The older I get, the more I find myself thinking about the idea of self-acceptance, and what a crucial role it plays in how we all conduct and present ourselves on a daily basis as individuals. As someone who has struggled with social anxiety and depression, you could say I have a lot of personal experience with this concept, especially as a young single woman born and raised in 21st century America.
From as early as the age of eight, I’ve compared myself with others, choosing to focus on my supposed physical, emotional, and intellectual deficits in comparison as opposed to my God-given strengths and abilities. When I’m feeling socially anxious, I’ve noticed that I effectively stifle my personality in fear of appearing too vulnerable or embarrassing myself.
Time and time again, I’ve chosen to believe the lies that I’m not attractive enough (which usually translates to ‘thin’ enough), smart enough, strong enough, enough; period. I choose instead to perceive myself as entirely lacking in these areas.
Despite having a good number of close friends and family members who have continually affirmed me and recognized the beauty in my individuality, I still continue believe these horrible lies about myself; about who I’ve been created to be.
Despite identifying as a feminist and strongly if not overwhelmingly agreeing with the feminist ideas of body positivity regardless of shape or size and finding one’s self worth in individual capabilities rather than physical appearance and allure, I still believe I am not physically attractive enough and therefore somehow worth less than others.
Despite being a Christian and having heard and read the numerous passages of Scripture that outline my inherent worth and beauty as a creation of a God who loves me more than I can ever understand I still, in my heart, believe these blatant falsehoods about myself. For the majority of my 21 years, I’ve begun to realize that I’ve both consciously and unconsciously rejected, rather than embraced, countless unique, God-given attributes of myself–from my fuller figure to my being a verbal processor. I’ve asked myself questions of the like countless times: Why don’t I look more like her? Why can’t I just be an internal processor who isn’t so obnoxious and emotional? Why am I always so sensitive? Why do I sound like such an airhead when I try to make a point compared to that smart girl in class?
Today, in reflecting upon these thoughts and many more, I realized something else: the majority of these self-deprecating thoughts have their root in comparison not just to another individual, but mostly to other women. And while I’ve tended to pride myself as one confident enough to be genuinely happy for others in their own personal achievements and happiness, I’m beginning to see that I’m in reality sometimes jealous of them, whether in regards to physical appearance, relationship status or otherwise, and have effectively fallen into the trap our culture sets for women: that we should believe ourselves to be inherently inferior to and therefore be envious of the strengths and abilities of other women, constantly and aggressively competing with them. All too often, what actress Tina Fey in Mean Girls so eloquently described as “girl-on-girl crime” seems to take the form of comparison, whether of the physical, emotional, intellectual or otherwise personal variety.
If another woman appears to be more attractive, intelligent, is in a relationship while you aren’t; fill in the blank, our culture tells us we need to do whatever we can do to beat or outmaneuver them in order to validate our own personal sense of self-worth. Even in demonstrating self-acceptance, we often do it at the expense of other women as though we have something to prove. Consider, for example, the messages of the “empowering” musical anthems of our day written by female artists, such as the bridge and chorus of Meghan Trainor’s most recent hit, “Me Too”:
I thank God every day
That I woke up feeling this way,
And I can’t help loving myself, and I don’t need nobody else (nu-uh)
If I was you, I’d wanna be me too (x3)
While I will clarify that I greatly appreciate Trainor’s musical style, believe she is very talented and would consider myself a fan, I will also say that I respectfully disagree with the way she goes about getting her message across here. While I certainly admire her self-love and am not denying her right to do so, I do not believe self-acceptance needs to or should be expressed in a way that implies individual strengths can only be recognized in light of others’ inferiority in comparison.
I honestly believe that women like Meghan Trainor in many cases don’t even realize that they’ve fallen into the trap of comparison when attempting to communicate self-love. In this way, the true idea of true, unabashed self-acceptance in the absence of comparison as a woman in today’s society remains radical in comparison to the self-hatred and body dissatisfaction that is culturally encouraged.
Even more radical, then, is the idea that Christ died for each and every one of us despite our being completely undeserving so that we could be given the privilege of a relationship with God, our creator. As Romans 5:8 says, “…God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In Jeremiah 1:5, God says to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
While we haven’t all been born prophets, the fact that He has created us each as unique individuals with a purpose speaks volumes about His love for us and our inherent worth; far more than our comparison or perceived superiority to other women ever could. While Christianity and feminism are often assumed and treated as though they are at odds with one another, I don’t believe this to be true. If God accepts and loves us unconditionally in our belief, how much more should we accept ourselves as He has created us to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and intellectually? This is, of course, much easier said than done, and is something I can admit I haven’t yet achieved. I’ve started by choosing to remind myself daily of some of my strengths–such as that I am easily able to personally connect and empathize with people, that I’m a talented pianist, that I’m deeply passionate about mental health and hope to work in the field in the future. As a Christian and a woman, I believe it is necessary and possible to recognize and praise God for these abilities and more that He has gifted me with. Radical, but possible.