Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How Women Feel

In China the toughest men go to "Pain Experience Camp."
Want to know how women feel during labor? In Jinan, a city in eastern China, husbands of pregnant women volunteer to have a technician tape four electrodes to their stomachs. The flow of current ranges from a tingle at level one to an excruciating level 10. Men gnash their teeth and their eyes go bloodshot before the simulator reaches its peak. Contractions would actually equal a 12, so I guess they take it easy on the men. Not to mention that what the men are doing lasts a few minutes, not hours on end like real labor.

This is a great idea. Every expectant father should know how women feel while giving birth. There are other kinds of pain women feel that I wish men could experience occasionally, just so they'd understand us a bit better.
  • Men (and other women) question our competency merely because we're women.
  • People call us bossy -- or the other B word -- for being assertive.
  • Men ignore us if we're not beautiful.
  • On the flip side, it's a liability to be beautiful in the boardroom because men (and some other women) assume you can't be beautiful and smart.

These are generalizations. Not all men question our competency. Some strong, authoritative women are well-respected. (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) Often, once coworkers get to know us, they look past our looks. And I can't blame men too much for the negative assumptions because it's what they've been taught. It's what we've all been taught.

Let's go back to the classroom and start teaching the right stuff. Assume that a woman is just as competent as a man unless you have reason to believe otherwise. Praise girls for being assertive. Don't favor or discriminate against women who are beautiful.

Then men will know what it's like to be a woman because it will be a lot like being a man. We women will still have to birth the babies, though. Having done that once, I thank God for epidurals. I didn't care if my anesthesiologist was male or female, as long as the epidural worked. And it did. Pain Experience Camp was over, and I was one happy camper.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sex and Santa Claus

Sex and Santa Claus: Lies Your Parents Told You. One day I will write that book. Can you think of two subjects parents lie about more? Okay, I know many parents will say they don't tell lies about Santa. They just let their kids indulge in a lovely fantasy. 

So if this is about sex and Santa, what did you learn as a child about sex? What did they tell you about the origin of babies? When I was very young, my parents told me they prayed for a baby, and that's how I came to be in the womb. There's truth to that. Later Mom gave me a proper plumbing lesson.

We hear as many lies about the value of our bodies as we do about sex. Most of the lies are related to sex because we're told we are not desirable unless we have the right shape, height, and facial features. How do we stop believing the lies?

1. Stop ingesting the poison. Don't click on the site that you know will make you feel inadequate.

2. Talk to real men about it. What do they consider beautiful in a woman? Many of them will tell you something different from what the diet or make-up company is telling you. Then ask yourself, "Which one is selling something?"

3. Even a man's opinion is not the bottom line. The most important fact is that you are created in God's image and that you have intrinsic value. It may sound dry and theological, but only until you internalize it. After that it's still theological, but wet -- like water -- life-giving. Truth is that way.

Naughty or nice. Lies are naughty. Truth is nice. Just ask Santa.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Advice for a Thirteen-Year-Old

Ever wish you could go back in time and give yourself some advice? Here's my advice for a thirteen-year-old me.

1. About that boy who insults you and makes obscene comments about your body: I'm not excusing his behavior, but cut him some slack. His dad died two years ago, and he's hurting more than you are.

2. Hang on to those A-cup bras, thirteen-year-old. You'll never need a bigger size. And that's not the tragedy you think it is.

3. Ignore photos in magazines that make models look "perfect." Those women don't really look like that. It's all lighting and make-up. And you won't believe what 2014 technology can do to photos.

4. There will be a movie produced in 1985 called, "Breakfast Club." Go see it. It will give you insight about the kids you go to school with. The ones you think are perfect and have everything together.

5. Every time you hear a friend or an enemy or the media say, "This is what you must look like to have worth," say to yourself, "It's a lie."

6. Do number 5 again because the media will get more pervasive. There's this thing coming called the Internet, and it will spread lies.

