I Was You Once

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on August 17, 2011.

You…the girl with the waist-length hair, long denim skirt, and downcast eyes. Trying on old clothes in a thrift store because new clothes are too “worldly” and “immodest”.

I was you once.

You…beautiful girl, hiding behind your walls; walls built to keep the evil world and influences out. Baggy, ugly clothes to hide your shape. Ashamed of the looks cast your way. I was you once.

You…standing there as your mom tells you that this dress or that skirt is unacceptable because it shows your budding womanly form which must be hidden at all costs because of it’s danger. Blushing at the critique of your body, casting longing, furtive glances at the other girls your age in the next dressing room having the time of their lives trying on cute, stylish clothing. Wishing you could be them, just for a little while, just to know what it’s like to feel normal. I was you once.

You…feeling like a freak show everywhere you go. Being ashamed of your feelings because you’re supposed to be a freak show…a “pecular people”. Different from “The World”. More pleasing to God then the rest of them. Not foolish like those girls in the next dressing room. I was you once.

You…telling yourself that the way you dress is more godly, more pure, that you’re better than other girls who dress like the world. Trying to convince yourself that you know better than they and God loves you more for dressing unattractively. Trying to stuff the pain that comes from being ashamed of your beauty and the evil it causes the poor men around you. Trying to tell yourself that this is your lot in life. Trying not to look longingly at the pretty things that you can never wear. Trying not to wonder what it would be like to feel cute for a change. Using pride as a wall to protect your hurting heart. And feeling guilty for it all. I was you once.

You…ashamed of your beauty, afraid of your shapliness, afraid of loosing your purity and taking some man’s purity because you didn’t dress modestly enough to keep him from noticing you. I was you once.

You…crying to God “why didn’t you make me a man?!” because you hate being a woman and having to hide and look ridiculous. Longing for the freedom to dress without wondering if a guy is going to lust after you and if it’ll be your fault or not. I was you once.

Anger, fear, shame, guilt, pride, helplessness, hopelessness, insecurity, and confusion, all hidden behind a shapless, ugly jumper and a heart shut off to keep from hurting. I know. I felt it once too.

You…do you know that you’re beautiful and that God made you that way?

Has anyone told you that being a woman is a wonderful thing, not something to be hidden or ashamed of?

Do you know that God loves you for who you are, not for what you wear? Do you know that’s it’s OK to be pleased with being beautiful? That’s it’s OK to want to be attractive and desirable? Do you know that you are not responsible for the purity of the male race? That is a burden far too heavy for any woman to bear. I long to take your hand and tell you these things. But I am just a stranger in a thrift store.

You…I look into your eyes for the brief moment they meet mine, and I see so much pain. I hurt with you, the little girl inside that wants to be beautiful, noticed, and desired. The little girl that’s been told all these things are evil and your heart is wicked for wanting them. The woman that feels ugly and thinks God wants it that way. And my heart breaks all over again.

You…God hears the cries of your heart. He wants to tell you you’re beautiful, that He made you that way, that He’s so very fond of you. That bondage to men’s rules was never His idea. That nothing you wear or don’t wear can make Him love you more or love you less. That, even if you are stuck in that bondage not of your own making for a time, your heart can be free from the lies that put you there.

Beautiful you. I was you once. Sometimes I still am. Because broken hearts can be hidden by both ugly and pretty clothes. And lies once embraced can be hard to let go of. So for just one moment in time, that moment you allow your heart to show through your eyes as you gaze at me, the stranger in the thrift store, let my smile tell you that you’re beautiful. And that I understand.

I pray you get a glimpe of God’s grace and His love for you in the eyes of a broken-hearted stranger.

Feeling Like A Girl: Femininity After Homeschooling, By Kay Fabe

Image source: http://kerbear88.deviantart.com/art/Femininity-207270064
Image source: http://kerbear88.deviantart.com/art/Femininity-207270064

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kay Fabe’s blog Post-Fundamentalist Fashion. It was originally published on May 31, 2014.

