“You look hot, Sarah,” was how my (male, married, Christian) friend greeted me as I arrived at the pub. “Really hot!”

“Thanks,” I responded and then, noticing the slightly shocked expression on another friend’s face, I said: “Oh, don’t worry – I’ve learned to take that as a compliment.”

That was the moment when I realised that Christian culture had messed with my head. Of course being told you’re hot is a compliment, but for some reason I felt the need to justify it; as though it was something shameful that had to be excused.

About four years ago I moved to a new town and among the friends I made there were several Christian guys who readily handed out such compliments. At first I would feel incredibly awkward when told I looked hot, and my propensity to turn a very bright shade of red was a running joke. I wasn’t used to being complimented on my appearance, and I had a niggling feeling that as a Christian and a feminist I should probably be offended.

However, the compliments were always sincere, always from a place of friendship, and eventually I had to admit that, hey, sometimes it’s nice to be told that you’re hot. When you’re feeling like crap it’s nice to know that you don’t look like it, when you’ve made an extra special effort with your appearance it’s nice if a guy notices, and sometimes it’s nice just to have a boost to your confidence.

I started to wonder why in Christian circles there’s so little inter-gender positive affirmation relating to physical appearance. Church is supposed to be a place where we build each other up, so why does that apply to everything except how we feel about the way we look? God gave us bodies and, like it or not, part of my self-esteem is tied up with that. As a single 20-something I so often hear that what I lack by not having a relationship I should find in Jesus and Christian community, but neither of those do much to make me feel attractive very often. I know that my self-esteem shouldn’t be based on what others think, but that doesn’t stop us complimenting each other in other areas. Is there a reason why “you look hot” couldn’t become a common compliment among Christian friends in the same way that “you play guitar so well” or “great goal” might already be?

And what about my feminist principles? Yes, I think that society places too much emphasis on how women look. No, I don’t think my self-worth should come from what men think about me. Yes, hollering at a stranger in the street is obviously sexist and wrong. But I can believe all this and still be pleased with a compliment from a friend on my appearance. And in the interests of equality, maybe the next time one of my male friends is looking particularly fine I’ll let him know “you look hot”.

Written by Sarah Lewney

Sarah works for a development charity by day, and in her free time can be found playing sax with her jazz orchestra, desperately trying to convince herself that she enjoys running, and wasting far too much time on Netflix.

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