7. The good news is that the Internet will also spread truth. You'll write a blog in 2014, and maybe you'll help the truth along. Never mind what a blog is. Just start taking notes now on your smart phone. Wait -- the only phone you have is a plain ol' phone. All is not lost -- including your phone because it's attached to the wall by a cord. Enjoy the good ol' days.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Are cat-calls compliments?

I mean, really, what woman doesn't want to be admired by men for the way she looks?

Syndicated columnist Suzanne Fields writes that recently-elected Republican women are the embodiment of female power, as opposed to women Democrats who, according to Fields, "are focusing on victimhood and crying harassment at every slur and imagined arrow."

Fields mentions a video in which a woman walks through New York for ten hours. (She's not the woman in the photo above. The video woman was wearing a sweatsuit. Not that it matters.) She receives more than one hundred cat-calls from men. Fields scoffs at the idea that it's harassment when a man calls out, "What's up, beautiful?" or "What ya doin' today?"

"There was nothing menacing in the flirtatious banter," says Fields, and she recommends that women "Shake It Off," as Taylor Swift's new song advises.

Ms.Fields is wrong. If my husband or boyfriend says, "What's up, beautiful?" it's a welcome compliment from a man who has earned the right to comment on my appearance. Men who are strangers have no such right, even if it sounds like a compliment. What about a male co-worker? Is he inbounds if he tastefully compliments my appearance? Even that may be inappropriate at the office depending on the relationship. If we are in a group at a bar for happy hour, a polite compliment is probably acceptable if both of us are single. It's flirting. If I flirt back, it means I am comfortable with the gentleman's interest.

But the stranger on the street has no right to make any comment, positive or negative, on my appearance, and I have no right to comment on his.

Perhaps what Fields fails to appreciate is that there are degrees of harassment. Obviously, an unwelcome compliment is not rape. But that does not make cat-calls okay.

It's good to pay someone a compliment on their appearance.

But earn the right first.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Heal the Body Image

Ever watched your body heal?

I was cooking last week when my right wrist made contact with the inside of my oven.

"Ouch!" I quickly ran cold water over the spot. It hurt for a few minutes, and then I forgot about it.  It slowly began to heal. The area turned pink over the next few days and only hurt if I touched it. Then the skin turned dark and began to peel. Now I have a large tear-drop shaped scar with new-pink skin inside a ring of brownish peel. In a few days it will hard to spot the wound.

Have you considered how amazing it is that the body heals itself? Think of the hundreds of cuts and burns you have sustained since childhood. What if they didn't heal? You'd probably be sick or dead from infection.

And that's just one angle. Think of the thousands of processes your body performs every day to protect itself, to process information, to move, digest, clean the blood.

This is the body I hate. At least I hate parts of it. This is the body I'm told is not enough.

Makes me want to respond to all the magazines, "Are you kidding? You're telling me this is ugly? This walking, talking, healing work of art?"

If you believe in a sentient, personal Creator, as I do, you have to admire the God who made such a thing.

So watch out when cooking. You don't want to damage the artwork. But if you do, take a peek under the Band-Aid every day or so. Watch the healing of your body, and it might begin the healing of your soul.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Renee Zellweger

What to say about Renee?

Renee Zellweger, that is. She showed up at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards and was not quite herself. Or at least she didn't look like herself.

Did she get a face lift? Have her eyes done? She hardly looks like the same person.

My first reaction was, whatever you've done, Renee, undo it because your face is your brand. The little bit of marketing I've learned says to always be recognizable. People come to expect something from you, and you need to deliver. Take, for example, Coca Cola's red label. Pick it up anywhere in the world, and you know what you're getting. It's predictable and safe, and that's what customers want.

But do I really want to compare Renee Zellweger to a soda? She's a person. She's more than a business, more than an actor.

Zellweger says her new look is due to healthier living and happiness. If that's true, good for her. I'm not opposed to plastic surgery, either, to a degree. If someone wants an eye lift, that's a personal decision. Bottom line, I hope she's healthy and happy. So, pop open a soda in honor of Renee.

As the Coke slogan says, Open Happiness.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Feminine Definitions

A few months back I sent this tweet about femininity.

