Thursday, June 25, 2015

What It Means To Be A Woman

Startled by a recent journal entry written by my friend in her online journal, I felt compelled, no...obligated, to write a response. I know every woman has her own fair share of self-esteem issues, some more visible but no less impactful than others, but I cannot allow such an important topic to be discussed so inaccurately and so one-sided.

I do agree with one thing she mentions...

What does it mean to be a woman? Does having a vagina and breasts automatically make you a part of the club? I'm not so sure.

No, of course not. Being a woman is so much more than the way one looks, and every woman has believed that at some point in her life. The problem is not having been told this truth enough, but rather being told so often that we are numb to the statement. Not to mention, the actions and messages of today's society do not mirror this belief of perfect imperfection that we were all told as little girls in dress-up clothes and plastic shoes. The question is not whether having all the right body parts makes you a woman. The question is beyond that. What actually does define a woman? And if the answer is as simple as everyone says it is, why do so many women feel like complete failures at their essence?

Essence. Only seven letters designated to the completeness of a woman; her mind, her body, her soul.

Beauty. Only six letters designated to showcase a woman's sole essence; her purity, her actions, her confidence in her way of life.

Pride. Only five letters designated to the unveiling of her beauty; not a selfish pride, but a pride in the things that she loves; her God, her man, her children, herself.

Love. Only four letters designated to the most important of all; the drive behind a woman's essence. Love fuels pride. Pride unveils beauty. Beauty showcases essence.

My darling friend noted me in her own thoughts...

Take women like Bethany: beautiful, slender, graceful, sophisticated, put-together. 

How flattering. How complimentary. How...boring. I cannot deny that her description of me is completely accurate. Am I beautiful? Yes. Isn't every woman?

Yes, I am slender, certainly not as an effortless affair, I might add. I'm a dancer. A performer. I have 14 hour guard practices a week at minimum. I dance to talk to God when most people only know to sit down and pray, write, or read their bible (but that's a subject for a different day...). I eat the same proportions and food groups as my children at the childcare center I work at. I go running or walking basically every time I get a free couple hours, which isn't even half as often as I'd like it to be. Yes, my figure is an hour glass, which means that not only is it more inconvenient to buy a bra and jeans that fit perfectly, but the water weight gained from my monthly dose of hell is the difference in a pant size.

Graceful? Sure. I've been dancing forever, and have been complimented in movement and choreography despite my lack of adequate training. Being a daycare teacher, my life is never easy, and my ability to hold a baby on my hip while changing another's diaper and rocking a toddler to sleep on a cot with my foot happens to be exquisite. Drop something? No problem. I'll go into a backbend before I let it shatter on the floor. It's just the way I am.

Sophisticated? You're pushing it, but I could see how she would say that about me. Raised by my southern grandmother in Arkansas because both of my parents worked full time, I was taught manners as I learned to walk. My mother would push her thumb into my spine to make me stand up straight, jam her elbow into my side in church to get me to stop smacking my gum, and would constantly nag me about chewing with my mouth closed. Take smaller but quicker steps in heels, always give a man a chance to open your door (he should anyway), and always be an overly giving hostess. She would not allow me to wear dresses if I would not sit with my legs together, I stayed in high chairs and booster seats until I was tall enough and proved I could sit still... You get the picture. Of course, my appearance and manners are sophisticated. I was never given another option.

Put together? Alright, I'm drawing the line here. From the outside, yes, I'm a 20-year-old daycare worker, on the Dean's list still working on my Early Childhood Education degree, on main weapon line of the Pride of Missouri State Color Guard, with high class fashion (more taste than my budget allows), and a clan of close girlfriends the entire MSU campus has nicknamed as "the Sisterhood." But the second I'm off work, I come home and fall asleep on the couch after a quick dinner and a hot shower. I fight hard for my GPA; suffering from test anxiety, scholarship requirements, and the simple fact that school has never been easy for me. Ever. My GPA slips and I pay immensely when I take one night off of studying to go out with the girls, I pay my guard dues with every sprain and bruise, and I hardly ever have the time (or the energy) to dedicate to adventures with my friends. When I go one day without shaving my legs I look like a monkey, waxing is a chore and I never fail to miss a spot, Lord bless the person who has to see my unfixed hair (a frizzy mess of tangles that look like Mia from The Princess Diaries) and my un-makeuped face that reveals all sorts of "hideous" imperfections (not to exaggerate or anything). Put together? I think not.

But from the outside? I am. Beautiful. Slender. Graceful. Sophisticated. Put-together. In the words of Rose Dewitt Bukater, "Outwardly, I was everything a well brought up girl should be. Inside, I was screaming." 

To society? I was everything a woman should be. Because they care about the shallow things, and God forbid a woman have depth, complexity, essence. God forbid we live up to our full potential and allow ourselves to be the mess of gorgeous chaos that we were created to be. 

Women don't just love Titanic because Leonardo DiCaprio is the center of the screen for four hours. We don't just love the romance, the adventure, or even the revolutionary effect it had on the film industry. We love it because we relate. Because every woman in her life has once felt like Rose. 

