its a vicious cycle

Illustrator Matt Kenyon

It has only come to me recently that I would like to know what being a woman really means. How that impacts my world. And how to embrace the fact that I AM a woman. As I reflect on some of the ways that I’ve been interacting in life in that past several years it has become clear to me, that I have rejected some very key elements of who I am.

Its hard to determine some days if my not caring about myself too much comes from a bit of the depression I struggle with or if its just a position I have adopted over the years as a cautionary step. I have struggled with my view of self for many years, and still don’t have a handle on it. I used to be much more vocal about how much I disliked who I am and what I thought my flaws were, but somewhere that became an internalized struggle.

When I originally cut my hair short, it was because I realized that 1) my hair was so thick and long that it was sooo hard to take care of consistently (i’m pretty low maintenance) and 2) it hurt every time i put it up, and I couldn’t stand it in my face, so it was up alot. When i sat in the hairdresser’s chair, I told her that I would close my eyes, she would cut and I wouldn’t open my eyes till she was finished. She didn’t believe me. I did it. I have to admit that when I saw all my hair gone I freaked out…but said I was fine. i then promptly went to the local drug store and bought approximately 100$ worth of makeup to help make me feel more feminine.

within a couple weeks a boy of 8 years of age completely devastated me when he told me that I looked like a man and that I was ugly. And yes, he was only 8, but I was particularly fragile at that point and so it went deep. I have had my hair different lengths since then but never too long again. Lately its been all I can do to last a month before I have it chopped off again.

there are days when I look in the mirror and am glad that I can carry the look off, and sometimes i just think that I look pretty nondescript. those are the days that i struggle most with embracing who I am as a woman. I rarely wear makeup anymore and most days I just dress comfortably. There is nothing wrong with either of these things, except they reflect the fact that I just don’t care too much about the way that I present or pamper myself. I don’t really see myself as worthy of that time or attention.

I have been reading some interesting feminist articles (that sometimes seem way too out there for me) but it has made me consider what it means to be a woman in the society of today. it has also made me realize that we have been called by God to BE women…i’m still trying to figure out what that looks like. But most of all i’m attempting to come to understand my femininity and how that will be used by Him in my journey.

This week in woman’s Bible study we started a course called True Woman 101: Divine Design. I was a little wary about some of the things that were said, and i’m still pondering them in my heart. I don’t think they were wrong, I just don’t think that I see things the same as some of what has been mentioned. However, in understanding who we are as women its important to attempt to understand men in part and their role in our lives as well.

This was fascinating for me. it was also very difficult for me, because I found myself being severely convicted of the manner in which I treat and interact with men. I realized that respect has not been a consideration in all but one of my relationships. In the past couple years I have come to realize that I have been at fault for some of the things that have gone in my relationships, but the one thing that stands out to me is that I’ve seen men as a means to an end.

I want to feel like I have a purpose as a person, perhaps even as a woman, and so having a boyfriend esteems that in my eyes. I get bored of them, for various reasons and then get heavily involved physically because there seems to be ‘nothing else to do’. This physical involvement has both grown and hindered my development as a woman. I have discovered many things that shock me about myself, but I’ve also realized how deeply tied my sense of self is to other’s finding me physically attractive. Some comments have been made that have made my heart grow stone cold in sorrow and pain, and it at first shocked me that those comments were so deeply tied to my sense of self worth.

A class I took in University was called ‘Body Image Issues’ and dealt with a whole manner of issues not usually discussed in Christ circles. The one thing that really stood out to me however was that in the raising up of woman as a result of feminism (of which I have been a beneficiary) has also resulted in the degradation of men and their role in society and the workplace. Men have been feminized and women masculinized in a sense and the dichotomy results in a suppression of men. There is a complaint that we are raising up a generation of men who are purposeless and in some sense I think that is a result of taking away some of the things that drive the very heart of man. Men need a purpose, they need something to do…and while I don’t believe that the power they are given in certain roles should be abused, I think that they need to know that leadership is still something which they have and are able to make use of. They are often problem solvers and heart warriors and when we strip them of these things, we find ourselves wondering ‘where are the REAL men out there?’ when perhaps we can say that there are those of us who have been responsible for this change.

Through my many friendships with guys growing up (and those only happened mostly in college and beyond) it seemed that more often than not I would turn into ‘one of the boys’. I could talk vulgarly like that, I knew what they liked in girls and I knew how to throw a sarcastic and cutting comment like no one else. they liked that about me and i felt ‘accepted’ and yet in the midst of it, i knew that i was giving up a very integral part of who I was/am. One day I was sitting on a boat with my ex-boyfriend and his friends and they were making comments about some girls who had come out to the lake to water-ski. I goaded them on in their sexist remarks and also commented on the girls themselves, all the while feeling a piece of me dying inside as my head screamed ‘LOOK AT ME, I’m a woman too!’

I am learning that I am worthwhile apart from the appreciation of males around me. I am learning that my brothers in Christ as well as my guy friends at work and elsewhere need and deserve my respect. I will not become a doormat, but I will build them up and esteem them in appropriate ways. I will encourage them to be who they are called to be. And I will seek to understand who I AM as a woman of God, and my role in uplifting them as men of God. I am thankful that I have come to a place where my heart is ready to HEAR this message and that it is something that I feel convicted about. The only real test now is will I actually strive to change my ways and put this all into practice.

connect with Emily at Imperfect Prose on Thursdays

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4 thoughts on “its a vicious cycle

  1. Oh sweet one, there is much to digest and ponder here. What a thorough and thoughtful write. These are great questions. Thank you for taking me along on these musings. I LOVE YOUR HAIR by the way. From all the pictures, I just love it. But then I believe you with hair any way would still be perfect…perfectly lovely.

  2. Janel,
    What a thoroughly honest and open look at yourself. Your willingness to share so openly about your ways of thinking through history and how it has and is evolving is incredibly insightful and brave and one that can only lead to growth and further understanding. I was particularly struck by your ability to examine ideas, disagree with the conclusions you had once come to, and to do that without harsh judgement upon yourself. That is powerful. Perhaps you could teach us all a thing or two?
    I am so excited to get to meet you so soon and to hug your neck and pinch your arm–because you will be real and alive and right before me!

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