"Some girly girls wear ribbons and bows. Other girly girls where bullet-proof vests and hard hats."

Whatever a girl does, that is girly. If girly = feminine, what is femininity? My dictionary says:

Definition 1: of, or belonging to, the female sex
Definition 2: possessing qualities generally attributed to a woman

Ah! Now it's getting more interesting. #1 means, related to the female. #2 shifts the meaning to what people generally think of when they think of women. My dictionary goes further in a special note saying that sometimes the use of the word feminine means what is appropriate for a woman.

What is appropriate for a woman?


Are those qualities appropriate for men? We describe a man as balanced if he has all three traits.
If a woman has them, well that's fine, too. Sorta. Sometimes behavior lauded as assertive in men is condemned as rude in women. Why? Because it's not what we're accustomed to. So we don't associate it with womanhood.

Perhaps it depends on the woman's audience. We are pleased if a woman is assertive and authoritative with her children. We are wary if a woman is assertive in a corporate board room if men are present.

Perhaps it depends on one's age. I'm forty-six. Because of what I saw women do when I was a child in the 70s, I must admit my reaction may be to interpret a woman's assertive behavior as pushy. A twenty-six year old may not react that way because he or she is accustomed to women acting assertively.

What is your standard for femininity or masculinity? What you've seen since childhood? What a holy book tells you? What your peers say?

Think on it. And if you choose to speak out, I suggest you put on the bullet-proof vest and hard hat because this battle can get ugly.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Am I a Woman?

"'Do I have what it takes to be a man?' That's what a man asks himself," my male friend told me.

No, I replied, I've never asked myself that kind of question. It's never been a matter of, "Am I a woman?" Of course I am. I have two X chromosomes, don't I?

Well, I've changed my mind. I have indeed asked myself, Am I really a woman? It's just that men and women have different criteria. With men it's often a matter of accomplishment. Can I make it in the real world? Can I hold a job and support a family?

Of course, many women are the sole or primary providers for their families. And I almost wish women had that set of criteria for judging themselves. It may be better to judge ourselves by what we do than by how we look which is how women often evaluate themselves. Am I pretty enough? Curvy enough?

But neither sex should judge themselves by these criteria.

There's a story about Jesus that speaks to this. He was asked whether Israelites should pay the Roman tax. His enemies hoped to trap him. If he said yes, then they would accuse him of supporting Rome's occupation. If he said no, they could haul him in to the Roman authorities and accuse him of sedition.

"Show me the coin used to pay the tax," Jesus said. Someone handed him one.
"Whose image is on it?" he asked them.
"Caesar's," they answered. 
"So, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar," Jesus said, "and give to God what belongs to God."

The fact that we're made in God's image means we have great value just as we are. It also means we belong to God.

So give God all your chromosomes. God takes X and Y.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Body Image and Good News

On the Body Image Project's website you will find the stories of young women who are struggling with our culture's messages. What struck me was their ages. Twenty, twenty-five, sixteen. All young. I'm still struggling with body image at age forty-six. Some unsolicited advice for the young women:

1. Don't think, "I will outgrow this." It could be dogging you when you're my age.

The good news: you don't have to wait til some magic age when you think you'll be over your body image struggle. Fight the messages now and win. A start: assume every photo of a woman in a magazine is altered. It probably is.

2. Don't imagine you'll find your true love and his approval will help. My brain found ways around that, like, "He's settling for my body because he loves me."

The good news: A man's approval is nice, but not necessary.

3. Don't rely on time to level the playing field. Sure, as we age, even "the most beautiful" people wrinkle, and gravity pulls everything downward. But you'll find excuses. "Look at her. She's fifty and still thin. It's not fair."

 The good news: Your worth is not wrapped up in looking young and beautiful according to someone else's standard. Your worth is in being the work of the Creator.

Our Creator is all about good news. Seems to be a pattern with my God.

Monday, September 8, 2014


I live a pretty sheltered life. But sometimes another woman gives me a peek into the real world and what it feels like to be dehumanized. A friend gave me permission to share her story. These are her words except names have been changed. Some rough language is included, so be careful about who's reading over your shoulder.