"It was everything. It was my whole life... And... And all the people in it. And the inertia of my life. Plunging ahead and me, powerless to stop it. And all the while I feel like I'm standing in the middle of a crowded room, screaming at the top of my lungs, and no one even looks up..." 

Come on ladies. Who hasn't felt that way? There's a reason I'm not the only one who knows that line by heart. 

Women relate to Rose because she is more than a body. She does not long for the life of sophistication and class that is expected of a woman. She longs for exciting adventure and breathtaking romance. Like us. Just like you and I. Is life really capable of giving us such a fairytale? Of course not. And Rose knows this more than anyone. Her love is ripped from her hands. Literally. Frozen to death after laying submerged in the ocean from a sinking ship, only to force Rose to break her promise and let go, leaving him to drown and decay at the bottom of the ocean. Our love life will not be perfect. Pray to God your Jack Dawson isn't taken from you by tragedy, but it happens everyday. Other women have cheaters, who are forced to give up on a marriage after one love affair too many. Some women have been abused, and have waited far too long to run. And for some? Things just don't work out, and the love is left to fade. That's the inevitability of our life here. Because our life is no fairytale kingdom, we are far from the original Garden of Eden.

But love still exists in this world. It is still worth a fight, it is still worth trying even when it seems hopeless. Because it is only a small taste of what life will be like one day when we are reunited with our true Prince Charming who died a brutal death to safe us from an eternity of burning misery. It is only a small taste of what life will be like in Heaven with the man we loved on Earth, and get a chance to reignite that spark and romance the way it was truly meant to be created. Life is not the happy ending. We don't get that here. It is the fight. A long fight that will lead to our happy ever after. 

This has been my soap box since day one. Fairytales have elaborate introductions, a couple of fight scenes, and the miracle or victory that leads to the happy ending. They never mention the waiting, or how the hardest fights are often so uneventful you choose not to fight them at all. Your prince becomes passive. You become tired of being the only one trying, and your essence fades. So he, in turn, wonders what happened to that beautiful girl he once fell in love with, and often turns to other things, other things that are far worse for him than you. 

So we've learned a lot of lessons here from my own experiences but we still haven't answered our main question. A woman should be beautiful, but it is now clear that society's definition of "what it means to be a woman" is a far cry from the wonders and desires that are etched into our hearts from the time we are in the womb. No. Before that. From the time our Daddy had a plan for us. Which, according to Proverbs 8:23, has been forever. 

"I was formed in ages past, at the very beginning, before the Earth began." 

We have been designed in a complicated, intricate, beautiful fashion that the devil is jealous of. Hear that ladies? I'll say it again. Lucifer, the angel of striking beauty, turned evil into the king of all demons after woman was created. Why? Because she was more beautiful than he could ever be. And we are. We still are. We always have been. We are in a fairytale. As daughters of Christ, we are princesses, and we are under constant assault by an enemy who keeps us trapped and concealed in our own towers of self-doubt. And we must be fought for. 

A woman is pretty by society's definition, yes. But she is not herself. When the makeup comes off, when the hair is let down, when she steps out from behind the lens of an airbrush editor and changes into her sweatpants for the night, that definition of beauty is blown to the wind. She no longer looks like Barbie. Let's face it. For all of us normal women who work full time, juggle school and extracurriculars, or have a man to return home to and a family to support, our night time look makes us look like roadkill in comparison to what we look like at 6:30 am after a shower before we have started the day. 
What makes a woman so beautiful is when she is being herself.
I struggle with this a lot, which is probably why so many girls feel so insecure about their own image around me. I am a striving woman. I work hard to obtain my image, including my body and my reputation. I am not comfortable in my own skin like I once was as a child, and most women are in the same boat. What is so striking about relaxed, elderly women? They are not trying to be anything they are not. They welcome you into their home with hospitable hearts, they engage in conversation with pure minds, they comfort you in times of need with open arms. Those kinds of women are the most wonderful to be in the presence of, because they are being completely and unapologetically themselves. They are just being women. 

So if all it means to be a woman is to simply be a woman, we are presented with a new question. What does it actually mean to be a woman?

To be a woman means to attain effortless beauty. Most girls hear "effortless beauty" and just give up instantly. They run away already, knowing that they fall short. But let's not run away this time, and actually look closer. A truly beautiful woman is comfortable in her own skin, whether that skin is pale, tan, clean, dirty, covered in acne, youthful, wrinkled, or worn. After all, pale skin means the woman likely works hard indoors. Tan skin means she labors outside. Clean skin means she takes good care of herself, and dirty skin means she's given all of herself to a long day's work. If she is covered in acne, her hormones are raging, and she will soon be prepared to give life. If her skin is youthful, she has a wonderful innocence about her, and has a full book of empty pages ahead of her, waiting to be written. If her skin is wrinkled, she has aged in the most beautiful way possible; she has lived a life full of memories and stories that she tells again and again, sharing a part of herself that even she never thought possible. And if her skin is worn, perhaps she is the most beautiful of all. Whether she is a child, a teen, a young lady, or an elderly woman, worn skin is the sign of selfless actions. She is completely used to giving all of herself without expecting a thing in return. She has no time for sleep or spas. She gives all the love she has to give each day, and everyone she comes in contact with is grateful.

