Why Men Don’t Tell You You’re Beautiful

Why Men Don't Tell You You're Beautiful

I read this post by Matt Walsh a while back. It was a letter to his daughter, who is still very young, about her beauty and how he hopes that the magazine rack and social media will never convince her she isn’t beautiful. He’s knows it’s wishful thinking but it was a very well-written and honest piece from a father to his daughter. I’ve thought about it a lot. Partly because I get it. I have a dad who feels the same way about me and my sisters and made it clear to us growing up. He knew it was important for a father to tell his daughter he loved her and that she is beautiful. Many days I remember this and am so so grateful for it.

But I’ve also thought about this letter a lot because it fell flat for me. I wanted to love it and agree with everything he said but something about it sounded hollow. Reading it not as a letter written personally to me (I think this will be a whole different story for Walsh’s daughter one day, and it will be treasured by her. I have not doubt of that.), but as a woman in general, I didn’t walk away feeling better about myself or my appearance, reminded to ignore the messages on the fashion websites and Instagram accounts I follow. Instead, I felt confused by the message.

Walsh talks about the standards of beauty in our culture and how they warp the young girl’s mind into thinking she isn’t good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, all that. This is true. I agree that the media has not been the best for our self-esteem, but it’s more than the images themselves that confuse girls, and women, about what we’re supposed to look like. It’s deeper than that. When I saw cover girls and Most Beautiful lists growing up, I made the connection that whatever girl was being splashed across various media avenues was the girl that was desirable to a man. It’s a subconscious connection I think we all make. She is being upheld as beautiful = she is what men want.

This is why it’s hard for me to listen to a man talk about the wrong message the media is sending women about our bodies, because for as long as I can remember I have associated women in the media as the women men want. It’s confusing to hear them say otherwise. It also confirms something I’ve been suspicious of for a while now that most of you probably figured out a long time ago, men are not able to make women feel beautiful. Temporarily, yes. Long term, no. That is far too heavy a load to bear and too high an expectation to put on men anyways. And because of this, I don’t think it has to be their role to convince us to ignore the media either. As long as the convincing is coming from a male voice, we will be confused.

I think it’s why I almost ignored the beautiful letter Matt Walsh wrote, and I think it’s why I ignore most guys when they speak out about beauty standards. It’s too confusing for me and by default I don’t absorb his message. When I do perk up, is when a woman I respect writes or speaks on the topic. I perk up when the focus is on my innate worth that is in Christ and focused less on working to ignore the messages that have always been there and always will be there. It’s a conversation every woman should have with every woman, and it’s a conversation that needs to go deeper than the media and its messages.

Why Life Is Not a Paint-by-Number

paintbynumberStill, well into adulthood, I find myself just wanting to fit in. It’s not in the same way as it was in high school of course. I’m not hoping to be invited to the right party or pretending to smoke a cigarette or claiming my drink in my plastic cup wasn’t water, when it was. This was how I “fit in” as a teen. Today, I want to fit in with a life that follows the appropriate succession of events.

I realized this recently over lunch with a friend. We discussed how each life phase brings its own set of expectations. With college, a degree and a job. With a job, a spouse and a home. With a spouse and home, children. That’s as far as we got because between the two of us, that’s as far as we’ve gotten. But I’m sure the expectations continue as your children grow and your career progresses. And I think we continue to live in a tension pulled on one side by fitting in and on the other side by wanting to be our own person. Rarely can we be both but always, we want both.

We’ve learned life’s paint-by-number. We see the outline; we just don’t always have all the colors to fill it in. This can be irritating and disheartening and depressing and discouraging. We want all the colors.

In about four weeks my little sister will get married to the best guy. It will be beautiful, and I’ll cry “ICan’tBelieveMyLittleSisterHasGrownUp, She’sSoBeautiful, LookAtMyDadGivingHerAway” tears, like I did at my older sister’s wedding. Yet, this has reminded me of a color I haven’t found. Barring a strange act of God, I’m not getting married in four weeks nor in four months. And I’m looking for the instructions for my paint-my-number, and I can’t find them.

Maybe your instructions appear to be missing, too. Maybe something has not happened in your life succession you thought should have by now, or something happened too quickly and you weren’t ready for it and you’re still reeling. This can make us feel out of place. Like we’re doing something wrong. Like we don’t fit in.