Pearl’s story the other day really resonated with me, and I know I’m not alone. I’m sure lots of you have had the same experience I had: after years of getting told that the “girly” outfits you wanted to wear were “immodest,” “revealing,” and “inappropriate”, you just gave up and went butch, with lots of baggy boy shorts and shapeless sweatsuits. (Which is fine if that’s what you’re into – but I know that look wasn’t me.) Wireless cloth bras, hand-me-down underwear and a ban on perfume, makeup and hair products probably played a part in your systematic de-feminization. Eventually – if your experience was like mine – you became so disconnected from your body that you hardly felt like a person anymore, let alone a girl. And that’s a tragedy.

It took some cataclysmic life events – a failed courtship, starting a business, moving out of my parents’ house and eventually out of state, and meeting a supportive partner – to give me some distance and perspective on my homeschool years. Along the way, by trial and error, I’ve slowly been figuring out how to become a girl again. At 26, I finally feel more at home in my skin. Here are some of the things that helped me – maybe they’ll help somebody else, too.

Read drag websites. I’m not even kidding. They’re full of helpful information on how to walk, talk, dress and act in order to “pass” as a female. Granted, some of it’s a little over the top – skip their make-up tips, for instance. But I remember how astonished I was when I discovered that somebody had actually written reams of detailed instructions for presenting as a lady. It felt like Christmas.

Reclaim the skirt. It took me the longest time to figure out that dresses are not a badge of shame! Big jean jumpers and long khaki skirts are not the only option. Skirts are supposed to make you feel pretty and sexy, and if they’re not doing that, then they’re not doing their job. Swishy maxi dresses, cute cocktail dresses and tailored pencil skirts are incredibly fun to wear. So are heels. They are designed to make your legs longer and that’s a GOOD thing!

Have some little signature “girly” thing that you do or wear all the time. Or more than one! For me, it was getting my ears pierced and always wearing earrings. Having a little pair of sparkly studs in your ears all the time really does make you feel more feminine. I gradually added in other things and now I always have on earrings, toenail polish, a silver ankle bracelet and a little bit of perfume. It makes me feel pretty.

Practice showing a different bit of skin at a time. I remember the first time I tried to walk outside my apartment in shorts and a tank top, “cold turkey.” Bad idea  – I felt completely naked. After a while, I figured out that I could ease into it if I only uncovered one area at a time. If I had on shorts, I wore a big, loose t-shirt. I paired tank tops with long cargo shorts or capris. Eventually, I just got used to having various parts of me out in the sunshine and I didn’t mind anymore. (Shocker – nobody ogled me and drooled with lust, either.)

Go and get an actual bra fitting at Victoria’s Secret. And then get some lovely lingerie that fits. I am ashamed to say that I could not actually make myself do this until I was 25 years old. They’re totally nice. All you do is lift your arms, and they run a tape around your bust and tell you what size you are, and then give you some sample bras to go try on in the fitting room. It’s not embarrassing at all… nothing like bra shopping for “appropriate” underwear with your mother. (P.S.: You may be surprised by your bra size! For years and years, I assumed I was an A or a B cup, and figured bras were supposed to squash me in and feel uncomfortable. Guess what? I’m a D.)

Have bottles of nice stuff in your shower, and use them. I wish someone had told me that I needed to put SHAMPOO and CONDITIONER in my hair, and use SHOWER GEL and BODY BUTTER on the rest of me. (When I was a kid, we used this weird organic shampoo/soap called “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap” where every square inch of the label was covered with manic stream-of-consciousness meanderings in TINY print. It was an entertaining reading experience but as far as soap went, it wasn’t awesome.) The Warm Vanilla Sugar stuff from Bath and Body Works is awesome, though. So is the Moonlight Path (lavender) and the Japanese Cherry Blossom.

Drink wine in the bathtub and listen to jazz. It completely makes you feel like a movie star.

Dance all by yourself. Put on your favorite music and move with it. Learn to feel the evil jungle beat that kills all the plants. Feel how your body is all connected together, how it’s a physical, material being, how it moves through space, how it responds so beautifully to touch and sound. You are designed to be a beautiful, corporeal person, not a disconnected intelligence trapped in a useless body.