If she is a social woman, her phone is full of events and ministries she's headed to, or most likely running to. If she is an introvert, her mind is full of thoughts that no one else has the time to think, that she will express in one art form or another. If she is literary, her library is constantly undergoing changes, her shelves are packed with journals, her diaries are full, and her blogs are followed by readers across the globe. If she is intelligent, she is always looking for the next great improvement, whether it be an invention, an idea, or a way of thinking, and she will not give up until it is found. If she is a comforter, her home is always open and her fridge is always full, and everyone knows they are welcome there. But no matter what, she is not striving to be something she is not. She is not worried about tomorrow, she is not attempting to be someone else, or working to look a certain way. She is comfortable and content with who she is. She knows that she is lovely not because of her outward appearance, but because her heart is full, her mind is raging, and her soul is alive. Her essence is awakened. She is in love with God, she is in love with her husband, her children, and herself. She is perfectly at rest in ways that are unimaginable to others. She is simply a woman. She is simply herself. 

Now. Take my friend who wrote that original entry I mentioned earlier. 

She is one of the most beautiful women I have ever met. With a burning desire to travel the world, she possesses a passion that is deeply rooted within her heart. She nearly blows up my phone when she starts retweeting news from foreign countries, and then moves on to start sharing the most recent changes in the states on Facebook. She is in love with places she's never been to and people she's never met. She is a woman of youthful skin, which includes acne, the hormones that fuel the life inside of her; a bronzed tone, half tan for the time she spends outside, half pale for the dreams she conjures while indoors; and often a few streaks of dirt, serving as a constant display of how hard she works and how many adventures she takes on a daily basis. Her life is not a life like mine; not a book awaiting to be written, but a travel journal awaiting to be filled. Her pages will be filled with plane tickets and metro cards. Her mind will hold the laws and languages she has come to know. Her heart will be etched with each new place, and her soul will touch the lives of people that many Americans will never see. 

And me?

I am also one of the most beautiful women I have ever met! And guess what? I have no desire to travel anywhere that will not give me a luxurious vacation from my crowded life and even less desire to spend my time outside. The only time you'll see me outside is when I'm poolside (or beachside, when given the opportunity), with a drink in my hand, and my nose in a book. My passions are for the little things in life. I long to get a steady job. To get married. To have children. To make a happy home. To work with children every day. My skin is youthful, the sign of a beautiful story awaiting to be recorded by God, the one and only author who's had the outline of my biography since the beginning of time. And as a teacher, I long to spend all my energy each day, get disgustingly dirty, break up fights, and resolve conflicts. I want to have a job where I hang out with precious children all day and get paid! Not much, I might add, but hey, it's enough to eat. I'll get to teach them new things every day. And no, I don't mean make them sit at a desk and listen to me rant all day. Yes, I like to talk, but no one wants to sit and listen to one person talk, especially teach of all things. How boring! I've had a few teachers I'd tune out after the first two minutes! I'm the kind of teacher that will go out of my way to make a messy activity for my students that is hard to manage and even harder to clean up, for no other reason than because it teaches a lesson better than notes on a blackboard. That is my passion. Not to travel the world, but to remain completely stationary; building a life in one place that I call home, so that I may grow a family, share a romance, have a daily adventure, and return home each night to a man who can't wait to hear all about it, a man who has his own adventure to share with me. 

So who is the more beautiful of two women? Me? Who desires a life that so many call "boring?" A life that serves no logical purpose other than to secure a place to raise a family? Or my friend, Darsha? Who desires a life of risk and instability? A life that serves no logical purpose at all? Is it better to live a life that can provide for a family, a duty that a woman "was made" to do? Or is it better to "truly live," and live a life of daring adventure? 

The answer? It depends on the woman.

"Everyone is special." So doesn't that mean no one is? No! Some people are special at some things, and others are special at others. Let me tell you, I was special at sports, and not in the good way. I am truly special at childcare, writing, performing, and (sometimes) fashion. Darsha is truly special at politics, thoughts, and travel. One of my best friends is truly special at acting, friendship, patience, and communication. Since we are not all special at the same things, it is easy to point out the ways that someone seems so much better than you because they can do all the things that you can't. It's so easy to see all the ways they're exceptional, and so difficult to see the importance and value of all the ways that you're exceptional. Maybe if we were able to view our importance and self-worth as it truly is, we would all be arrogant. Maybe we would constantly talk down on others, or consider ourselves above our friends and co-workers. But maybe, just maybe, we would have a higher opinion of ourselves. Maybe we would hold ourselves at a higher standard, push ourselves to be better, and develop a respect for ourselves that radiates in our life. If no one can really love us fully until we have fallen in love with ourselves, then maybe none of us have ever had true love at all. Maybe it doesn't start with that hot guy in the break room, or the cutie across from you in the lecture hall. Maybe it starts with us. 

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