In the past week, two people have asked me to show them body parts. These people are complete strangers to me. I was walking out of a bar, and a boy stopped me and said, "Will you show me your boobs?" I slapped the left side of his face. In the other incident, a text message from an unrecognized caller came around midnight.

"Is this Ashley?" the text said.
"Yes, who is this?" I asked.
"This is Mike. I have a friend who says you have a really nice ass, and I was wondering if you would mind showing me."

I hate to say that I responded ungraciously, telling him, "**** you." I will have to repent of that. I felt dehumanized, devalued, like I was reduced to the size of my breasts or the shape of my butt. I am pretty self-confident and really don't struggle with body image, so it catches me off-guard when I feel so low. I cannot believe the lack of respect these boys had for me. What in the world makes them think they have the right to ask to see my body?

How would girls who are not as self-confident respond? Would they show the boys something to be treasured to boost their self-esteem? Would they be grateful someone thought they were attractive and give in? These boys are like hyenas roaming through Africa on a hunt, trying their luck to find the weak antelope. They make a "kill" and see what they want to see, and it's a confidence booster for them.

Sometimes I enjoy the flattery when the guy I'm dating says something appropriate about the way I look, but I really just want someone to ask me an intellectual question. People assume I cannot be smart and look the way I do. My intelligence is the thing I value most about myself, and I hate it when that gets overlooked.

Any girl or woman should know she is so much more than the size of her breasts and shape of her butt. She was given unbelievable gifts from the King of the universe, and she should be valued for her soul and her heart.


Couldn't have said it better myself, friend. Thanks for your candor. Stay strong, sister.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Overweight and Discrimination

Overweight = unhealthy. Right? Not so fast, says Lindsey Averill, the maker of "Fattitude," a documentary slated to be finished in 2015. The film aims to expose discrimination against overweight people. When a fundraiser for the movie went online, Ms.Averill received death threats.

The discrimination is real.

Of course, it's reasonable to say that being overweight implies the person would be healthier at a lower weight.

But how do we know the thin person is healthy? She could be a smoker or have an eating disorder. However, at first glance, she gets the benefit of the doubt. Not so for the larger person.

But everyone knows that overweight people are lazy and self-indulgent.
Well, yes, some of them are. And some thin people are, too. How much self-control do I have?

Well, let's see. Sometimes I yell at my kids, ignore my husband, do exactly what I want when I want without considering the needs of others, and I eat unhealthy food.  Occasionally. Give me a break -- it was Hershey's chocolate, ok? You probably will give me a break because I'm not overweight -- even if my behavior was irresponsible.

But if an overweight person eats the chocolate, we scowl at her. Even when we know nothing about her. We don't hire her because we assume she's lazy when she may be a hard worker. We don't trust her to help with a project because we assume she can't control herself when she may be the one on the team with the greatest integrity.

The next time you see a large person eating chocolate, don't jump to conclusions. Just ask her if she has any to share. If she gives you some, that's a person you want to get to know.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


It's a lie.

That nugget of wisdom was the most valuable thing the therapist said. It was worth every dime I paid her.
Here's the lie I believed for thirty years.

"Only a woman with ________________ is beautiful."

No, I'm not going to tell you how I filled in the blank for myself. What would YOU fill it in with?

A thin waist?
Shapely legs?
Large breasts?
"Perfect" facial features?
Straight teeth?

However you fill in the blank, it's a lie. You've bought it because we tend to believe what we're told over and over. Our culture repeats messages that sell stuff -- like diet pills and push-up bras and plastic surgery.

How can you unbrainwash yourself?

1. Minimize your exposure to lies. Do NOT click on that site. You know the one.

2. Fill the space with voices that speak truth.

3. Do it for someone else. Which other women in your life struggle with this? (HINT: All of them) Encourage your friends. Don't let the comparison conversation start. Do you have a daughter/student/niece? Speak truth to her. Take her hand off the mouse. Or send her to good sites.

Because all that other stuff? It's a lie.

Just ask your therapist.