Think about the words Paul uses to describe us in his letters: Aliens. Sojourners. Exiles. Strangers. These are the things we were before Christ. The words he uses to describe us after redemption? Citizens. Saints. Members. God’s people. I like “members” best because it can so often feel we’re not a part of the club, and we so often find more comfort in the pieces fitting and the societal norms than we do in our own salvation.

And the sad part is, when we make moves based on these expectations, we forget who we are. We forget the quirks and passions and dreams that make us us and we turn them over to what make us feel a part. We forgot that we already are a part. We forgot that we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).

When Women Are Jealous

Girls being jealous of girls was the spontaneous topic of conversation for me a few times this week. And by girls, I guess I mean women because the friends I talked to were in their twenties and we weren’t speaking in past tense. Sure, when we were in middle school we huddled with our friends and talked bad about the girls we secretly felt were prettier than we were even though we said they weren’t and who we secretly knew were better athletes than we or smarter or, what it most often came down to, we didn’t like because the boys gave her more attention than they gave us. And I’m saying “us” and “we,” but I was jealous all by myself a lot too.

A few days ago as I was driving down the freeway talking to one of my best friends. We began to confess how we still get jealous of other girls and it is still often for the same reasons. All bad reasons of course, but that’s where jealousy is bred—in unreasonable arguments clouded and confused by insecurity.

Have you ever done this: Facebook stalked the girl who is dating your ex or dating the guy you wish you were dating and come up with all kinds of reasons you are better than she is? By stalking you dig for evidence that you are indeed prettier, funnier, lower maintenance, more adventurous, better educated, more highly organized, creative and that you love Jesus more than she does. Yes, you have found evidence of being holier than the girls you don’t like. You have felt the toxicity of jealousy inside of you and have allowed it to bubble out your pores. That sounds gross, but jealousy is really gross so I don’t know how else to describe it.

There is something about women and jealousy. It comes naturally for us and sticks around for a long time. It reeks heavily in our conversations with other women but we are so accustomed to the smell, we don’t even notice it. Not within ourselves at least, but we sniff it out when it’s coming at us from someone else.

As I drove and chatted with my friend, we discussed the women we’ve felt jealous of recently. They weren’t people we knew well. We basically had to make things up about them to have something to feel jealous about. We were ashamed. How old are we? We asked. But you don’t grow out of jealousy. And you certainly don’t grow out of insecurity. They are ageless, old friends.

We noticed as we were speaking how destructive jealousy is, not only for our hearts and confidence but for our gender as a whole. How can we support each other and be for each other if we just want to be better than each other? If we are all panicky about equal rights and being seen as strong and capable, why are we ripping each other apart? How is this helping us, or anything?

I have long thought about the gender plight. It’s a war my generation didn’t start but was born into and then ordered to take up the cause. Jealousy has always been obvious in this war to me. The jealousy of women toward men. I have felt it and seen its danger, but I don’t know that jealousy of men is as dangerous to women as jealousy of other women is. I don’t know that this is a war with two sides anymore. Or that it ever was. And now more than ever, I feel it’s my job to focus on one side, my own side and learn to love it well. And in order to do this, jealousy must be the first conquer.

What Is the Role of a Christian Woman: In Dating?

I started writing the answer to this post and before I could type a word, realized I had no idea what the answer was. So I polled women I knew and respected of various marital statuses. I asked them what they believed the role of a woman in dating is according to their experience and according to scripture. I love the richness and diversity of their responses:

Single/22 years old: The role of a Christian woman in dating is to be pursued. We are called as women to submit to the pursuit and leadership of men. Therefore, let’s let them do their job. We have a biblical call to wait, submit and be patient. Since this is a biblical instruction spoken by God, in that place we as women will have most peace. Straying away from that call (which could mean taking control, impatiently initiating yourself, etc.) can mislead, confuse or awaken love too soon.

Single, divorcee/34 years old (But that doesn’t define me! My blue eyes that have a slightly cynical outlook, my hips that are 2 sizes too big, sarcastic leanings and an extreme love for NCIS are what really defines me 😉 ): My role as a divorced single mom, I feel, is to seek healing, honest-to-goodness, soul-changing healing. This healing takes time, pain, time, trust in God, time, and patience…oh, and time. Then, I am to live my life…I mean live it. Do what I dreamed of, go on adventures, ask people all sorts of questions, reflect, seek and live! And then, always hope…hope in God and rest in His grace.