That’s really the most important thing: You are beautiful. You just need to know it, and feel it, and own it.

Our Bodies, Our Selves: The Other Other Side of Modesty

Our Bodies, Our Selves: The Other Other Side of Modesty

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Last week Brett Harris wrote about “the other side of modesty.” For so long, the conservative Christian conversation about modesty and purity has appeared disturbingly and humorously lopsided. Modesty teachers exhort young women to dress in certain ways so as to not lead young men to lust, and young men are exhorted to help preserve young women’s “emotional purity.” By constructing a purely fictional binary, where men are sexual and women are emotional, modesty and purity teachings have flourished.

Then Brett came along and threw a small wrench into the binary modesty machine, saying,

If I’ve learned anything from the original Modesty Survey it’s that these discussions can be dangerous. For one thing, talking about modesty and lust in the same article can imply that immodesty causes lust, which is a destructive lie.

I commend Brett for this because it is a start. To make any causal relationship between a woman’s outfit and a man’s actions is flat-out dangerous and destructive — end of story. But I also believe that the binary modesty machine, that he just threw a wrench into, is a machine that his own hands helped construct. Brett, and his brother Alex, authored the Modesty Survey themselves 6 years ago in 2007. They were seventeen at the time, and they hoped to do something good for other young men and women, but what they did caused significant harm.

When Brett wrote his latest article for The Rebelution, he began (I hope) the process of owning that harm. Brett said,

By our silence we send the message that modesty is a female issue and lust is a male issue.

There are lots of things I don’t agree with in modesty and purity culture. There are probably lots of things I don’t agree with Brett about. But we do agree on this — that, by their silence, they did indeed miscommunicate.

This miscommunication has caused real damage. It has created so much pain for young women, so much confusion for young men, and perpetuates some of the most ugly and destructive myths that empower rape culture to thrive today.

Admitting there is a problem is the first step.

What the solution is, well, that’s where Brett and I immediately begin to disagree.

Brett’s solution is well-summarized by the following paragraph of his:

The only difference between me and the immodest girls on campus was that I had a male shape and they had a female shape. So what was going on? I felt fit and confident in my body and wanted to show it off. This is exactly what my sisters in Christ have been carefully instructed not to do. So was I doing something wrong? If I’m going to be consistent, yes I was.

Honestly, I admire intellectual consistency. So in a sense I admire that Brett is willing to immediately begin the process of applying the same standards he has long applied to women to himself.

But, really?

This paragraph of his feels unnatural because I believe it supports a completely different solution than his: realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with “feeling fit and confident in one’s body and wanting to show it off.”

Why should Brett feel guilty about working out, taking care of his body, and then being so joyful about his body that he wants to share that joy with others? He put in some hard work. He did hard things (sorry, I had to say that). Be proud of who you are and what you look like. Rejoice in that. Live your life.

If you spent years creating the Sistine Chapel, I’m pretty sure you’d want to share your artwork with the world. I don’t see any difference between human art and the human body. In fact, the similarities are striking, in my opinion. Whether you are Christian or atheist, or whatever you are, you must grant that the human body is a work of art.

What modesty and purity culture has refused to consider, what Brett cannot quite embrace, is the idea that being happy or proud about the beauty of your body, and intentionally accentuating that beauty, is totally ok.

Do you know how insecure some women can be about their bodies? Have you ever thought about the overwhelming and debilitating insecurities that plague them when bikini season rolls around? Even if purity culture was not doubling their guilt with fear tactics about men and lust and hell and salvation, women would have an abundance of worries. Am I too fat? Can you see my cellulite? Why can’t my tummy look like that celebrity? Does my bikini bottom cover the freckles on my ass?

We are so obsessed with how big or small a bikini top can be that we forget that, for so many women, they just want to enjoy their own damn bodies, thank you very much. That woman that wears a bikini, or goes to a nightclub in a mini skirt? It is thoroughly possible that she wore that just to look cute. Not to tempt guys, or get laid. Maybe she just wants to feel good about herself, to feel beautiful. **

Sorry to break it you, but: It’s not all about men, y’all.

