When I was ten years old, I discovered baseball. I’d spent the summer playing softball (right field, where they put all the really bad players) for the town’s league, which gave me enough of an understanding of the rules of the game that when I sat at home one night flipping channels and came across an Atlanta Braves game, I stopped to watch. On the screen, a man wearing a Braves jersey with the number 10 (the same number I wore that summer) hit a home run. I became a baseball fan, Chipper Jones became my hero, and I began progressing toward being a baseball-obsessed tomboy who eschewed all things “girly.”
I’m not blaming baseball for any kind of identity crisis I’ve had as a woman, but I can look back and see that this was a pivotal moment in my life. Even at ten, I already felt the disconnect between myself and other girls. I much preferred reading books and watching baseball to wearing makeup and flirting with boys. I was also beginning to realize how cruel and catty girls could be, and I tried to avoid those kinds of girls at all costs. Being a baseball fan in the mid-90s was just cool enough to earn me some points with the boys in my class, who would actually carry on conversations with me about the Braves’ lineup or whether the Yankees would win the Series yet again.
Because I tend to be an extremist who follows her passions wholeheartedly (even obsessively), I decided that I was going to embrace this identity as a tomboy as completely as possible. I wore my long blonde hair in a ponytail pulled through a Braves baseball cap, I stopped wearing dresses, and I declared that I hated that ugly color pink. To show how pervasive this was: 16 years have passed, and I still own that baseball cap, I am still self-conscious when wearing a dress (I own 6 dresses right now–more than I’ve ever owned in my life–and it takes a lot of emotional effort for me to work up the courage to wear one), and I still avoid pink and polka-dotted and sparkly, girly things. Man, when I make a decision, I stick to it.
I could write of many more examples (and, in fact, I have before), but they would only further serve to reveal the disastrous image I built of myself and what it means to be a girl. And I was also already overweight, an impossible challenge for a middle-school girl to overcome. Over time, I developed this unreachable ideal woman who represented everything I’m not. She was thin and tall and wore dresses and had perfect hair and cooked amazing food and had a man who loved her, and she liked polka dots and carrying a purse and wearing heels. Ugh. If I had artistic skills, I would draw her and tack her to a dart board and become really good at target practice.
Everything I hated about myself became inverted in my image of an ideal woman. And I became mired in a complacency that allowed me to believe that my physical appearance didn’t matter since I could never be beautiful anyway, that the areas of my life that I’m passionate about are useless or unfeminine, and that no man is ever going to love me because someone else more beautiful and graceful will come along that he will prefer. I have avoided mirrors because I didn’t want to look at my own face and body; I have walked out of shopping malls in a haze of self-loathing after trying on clothes; and I had convinced myself to give up on my hope of being married because I’ll never find a man who could love me. I haven’t worn makeup because I never believed any paint or powder could improve my looks, and I didn’t cut my hair partially because I didn’t think any dramatic change would make a difference. I’ve never been able to show a guy I’m interested because I’ve almost always convinced myself from the beginning of any friendship that I’m not worth fighting for.
I also rarely spoke these thoughts aloud. I spent middle school, high school, college, and into my 20s hating the way I looked and sometimes even hating those aspects of my personality that make me different (or so I thought) from every other girl I knew. I knew, first of all, that people might be shocked by any admission of this nature and might try to change my mind. I also knew that, logically, those people might actually be right in confronting my destructive thoughts.
For the past month, I’ve been attending a Bible study with some other women from my church. The Bible study is about the calling of biblical femininity, and I was so resistant and afraid at first. I was afraid that either the Bible study would confirm my long-held belief that I was not good at being a woman or that the Bible study would actually make me confront and abolish that belief.
For years, I’ve convinced myself that I’m on a journey to understand beauty while simultaneously believing that I am not beautiful. I have believed that because I’ve never been in a relationship that I am, clearly, never going to be in a relationship. I have even believed that my grammar skills and passion for literature and my geek obsessions with science fiction and superheroes are wasted talents.
Only recently have I realized that every time I look in the mirror and criticize myself harshly, I am sinning against the God who created me. Every time I make an apology for my “geeky, uncool” hobbies, I am sinning against the God who made me passionate. And every time I think that my knowledge of theory and literary analysis is useless, I sin against the God who created story and provided the world with the hero we so desperately need.
I am sick to death of my sin. I don’t want to be enslaved to the lies anymore. I want to push back the gates of hell in my own life and claim the Truth that my God can heal and redeem my broken heart.
I’m finished with complacency. It’s time to start fighting.