Thursday, August 21, 2014


This was my tweet on femininity.

"Some girly girls wear ribbons and bows. Other girly girls wear hard hats or bullet-proof vests." What I meant was, let's stop defining femininity so narrowly. That's not incendiary, is it? Just food for thought.

The tweet I got back from a stranger:

"DON'T BE SO $#%&!@ SENSITIVE." Except the symbols were a real word. I won't quote it. 

Well. We are not at cotillion anymore, are we? Because of the spirit in which the tweet was sent, I declined to respond. But what if the expletive had been omitted? What if the sender had respectfully disagreed with my point? Then I would have said this.

It matters how we define femininity and masculinity. To say women are only about ribbons and bows is to say that women with hard hats are not real women at all. And men in professions traditionally filled by women are not real men. Fortunately, these views are changing. By and large, men who are nurses or elementary school teachers are not ridiculed. Neither are men who strap an infant into a Baby Bjorn and go shopping. And we are getting used to seeing women in traditionally male roles.

What we see is important, especially as children, because if we see something enough, we begin to accept it as right. If something IS right, it's good to accept it as right.

Of course, if something is wrong, let's call it wrong.

But please use expletives sparingly when doing so. Tweets are short. Don't waste any of your 140 characters on $#%&@!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Extreme Muslim Modesty

In a storefront in Iraq stand three mannequins wearing fashionable clothes. Over their heads is the latest style from Mosul -- sheer black bags. They are covered to demonstrate how real women should dress. As the Islamic State takes over they are implementing a form of extreme Muslim law which forbids a woman to show her face in public.

Granted, on American streets we have one extreme -- women who bare all. We need a little more modesty here. But how far should we take it?

The Islamic State would have a woman cover legs, arms, face. It would be nice if a woman would cover her eyes as well. Doesn't a woman use her eyes to seduce a man? Well, of course she does. But she needs to see, right? In their kindness, some extremist Muslims make a way to prevent women from stumbling in the street. They keep women locked away at home. Forced modesty. That's the best way, lest a woman be a temptation to a man in public.

Oh, the evils of religious extremes. In most places in the West, we don't see these rules. But we hear echoes of it whenever someone asks a rape victim, "Well, what were you wearing that led a man to do this?"

Even so, maybe I should shut up and be thankful for all the rights I have compared to women in Iraq. But look at America. Every time a victim is blamed, every time the culture says a woman is ugly -- sin is involved. And there is no sin small enough to ignore. I will not shut up.

Let's not close our eyes to it. Take off the veil. Sheer black head bags are SO last year.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Anger and Injustice

It ended with questions about anger and injustice. It started with an article about journalism.  The writer said one of a journalist's duties is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

What do I have to be angry about? Do I suffer from injustice? My life is comfortable. I have plenty to eat, a roof over my head, healthy kids who go to good schools. I have a husband with a job. (I'm glad to have the husband. Also glad he has a job.) Maybe I need some affliction in my life.

Can anger be an affliction? I get angry when our culture tells women and girls that their value lies in how they look. Culture encourages men to see women as objects for their pleasure. If this thinking is not checked, it leads to eating disorders, strip clubs, and human trafficking. It ends in suffering. That should make us angry.

Anger is dangerous because it can cause harm. But could a lack of righteous anger cause even more harm? If women and girls are abused and objectified and we don't get angry, nothing will change. Anger is an energizer.

Jesus was famously angry when people turned the temple courts into a place for thievery instead of prayer. He even used a whip! What kind of Savior uses a whip? I guess the kind who gets angry when a sacred place is profaned.  In a sense a woman's body is sacred because it's God's creation. Our culture profanes it. What are we doing with our anger over this? Stifling it because it might cause us to sin? Smothering it because it could make others uncomfortable? The biblical prophets constantly preached about justice. Where's our temple, and are we ready to make whips?