In a relationship/25 years old: I think I now have a much more refined and actually fairly simple view of the role of Christian women in dating, and it’s this: The role of a Christian woman in dating is, at it’s core, the same as that of a man: be prayerful, honest, open, and ultimately, be genuinely yourself. I think if we, as women, do those things, then the right men will join us in the right relationships by taking on that role as well. This is not to say that “being ourselves” means not being open to change and growth, but it just means that we don’t try to be someone we aren’t. It has been a struggle of mine before, which is perhaps why one of my favorites verses is Romans 12:9 – Love must be sincere.

Married/26 years old: To guard your heart, seek God’s will for the future of your relationship, be open to God’s leading (it doesn’t have to end in marriage), and build your significant other with love and respect. Keep in mind flashing red lights in dating can destroy a marriage. Marriage is the second most important decision in your life and you’ll want to listen closely and tread lightly before you head down the road. Marriage is the greatest blessing when you’re with the right person! Date with purpose and grow in the process.

Single/27 years old: The bible teaches that marriage is a picture of the gospel. It is to illustarte the pursuit of Christ to his church and in return her submission to his love and authority. While the bible doesn’t teach a lot about “dating” as we know (and love) it, I do believe that dating should be a preview of that picture of marriage. While we aren’t called to submit to the man we are dating as we are to our husbands, nor are we to engage in all the activites marriage allows, we still mimic those roles of Christ and the church to a certain degree. In dating the girl gets the chance to sit back and relax (if she can allow herself to see it that way). The man initiates and pursues her as God turns his heart to do so and the girl responds and affirms his pursuit. Plain and simple. One of my favorite things to see is a man of God who is pursuing a woman. That woman is freed and covered by his pursuit. She is freed to affirm his masculinity being manifested by his pursuit of her and in turn she is not put in a position to be solely vulnerable or manipulative to get his affections.

What Is the Role of a Christian Woman: In Church Leadership?

In the early church, women were allowed to attend. This was big news for women then. They were so excited to go to church where they could worship the recently risen Christ that they chatted a lot amongst themselves and were a bit of a disruption. Sounds familiar. Women were chatty then; we’re chatty now. The apostle Paul told them to be quiet once in a letter and now we get all offended. I was offended until my mom explained that context to me just a few weeks ago. Incredible what a bit of context can do. And what the lack of it can do.

But context isn’t really my point. This is my blog; not my biblical studies thesis. (I never wrote one those and I’m sure it’s obvious.) The point is I have a pattern of subconsciously choosing to ignore the parts of the Bible I felt told me I could’t lead or speak out because I am a woman. And then often I was, at some point by some wise teacher along the way, proven that my interpretation of that scripture was wrong, like that one in 1 Peter about wives and maybe some others I can’t remember right now.

So I don’t think the Bible tells us to be quiet, but growing up I went to a church led mostly by men and saw other churches led mostly by men so I superimposed my cultural experience into my scripture. I’m very good at this. Then I went to church in England and noticed that the quietest I was in church–my mind, my heart, everything was so quiet–was when our pastor’s wife spoke. And she spoke, it seemed, almost as often as he did. And when she prayed, the air was thick with anticipation and quiet as stone because her voice practically melted into us in a way that made us all certain everything she prayed was going to be, at that instant.

 

What Is the Role of a Christian Woman: In Feminist Society (Part II)

As I’ve asked myself this question over the past few days, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Mary. As in Mary-and-Martha Mary. When Jesus went to Mary and Martha’s house and Martha was all frantic and nervous about dinner getting on the table and the candles being lit just right, or the oil lamp, or whatever, Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet, literally. Like he was her teacher, and students were only male then, mind you. She was sitting by his feet, listening to him while chaos was occurring in the next room. Then Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). The best reward. And she was a woman. She was not praised for her work, for her social status or ability to rise above female oppression and be highlighted in the most important literary work of all time.

What was she praised for? Her ability to be oblivious to all but Jesus.

Seeing as how Mary has exemplified the Christian life ever since she appeared in the gospels, I think that’s what being a Christian in the midst of feminist society is supposed to look like: to be so obsessed with Jesus, we just don’t care about much else. And to be so steady at his feet that we find ourselves able to love as he did. Love ourselves, love our gender, and love men, even the ones we think should value us a little more.

One of the most destructive attitudes of feminists is anger. It weakens the argument. Who wants to listen to someone who’s mad at everybody? Their words don’t make sense. They’re self-righteous and annoying. But what if we as Christian women who believe in our ability to be educated and have careers (a simplified definition of feminism I mentioned last week) stopped letting anger or self-righteousness drive that belief and started being oblivious to our entitlements and, instead, focused on Christ, our teacher?

