What you should say, instead of ‘You look tired’

New mom Flannery Dean on why you should never utter this term to a woman who really IS tired.
Woman being handed coffee in bed Don't judge, just send coffee (Photo by Getty Images).

The truth is finally out there. Telling someone ‘You look tired’ is equivalent to saying 'Your pants look tight'. Which is to say that the phrase is an insult masquerading as straightforward observation.

There is now scientific proof to confirm your long-held suspicion that your husband or best friend is basically telling you that you look like an Orc whenever they utter the phrase, which is increasing in frequency and always when you're too exhausted to take it in stride or retaliate in kind ('Yeah, well, your pants look tight!).

A recent post in The Atlantic draws attention to a study by Swedish researchers that determined that people who look tired also appear sadder, older and less attractive to the observer than those who don’t look tired.

You may be wondering, like me, who doesn't look tired currently — who are these well-rested observers?! Don't they have mirrors? Every adult I know over the age of 27 is chronically exhausted, so I think it's fair to assume that the well rested, attractive and youthful among us are either teenagers, infants or pampered pets.

Participants in the study identified tired people by observing a few telltale physical signs of fatigue. Tired people possessed droopy red eyes that were ringed with black circles. They also looked paler, sadder, and their skin displayed wrinkles. (Check, check and check!)

Not surprisingly, the study confirms that tired people aren’t going to win any beauty contests. I have a newborn and I can assure you that I look ‘tired/hideous’ because I am. But that doesn't mean I need to hear it. Tell me I look tired after not sleeping for five weeks and counting, and I will first make an angry face and then immediately start crying, which doesn't do much to improve my droopy red eyes.


Call me prejudiced, but I believe there is a more effective way to aid a person in distress, especially if you care about them and/or don't want to be struck by a flying bottle. Rather than state the obvious — wow, you look tired! — try these phrases on for size:

‘Let me draw you a bath.’

'I'm making dinner tonight.'

‘Lay down. I will massage your shoulders.’

‘Let me change the baby, you take a nap.’


Or you could even hit your exhausted beloved with this combination: 'I love you' followed by a hug.

Trust me. That last one is worth its weight in gold.

How do you respond when someone lobs at you a sympathetic "You look tired"? Tell us in the comment section below.


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