people have done, and that annoys them."


11."My aunts used to say I had great birthing hips. I was 13."

Mariah Carey looking uncomfortable

12."You're smarter than you look."


13."People told my mom, 'Your daughter is so well-behaved!' No, I was horribly anxious and scared of the consequences if I acted out even slightly. Teaching your kid how to be a good human is one thing, but teaching your kid that you can take anything they love away from them at any time if they make a mistake is something else entirely."


14."'You've got an old soul,' usually meant I was quiet and did what I was told."


15."'You're too courageous for a girl!' 'You should've been born a boy!' It was a long time until I learned how misogynistic and nonsensical they sounded."

A person ziplining

16."'You're so nice.' A lot of people consider 'niceness' a weakness, something to be suspicious of, or something to take advantage of."


17."'You are too pretty to act that way!' I was upset about something and expressing my emotions."

Screenshots from "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
Little Stranger, Inc.

18."'Wow, you're very talkative,' aka how to tell small children to shut up."


19.And finally, “Bless your heart.”

An older woman smiling

What other "compliments" with underlying meaning aren't on this list? Let me know in the comments!