That’s harder to do than striving to prove ourselves—something I do often and perhaps you do too. It takes more strength to relax and get over myself and admit that in reality I am nothing. Not because I’m a woman, but because I am human.

What Is the Role of a Christian Woman in: Feminist Society? (Part I)

Last week I told you I would be tackling the tough question of what the role of a Christian woman is. I’m starting to wonder if this is what this year’s series has been leading up. If maybe this is the question I’ve been trying to get at all along. I’ve asked it to myself so many times in so many different ways. Especially this one: Where should I stand on the issue of feminism in today’s society?

My first core English class in college began to make me unafraid of the “f” word. Until then, I equated feminism with words like “anger,” “no-bra,” “self-reliance,” an overall I-don’t-need-you/don’t-mess-with-me mentality. But, before he assigned us to read extremely complex explanations by thinkers like Adrienne Rich and Gayatri Spivak, my professor gave a very simple explanation of feminism: It is the belief the women are entitled to an education and a career. Hm. This definition did not seem scripturally astray. Nor did it sound scary. It sounded like me. And probably sounds like you. We don’t burn bras; we just believe women have gifts that translate outside the home.

So it surprised me when a girl in my class chimed into the discussion complaining about feminists. Hadn’t we decided the modern definition is harmless? Not to her. She didn’t want to be in college. She didn’t want to be in class. She was only here because of the societal pressure to gain an education. When what she desired was marriage and a family. Something attainable without a degree.

I was mad at her. How could she not appreciate where she was, what she had, all that she could be? In college, the possibilities are endless: so much to learn and try and succeed and fail at. Even being an “intern” sounds like a glamorous opportunity. And after hundreds of years with this door of possibilities closed to our gender, here she was wishing it hadn’t been opened. How embarrassingly regressive of her.

Or was it just me? As soon as I got mad at her, I saw my own aggression and recoiled at it. In undergard I placed this unreasonable pressure on myself to make perfect grades, be an active member on campus and use my summers to either further my education or get job experience. I was not chill by any means. Looking back, I realize I was striving desperately to prove myself and that my gender in no way hindered my intelligence or capabilities.

I didn’t know what the right reaction to this student’s complaint was, but I knew mine was wrong and for some reason grated against my Christian nature. What does Jesus really say about this issue? I had never asked him before because I didn’t see the Bible as a place to learn about feminism.

Now, I believe scripture explains feminism better than Rich or Spivak ever could. What exactly does it say? I’ll explore that next week.

What Is the Role of a Christian Woman?

A question I began asking myself long before I began this series in January. It’s loaded. That may be one answer to it agreed upon by all. That may be the one thing I know for sure about it. It’s one I wasn’t sure I would address this year. My thoughts are scattered. They change daily. Sometimes I have it all figured out and am at peace with my gender’s role in my faith and in my culture. Then I hear or read something that returns me to square one, wondering what my role is, how much of a role I have and if my opinions are even loosely based on biblical principles. Sometimes they are but I’m seeing more and more that they often aren’t.

I’m not going to answer this question in one post. That’s impossible. I have too many specific role questions: What is my role as a female in the church? What is my role as the female in a relationship? What is my role as a female in the family setting? In work? In writing? I won’t cover all of these, unless I feel extremely compelled, but I will address some.

It’s so important to understand someone’s lenses when understanding how she might address this type of question. For me, that’s a lens of a twenty-something, single, raised in the evangelical church and encouraged to pursue my wildest dreams by both my parents. My mom was a stay-at-home once she started having us. My dad has always worked. The women in my extended family are about split: some are stay-at-home moms, others work. I never felt pressured to be one thing or the other. There was always talk about “when I had a family” and there was always talk about “when I had a job in the real world.”

Basically, I was raised in a family that spans the spectrum of what the female role in society and church can look like. I’m grateful for that diverse environment. I realize that it created the freedom I have now to even explore this question. But no matter how free that environment may have been for some of us, it could never free us from cultural stigmas or expectations. The things that make us wonder about all of this. The things that make up definitions to words and phrases like “feminism,” “sex,” “separate but equal.”

I’m not sure if a more confusing message exists than that of what role women should play. What is right? What is wrong? What is sinful? What is honoring?

I’m afraid to say this, but I feel I have to: Let’s discuss.