I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this blog site. I haven’t posted much over the last year, but that’s because I am a different person—in a sense—than I was in January 2014. I know I entitled this blog “Hope, Love, and Peace,” and I still believe in those qualities. But I also believe in authenticity, and I am more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever felt before. I want to blog more. You’re going to see a lot more of me—a lot more genuine me—probably a bit more edgy, and hopefully more inspiring. If you stick around, you might even witness me coming out some more. But you might not like it. I can’t help that last part.
Kate Schell recently published a long list of modesty “rules” that girls have to deal with, especially in religious fundamentalist families. These messages teach girls to be ashamed of their bodies, ashamed of being women, ashamed of themselves.
Her series is about messages that we send to girls. Unfortunately, boys encounter similar rules—not rules of modesty, but rules nonetheless. We all encounter messages from people who think they know who we are and who we should be. And when gentle persuasion fails to persuade us to comply with their dogmatic view of reality, they turn to judgmentalism and suppression, and push fear and shame. As self-aware adults, we know to push back. But as children, we internalize these messages as emotional triggers, and they may saddle us for the rest of our lives.
I’m going to spoil the suspense for you by quoting the end of Kate Schell’s list of rules for girls:
- Be pretty, but not too pretty.
- Dress attractively, but not to attract.
- Be confident, but not sexy.
- Be feminine in a specifically white, thin, Western, Victorian- or 1950s-inspired sort of way.
- Treat your body like a temple, but don’t show it.
- If your body shows, men will lust.
- If your body shows, you disobey God and disrespect other people.
- If your body shows, men might not be able to control themselves.
- If your body shows, you get what you deserve.
- Let your inner beauty shine.
That last one ought to be intoned with irony. But you have to realize that in extreme religious culture, it’s not. To many religious dogmatists, “God” really does “love” you, but only in the same way an abusive parent would, because cutting you down satisfies his lust to control you.
If my criticism sounds harsh, that’s because it is. That harshness is also well deserved.
By the way, the person who invented women’s jeans did the world a great service. Wear them genuinely, if that’s who you are.
I propose we stop teaching our kids to “behave” and “fit in.” I have an alternative list of rules:
Explore who you are. Life is a journey. Allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to think. Allow yourself to experiment. Allow yourself to fail. You are not inferior for failing. Rather, you are growing, and growth is good.
Express yourself. You don’t need to hide inside your shell. That might offer safety, but it will never provide the connection we all need to others. And you don’t need to grab the spotlight in order to be noticed. Exposing your genuine heart to the possibility of rejection, that’s all you need.
Don’t harm others. This includes being sensitive to other people’s feelings. It also means being willing to own your mistakes, to apologize, and to fix them going forward. And to forgive.
Don’t harm yourself or let others harm you. Don’t beat yourself up or put yourself down. But know that you also don’t need to accept that treatment from others. Put distance between yourself and those who are toxic to you. And maybe sometimes this even unfortunately means going out of your way to fit in. Maybe you can’t be genuine everywhere with everyone. But surround yourself with people who love you for you, no matter what.
Don’t tell others there’s anything wrong with them. This does not mean they have to be perfect. This means accepting them for being imperfect. It means bearing with their struggles. And their failures. They are not inferior for failing, any more than you are. Love with your whole heart, even though there’s no guarantee.
Stop telling yourself that there’s anything wrong with you. You are worthy of love and acceptance, because you are a person. You may make mistakes, but you are not a mistake. You are enough. Vulnerability is not weakness. Allow others to see you as you really are.
Watch Brené Brown’s TEDx talk (to whom I owe a debt of gratitutude for a number of these lines).
Since my deconversion, I’ve begun to realize how deeply shame was part of who I was, how it controlled me, how it drove me to be afraid of myself and afraid of others. And I think I’ve begun to understand how my deconversion actually happened. It’s a long story. I believe that I learned to own my own shit— my feelings, my identity, even my psychological damage. And I saw that there is a way to authentically be. And I found people who would accept me and validate me, no judgmentalism, no shame. And when that happened, my escape from fundamentalism was guaranteed.
I’m still figuring out what it means not to believe in those messages anymore, but I know it feels good to be able to recognize myself feeling that inner shame, and to be able to tell myself:
- “No, there’s nothing wrong with you.”
- “You don’t need to hide yourself in the corner to avoid being embarrassed.”
- “You don’t need to be the center of attention to avoid being left out.”
- “You don’t need to be the best, the biggest, the funniest, the loudest, the smartest in order to avoid being inferior.”
- “There’s nothing wrong with expressing that genuine feeling, because it helps, rather than hurts, yourself and others.”
- “You’re allowed to enjoy the experience.”
- “You don’t have to feel insecure if there’s nothing to be insecure about.”
- “You don’t have to fear rejection, but you’re allowed to feel it.”
- “You don’t need validation from everybody, because you are loved and accepted by the people who are most important to you.”
- “Because there’s nothing wrong with you.”
(And yes, I really tell myself those things, all the time.)
To quote Erin Judge: “Figure out who you are, and stay true to it. Don’t try to change, and don’t try to change other people.”