Sunday evening I sobbed in front of Mom and Dad that I don’t know how to own my beauty.
That I don’t know what femininity is. That I don’t know where to cross from girlhood into womanhood.
And it’s largely their fault.
But let’s start at the beginning:
Wait… I can’t find it.
Maybe it occurred during the young years of tousling with five brothers, sharing their underwear and peeing in the dumpster at the fire-barn, and is now surfacing in the fact that I don’t know how to let myself do girly things.
Maybe it occurred on the shopping trips to Savers and Walmart for secondhand T-shirts and jeans, and is now surfacing in the fact that I don’t know what I like and feel guilty spending money on clothes.
Maybe it occurred when I first encountered culture that told me beauty is iconic:
Or when the tabloids at the grocery checkout screamed that it is sexy:
Most likely it occurred when I realized I could achieve the standard of athletic beauty.
I’m realizing that in the being of a woman, I have been coached by a culture that perpetuates Satan’s assault against her beauty. For the generation before me (from which I am feeling the impact), the Christian community taught girls that modest is hottest and to not be a stumbling block for their brothers in Christ.
As for my home life.
I remember the internal conflict: watching my older sister parade in front of the mirror in high heels, announcing that she liked her calf muscles, I was both admiring and shy of her confidence. Playing a game at the kitchen table with Dad, I was appreciating my reflection in the window when he said, “Don’t be vain.”
It was years before Mom let me get a haircut at the salon, and we fought many battles over coloring my hair with a temporary dye.
The wound is long-sustained.
Before I go any further, let me say that I realize beauty is more than outward appearance. I want to embody the beauty of my Maker in his FULL design.
But outwardly is where I feel most debilitated.
God has spent more than a year healing and freeing all facets of who I am, and now I have arrived at another crossroad: Womanhood and Beauty. Another facet of my identity that needs to be restored and set free.
Sunday morning I decided to dress up for church with no other motive than wanting to. I curled my hair and wore a black Grecian dress. I felt beautiful, and free.
Walking into the kitchen, Mom’s reaction was, “Why so fancy?”
Later she told me to be mindful about bending over; then Dad repeated that my neckline was bordering too low.
I drove separately to church and tried not to cry, because it would smudge my mascara. Where was all this emotion coming from? Anger and hurt rushing up my throat to double the defenses against their accusations of you are not beautiful and your heart is not pure.
Father, speak to what is true!
And his voice came with reassurance, You are beautiful, you are mine; I made you,
with defense, You are holy,
and with humor, and your neckline is not too low.
It was enough to quell the whispers of the Liar, but I knew I had to face Mom and Dad and begin the long process of healing.
That’s how I came to sob at the table.
For ten minutes I spewed through my tears that they had injured me by coaching me in the legalism of modesty at the expense of owning my beauty.
When does a girl become a woman? I demanded of my mother. When she begins her menstrual cycle? When she turns sixteen? When she gets married? I am twenty-one and I am a child.
You have hurt me, I told my father. Telling me I look pretty is not the same as telling me I am beautiful.
A few moments of silence.
Then my mother said, “I don’t think I know how to be a woman, either.”
Dad asked for time to think.
Later, when I was tucked into bed, he and Mom came in; gathered around my bedside like I was dying.
And he broke down and wept.
I started crying. Mom started crying.
I’m so sorry, he said over and over. I didn’t realize, I didn’t know…
I have never seen my dad weep for me before. I have never heard him say, “How could I hurt my little Gracie?”
I glimpsed the deepest place of his heart for me as he acknowledged the unexplored depths of my hurt, the way he failed to equip me in my beauty, and his plea for forgiveness.
I already had forgiven him. I climbed out of my blankets to hug him.
“You are too valuable to hurt like this.” His stomach heaved against mine with an awkward staccato, much like the greeting of our hearts.
I think I’ve found the rite of passage into womanhood.
It’s when God speaks to say this is who you are.
It’s when his earthly representative affirms that.
I want to go into all the corners of my heart that are maimed. God told Mom, This is just the beginning. It won’t be easy for you. So we go together.
I am learning what it is to be a woman: a vulnerable heart of welcome, rest, delight… and beauty.