And whether you are male or female: there is nothing wrong with being proud of your body.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to show off the body that you have.

If you keep in my mind that we live in a world that is polarized between the extremes of commercialized sexuality, slut-shaming, body-shaming, and purity culture, I think you can see that a healthy acceptance of our bodies is so desperately needed. Our bodies are our selves, in such a fundamental and core way. We do not need more people telling us to hide our bodies, to be afraid of them, or to be ashamed of them. If you are so afraid of human sexuality that you resort to one of those tactics, you are doing something very wrong.

We do not need to hide our bodies. We need to show them.

The solution to our culture’s commercialized sexuality isn’t looking the other way at the mall when you pass Victoria’s Secret. The solution to commercialized sexuality is grounding it in the reality of what bodies actually look like: celebrating our bodies how they truly appear. Celebrating the stretch marks of pregnancy. Accepting the scars of our youth. Embracing our birth marks and our moles, our fat rolls and our baldness.

This is just who we are.

We do not need to be afraid of our bodies. We need to learn to be brave.

We have one shot at this body thing, people. One shot. I do not care whether you are an atheist or a Christian or a Buddhist — you still end up with the same basic principle. Be grateful for life. Be grateful that you are here. Be grateful for the skin and bones and blood and hair that surrounds who you are and makes you you.

Both commercialized sexuality and purity culture create the same problems, the problems of anorexia, bullimia, body-shaming, fat-shaming, and so forth. It really shouldn’t be that controversial, either, to make the triangular connection between commercialized sexuality, purity culture and rape culture. The similarities are striking. Instead of being so afraid of our bodies that we end up mirroring the opposite side of commercializing bodies, we need to re-center ourselves.

We do not need to be ashamed of our bodies. We need to celebrate them.

That woman flaunting her breasts in a low-cut shirt, the one you think should feel ashamed? Maybe her mother died of breast cancer. Have you ever thought of that? Maybe her decision to look good, show cleavage, and be proud of her breasts has absolutely nothing to do with you because you are a man — maybe, in fact, she has no idea you exist, so you thinking her showing her breasts has anything to do with you is just ridiculous and self-centered. Maybe she loves her breasts, because her mom had big breasts, too. And her mom died last year, on this very day. And that woman is celebrating that she is still alive, still has beautiful breasts, because everyday she misses her mother and wishes she was still here with her.

Did you ever think about that?

I never did. Then one day, during Breast Cancer Awareness Week, I heard a friend say what breasts meant to her as a woman. It had nothing to do with men or lust or sexuality. It had everything to do with accepting her body, accepting that cancer ran in her family, and — as she put it — “enjoying the body that God gave me while I still have time.”

And you know what? Even if some woman is just proud of her breasts because her breasts look awesome, more power to her. Your body is yours, and her body is hers. ***

I am sick and tired of how neurotic we make both men and women feel over this issue.

Our bodies are our selves.

Let us love them and love each other.

*****

*****

Notes:

** A different topic that is extraordinarily relevant, but would be tangential from the central message here of loving your body, is how even our standards of beauty are male-centric. I mention a few examples throughout this post — bikinis, mini skirts, and low-cut blouses — and the fact is, those are often the standards for beauty that our society sets. An equally important aspect of fighting both the commercialization of sexuality as well as purity culture is to empower women to dress how they define beautiful, cute, or sexy, rather than dressing how men define those things. A woman can feel just as beautiful, cute, or sexy in a sun dress or a pantsuit as she would in a cocktail dress. Yet society is going to dictate which outfit to wear, thus warping our standards of beauty. In a very real sense, then, both the commercialization of sexuality and purity culture end up at the same place: telling women what they can or cannot wear, what is or is not beautiful, and all according to male standards. Society needs to learn to give that power to women — giving them the autonomy and freedom over their bodies that is rightfully theirs.

But that is a topic for a different post.

*** Part of owning your body, by the way, is to take ownership of what you do, feel, and think, and not passing any semblance of responsibility of that onto another person or person’s body. But again, that is also a topic for a different post.