Confession: I don’t share the same enthusiasm as many of my Facebook friends for a current music video that’s circulating called “Virtue is so Beautiful.” Or something like that. It’s very cute. Handsome and talented boys dancing around and telling girls that virtue makes them beautiful. What could be wrong with that? I suspect that had these same boys been singing this when I was in high school, I would have not have believed they were singing to me. They would have been singing to my beautiful and popular friends. And I would have felt a twinge of shame for not being in the included group. Oh, I dressed just the way these boys are telling the girls to dress. My skirts came to my knees. My necklines weren't plunging, of course not, what would the point have been? But I knew that boys still were only attracted to a certain look. And that look wasn't me.
Not all that long ago, in a galaxy, I mean a ward far, far away, ok in a ward two miles from where I am now, I was Young Women’s president for a while. I loved it in so many ways. I worked with fantastic women, and got to interact often with a fabulous group of girls. Our bishop was very respectful of me as a leader. Once he pulled me aside in the church hallway and asked me what I thought of the idea of having a special fireside focused on modesty. I said that I didn’t like it. He wanted to know why and all I said was something to the fact that they hear it enough. He respected that and we thought of another topic.
Well, now I’ve thought about it. Most of the discussions on modesty and virtue aimed at young women are focused on shame or pleasing men or in helping boys and men keep themselves moral. I don’t believe these should be the motivators to respecting yourself. Respecting yourself and committing to your religious faith are far better reasons for virtue and modesty. Let the men be in charge of themselves.
Confession: I hated my body in my teenage years and way up into my 30’s. Why? I had allowed the judgment of society tell me how a woman’s body should look. Truth be told, I had little else to tell me otherwise. My church told me to cover up. My brothers made fun of me. My classmates made fun of me. I was teased even by school teachers. I was teased even by my best friends. Why? I was skinny. Carby Stick was a nickname I embraced. I learned to laugh and mock myself. People liked me for that. A boy in high school made me feel shame every time I saw him in the halls because he yelled, SNAKE whenever he saw me. Even though I never talked to him, I allowed him to have power over me. I don’t blame myself for that. I had few weapons in my arsenal. But even as I type this, I remember the racing in my heart when I saw him coming. And even though I remember few other boys by name that I didn’t know personally, this boy’s name was Joel White. I write it now because he doesn’t deserve to have power over me any longer. I have never told anyone of that secret shame.
Confession: Every time I sat in a Mutual Standard’s Night and learned about how precious and beautiful I was as a daughter of God because I was virtuous, I felt ashamed. Why? Because I felt anything but beautiful. I felt awkward and skinny. I used to look in the mirror and wonder if the reason no boy ever asked me on a date (ever) in high school was because I was too skinny. Now if you didn’t know me in high school, by now you may be feeling sorry for me, but I was not a pathetic wall flower, well ok, maybe I was a wall flower, but certainly not a pathetic one. I loved school. I had lots of friends and loved life, then as now. But growing up is really hard. Growing up as a strong female is even harder when we measure our self-worth by messages from boys and men.
Confession: I was jealous of my pretty friends. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love them any less, but I was jealous. I remember in fourth grade telling my mother I didn’t understand why one of my friends liked this other friend more than she liked me, because I was nicer. My mother said, “Well, she is pretty.” Now I know my mother didn’t mean by that, and you are not, but that is the message I heard. And that message I carried with me. If you know my mother, you will be surprised that she said this because she truly is a saint. How sad that a little girl carried this careless thought around and didn’t forget it. How sad, that any of us define our worth by our looks, or even by our virtue.
Confession: I knew that the questions the bishop asked me about my moral worthiness didn’t really apply to me because boys didn’t like me enough to even hold hands with me, let alone want to go too far. Lessons on chastity embarrassed me, but not because they were about private matters, but because I knew I had never been tested on these things. And I suspected that if I were tested I would probably fail. I mean with all the secrecy and yet overblown “worth waiting for talks”sex had to be something so magnificent and I knew I liked doing magnificent things so…
Confession: I have no idea why I managed a high self-esteem with so much shaming that is consistent with our society. I look back and see that tall skinny girl and realize had she known how to dress, talk, and act around the opposite gender she may have attracted attention from them. I’m not sure that my life would have been better because of it.
Confession: I’m not sure the continual focus on the highs and lows of hemlines, how much skin, cleavage, body defining and so on voices girls hear from their church leaders and well-dressed and handsome righteous boys are all that much different than the societal and trendy voices they are hearing from school and media. I know, they are hearing the opposite message. On one end of the spectrum our youth are hearing that virtue is so beautiful and on the other end we have Miley Cyrus (need I say more)? But when it comes down to it, the message is the same. Females are told by the extremes on both ends that it’s bodies that are important, not WHO they are.
Confession: In spite of all these confessions, I really liked myself. I was fun. I was smart. I was creative. I was a deep thinker. I was talented. All of these things are still true about me. Once in a high school class that was quite unusual because it seemed to be focused on character and family life, the teacher asked the mostly (if not all—I can’t remember) female class to raise your hand if you liked yourself. Guess what? My hand shot up. I looked around the room and only one other hand in a class of twenty-five or so seniors and juniors was up. I was shocked. And so was the teacher’s. We had a discussion on self-esteem.
Confession: In spite of all the negatives, I managed to hear and instill and nourish a positive one. Somehow that tiny message is the one I chose to listen to. I was very lucky. I had great teachers in church and in school. I had great friends. I had good parents. I was very blessed. Maybe that's why the message of my own worth managed to plant itself in my very skinny body. I still like me. When there is no one else around, I’m still having a good time because I’m with my best friend—Me.