July 2012

Before this years’ Olympics, ten and half years ago, I found myself in London.  I was an English major in college, and, for a few weeks, had the incredible opportunity to study theater in the land that brought us Shakespeare.

It was the farthest and longest that I had ever been away from my family, and though I enjoyed everything about the trip, the thing I loved the most was the FREEDOM.  For the first time in my life, I was able to think about who I was–a part from my family, my friends, and the social pressures of attending a very small college.

One afternoon, between class and seeing a play, my classmates and I did what all girls do in a foreign city–we went shopping.  At my roommate’s request, we found ourselves in a two-story Dr. Marten’s store. Almost immediately, our eyes found the clearance table. A few minutes later, I had found them.  Red, shiny, patent leather shoes. Before I knew it, I had paid the thirty pounds for them, and they were mine.

In that moment, Red became my favorite color.

But what I didn’t know then, was that Red is the color of courage, and that I was going to need courage to become the person I first sensed I was in London.  I was going to need it to break away from the definitions others had given me in life. I was going to need it when I felt called into a profession that has been historically male.  I was going to need it in order to become who I am meant to be.

I still need it.

And If we, as women, are serious about redefining what it means to be women, than we are going to need courage to do it. Collectively, we need the courage to speak out against the messages and things that weaken us. Individually, we need it to look at our lives and ask, where are we living as if harmful or unhealthy messages are true?

That night, after buying my red shoes, I put them on and wore them to a show on the West End of London.  By the end of the night, my feet were killing me.

“Don’t worry,” my friend said. “You have to break them in before they are comfortable.”

She was right–they are the most comfortable shoes I own.

The same is true about courage; it takes time for it to feel comfortable.

A couple of years ago, as I was cleaning out my apartment before we got married, I came across an old photo.  Two tall, dark-haired girls from another lifetime stared back at me.  It was my friend Lisa and I, right before our eleventh grade homecoming. I wore a long black, sleeveless dress and way-to-bright red lipstick, and as I looked at my younger self, I was startled.

I was beautiful.

For the first time–over ten years after the fact–I realized, that as a high school student, I was beautiful.

Perhaps this realization seems silly or conceited, but you have to understand that with this startling realization came also the memories of my intense insecurities in eleventh grade.  The same, smiling girl in the photo, sat out in the hall during the slow dances that night, convinced no one would ask her to dance.

But that’s not the worst part.

Now, fifteen years later, and after almost two years of being married to a man I admired years before I was ready to date him–a man who tells me I am beautiful every day–I still struggle to find beauty and self-acceptance when I look in the mirror.

There is an unsaid understanding that part of being female means being beautiful.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture and time period where the definition of beauty that we have been given is too narrow (pun intended). We are somehow left to feel that we are less of a woman if our dimensions aren’t right–as if the size of our hips, chest, or legs  are the only factors that add up to true beauty–and true worth.

Yet for years I have allowed our cultural definition of beauty to inform how I see myself.

I don’t want to do that anymore.

I want to be aware of true beauty and be able to name it in others.  I want to be unafraid to name it in myself. And I want to help others do the same.

In my first post, I began to share a vision of what I want Redefining Female to be. Today, I want to ask you to join me on this journey of uncovering what it truly means to be a woman. (perhaps a strange request, if you happen to male!)

But as someone who believes that relationships are the key to any journey, I wouldn’t dream of inviting you to come with me, without telling you a little bit about myself:

My name is Melissa.

I am in my early 30’s.  I am a wife to an amazing man.  I am a recently resigned youth pastor.  I am a New Englander living in the middle of Pennsylvania.  I enjoy feeding others.  I enjoy baking–especially bread.  I love coffee (understatement).  I am a sister, a daughter, a friend, and a mentor.

Before any of these, I am a woman.  I have struggled since my pre-teens with my weight, what it means to be feminine, embracing my beauty not just my flaws, and with feeling loved.  Like many of us, I have gone through junior high, high school, college, and my twenties with unhealthy misconceptions of what a woman is supposed to look like, and who she is supposed to be.  Over the years, I have at times been able to quickly shrug off some of these misconceptions, but others have penetrated my soul, at times paralyzing me from being or becoming who I truly am.

Lastly, the most important thing to know about me is that I love Jesus.  I don’t know everything about Him, and I don’t love Him perfectly, but I believe that He is the ultimate source and companion for us on this journey.

Do you remember that moment, growing up, when you realized that boys are different from girls?  No, I am not just talking about the anatomy part.  But rather, that moment where all of a sudden the boy who lived across the street–the one you played super heroes with every day before–said you had “cooties?” That moment you realized, you were a girl and he was a boy–and that, meant you were different.

There is a process to finding out who we are created to be–what our purpose(s) are on this earth–and our gender plays a role in that.  The only problem is that we grow up with a million messages about who we are as women.

Literally, from the moment we are born, our parents, families, media, friends–everyone–gives us information about our identity and worth.  You would think this would make things easier; only many of these messages contradict one another making it even more difficult to discern truth from fiction.

Life for many of us is a process of sifting through these messages.

Life for those of us who are female, often means sifting through harmful, negative, confusing messages about what it means to be a woman. We are trying to make it in a world where the media, business world, advertising, and even our churches are giving us conflicting images of who we need to try to become; because we are always “too much” or “not enough.” Rarely do we hear the words “you are enough” and “you are beautiful.”

This blog is about redefining what it means to be female. It will not be a diatribe about how men have ruined us (they too have their own set of confusing messages that they are trying to live up to). But rather it is my hope that as we begin to redefine who we as women are meant to be, we will be inviting the men in our lives to also embrace the fullness of who they are created to be.

This blog is about uncovering the truth and beauty of what it means to be a woman.