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The Compliment
The Compliment

"It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.”
—former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright 

The reflection that follows includes an explicit reference to sexual violence.

"You have beautiful hair. If you slim down, Honey, you'll have to fight off the men.” A very old woman standing behind me in the pharmacy line said that.  

“Thanks,” I said gently, searching for the way to say what came next. “For the hair compliment, I mean. No thanks on the slimming down part. In fact, please never say that to anyone again. It's not okay. Neither is having to fight off men."

I wanted to talk to her about fatphobia and how harmful it is, specifically to women in our culture. I wonder how her life would have been different if she had seen representation of people living joyfully in the glorious array of real bodies, just the way they are.

But mostly I wanted her to know that the literal trauma of women fighting off men is no joke. It is not desirable. And it is not ever about hair, body shape or size, or any other measure of perceived desirability.

I was fifteen years old, wearing a long, body-covering dress that my conservative faith deemed modest enough for a proper young lady when I was drugged and raped by a man after a church choir outing. My fat body, my harsh up-do, my plainness, and my innocent naïveté did not prevent me from having to try to fight him off. And there was nothing flattering about the fact that I had to.

I am okay now, with a burning in my soul to speak up for other girls and women who too often fall into the path of well-meaning people whose words do harm. And for their sake, I cannot always just smile and say thanks if I think you meant well.   

I trusted the kind old woman at the pharmacy to be capable of hearing hard truth, no matter her age; perhaps because of it. Bless her wounded heart with its internalized misogyny, the myriad causes of which I will never know.

She just wants women to love and support each other. Thank you. Me too. That’s why I said something. Me too.  

Prayer
Great Mother, may we course-correct gracefully when the impact of our words and actions harm a sister, despite our best intentions. May we believe the best of each other, and challenge each other to right living and right loving. 

About the Author

  • Rev. Misha Sanders is mostly a mom, but also a hospital chaplain and a fiery preacher of the good news of Unitarian Universalism. She believes that the whole world is built and rebuilt by the stories we tell ourselves and each other.

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For more information contact braverwiser@uua.org.