Being a woman: without the bad bits

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

When I was younger and struggling with depression and issues surrounding self-image, I used to have this niggling feeling that other young Christian women had it all figured out. They looked joyful. They looked glowing. They smiled a lot. Even if they didn't conform to society's standards of what was 'hot', they always looked radiant. It used to make me feel worse, because I wondered why I didn't feel like that, and worried about what must be wrong with me as a result. Why could I not grasp that whole 'made in God's image' thing? Why did I not feel like smiling more?

Clearly this was mainly brought on by my state of mind. I should have noticed that the summer I was at a particular Christian festival and I wasn't the only person in the seminars on working through self-harm and depression. But, you know.

A few years down the line, getting to know more young Christian women brought me to a major realisation: the realisation that they didn't have it all figured out. I had moved on and come to a lot of new conclusions along the way. So it surprised me, in a way, when people I knew would feel worried about how their figure looked in a particular outfit, or competitively talk about feeling so full after choosing a low calorie option in a restaurant, or worry about which guys might be showing an interest in them and agonise over whether to ask someone out in case it somehow contravened 'the rules'.

I'm not saying that to be cruel. It just came as a bit of a surprise to me, that despite all the teaching about self-worth and imago dei and not buying into all that worldly stuff, young women were still being drawn in to the performed femininity that the magazines, the rom coms and the women's pages in the tabloids require us to 'do' in order to feel acceptable. Comparing themselves negatively to other young women who seemed more confident, more popular, more attractive - which never achieves anything. Worrying about how the guys saw them. I found that when I looked at it all through my feminist lens, it was much more clear to me just why all that was a colossal waste of time and energy, and I wondered why the church's schtick on empowerment and self-image and womanhood wasn't, for a lot of people, cutting through the way society was telling them to behave. On the surface it was all good. Underneath, the familiar concerns were there.

Does this mean that more work is needed to tackle this at the root - the battleground that women face and the choice they may feel they have to make? The choice between being a woman who rejects all the crap and might not be a 'proper girl' as a result, and being a woman who buys into it all and feels sad and worries but is performing the more miserable side of modern femininity, with its rules and restrictions and judgments, and is therefore acceptable. Well, yes, it does. I know from personal experience that it's not as simple as telling young women that don't they know they're made in God's image and are wonderful just the way they are - because a lot of them won't believe it. But I also know that the truth will set them free.

This post by Sarah at Emerging Mummy sums up a lot of what I'm trying to say, but it's not just about body image. A lot of it's about the way we relate to men, and goodness knows that's a minefield of drama even within the church. Especially within the church, even (think of every blog post and book and report you have ever read about single people in the church). Mention feminist concepts to some of the people I've known over the years and the atmosphere would be profoundly uncomfortable. It's not, you know, attractive. Men won't want you if you talk about that sort of stuff. Women will think you're weird and roll their eyes and the conversation will abruptly stall. But it's all been so helpful to me - in conjunction with religion and prayer ministry and other things - in rejecting a great deal of rubbish and setting me free.

How much of a difference could it make to others? I think we owe it to God and to our sisters to lay that stuff aside even sometimes, and remember that it helps no-one, that it just traps us in another box and stops us from being who we're meant to be.

If that means we need to work through some serious stuff, which I know it does for a lot of people, it's important to find someone really helpful and supportive to talk it through with. It's also important that church pastoral teams are able to deal with it. Over the years I've had advice on it all from the less-than-helpful to the brilliant. It doesn't help that some Christian books aimed at women buy into the restrictions of modern femininity wholesale, which I suspect make most women feel either inadequate and condemned (me, once upon a time) or bored of it all and keen to see a book that changes the record because, damn it, we are all individuals (me, now).

Even when you think you've got it all figured out for the most part, toxic influences are very good at making you feel less than you really are and changing your perception of what a woman is, or should be.

Image: here

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The thing that stands out of your article for me. Is the part where you talk about rejecting other peoples ideas of femininity and then perhaps "not being a proper woman" as a result. It is a shame that this is a choice that one must make in the first place and is not by any means restricted to women. I have suffered various abuse over the years for the crime of "not being a proper woman" and I have to say that this coupled with trying to be a "proper woman" in the eyes of society has probably caused me more pain than it has joy but at the grand old age of 24 I have come to a place where I can safely say that I am actually happy about the fact that I am not. It wasn't always the case but when I discuss the problems with my female peers that come of trying to live up to the image I feel as though my sacrifices are less and my self worth is more. So thank you for your honesty as it only helps to build the idea in my mind that I am better off and many others will be too if they would only have the courage to try.


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