This is the kind of blog post I don't know how to handle. Is God telling me to act? How? What do you think?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Middle School Attacks

It's like middle school never ended. Those are hard years -- sixth, seventh, eighth grade. It can start earlier, but middle school is infamous for being a place where kids hone their cruelty skills. Cliques form or tighten. If you don't look right, life can be miserable. Too tall, too short, fat, skinny. Your acne is bad, or you don't even need a bra when other girls are wearing a C cup. Or you matured early and got unwanted attention from boys who pointed and told jokes at your expense.

If you're honest, maybe you have to admit that occasionally you joined in the attacks on others to mask your insecurity.

Our culture is like never-ending middle school. Only it's more sophisticated when you're an adult. Sleek magazines tell you that you could be beautiful if you only bought this or that. It can be more complicated, especially if you appear to be overweight. Sit down to eat a burger in public and strangers glare at you, as if to say, "For goodness' sake, have a salad."

I've caught myself thinking the same things. But what do I know about that woman's life? What if that burger is a rare treat? What if she's been to doctors who can't figure out why she can't lose weight? More to the point, maybe I should mind my own business.

I need to stop criticizing when I don't know the facts. Forces in the media are already piling on. I don't want to be part of that clique. Maybe I should graduate from middle school.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Modesty and Restraint

Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist who writes about culture and politics. Recently, she addressed modesty, our sex-saturated culture and its effect on children and teens.

"Adult fashion trends affect the way little girls see themselves," she wrote. Raise your hand if you're the parent of an elementary-age girl and you have trouble finding modest, non-sexy clothing for your child. Me, too. Moreover, girls are encouraged to say, with a dose of sass, "Don't tell us what we can wear. Tell the boys to stop staring."

Frankly, I intend to do both. I'll tell my daughter what she may and may not wear. And I'll tell my fifteen-year-old son not to stare at young women.

I agreed with Fields right up to the end of her article. She encouraged "a little feminine modesty to engender male restraint." I'm a writer, and something about that phrase bothered me. One little word stuck in my craw.

Engender means to produce, to give rise to. Fields implied that feminine modesty produces male restraint. And that males cannot restrain themselves if women are immodest. Both statements are false. Many modestly dressed women have been raped. And men are not knuckle-dragging Neanderthals at the mercy of testosterone.

Now, as the mother of a teenage boy, I do have a request for teen girls. Please don't dress immodestly and make his struggle more difficult than it has to be. For that matter, girls, respect yourselves enough to dress modestly. But it's not up to the girls to create restraint in my son. It's his responsibility to restrain himself.

This wording matters. It's an important distinction because without it we start down a road that can end with the question, "What did you do to get yourself raped?"

How do we avoid that road? Remember this.

1. Words matter.
2. So does modesty.
3. So does restraint.

Oh, and one more for my kids. As far as words go, I will keep proofreading so that you can write better papers. Roll your eyes all you want, but I will be picky. Fewer comma splices in the world: a noble goal.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Mental Illness

Anorexia and bulimia are two mental illnesses associated with body image. In my case the disease was obsessive-compulsive disorder. A person with OCD cannot stop thinking about something or performing some action. Sometimes my thoughts were about body image, and sometimes they were about other issues.

Normal thought involves the movement of chemicals between brain neurons. In OCD, the movement  is interrupted, so the person thinks the same thoughts again and again. When my OCD was uncontrolled, I would analyze a question for an hour, stuck in a mental loop. When it struck me that this was illogical, another part of my brain said, "But I should be analyzing this. It's the moral thing to do." So it was not as simple as telling myself to move on.

Everyone analyzes things. Many people are concerned about their weight. But mental illness -- whether OCD, an eating disorder, or another illness like schizophrenia --  takes a normal way of thinking and turns up the volume, so to speak, far past a healthy level.

Mental illnesses are physical diseases. We should treat victims the same way we treat other ill people. We would never say to a cancer patient, "Just control your thinking and you'll get well." Or worse, "If you trusted God, you wouldn't be sick."

When my OCD was at its worst, it was like being wrapped in chains, trapped inside the prison of my own thoughts. God used the care of my family and the expertise of a psychiatrist to free me. We should follow Jesus and extend compassion to victims of mental illness. Then, as Matthew 25 records, one day Jesus will say, "I was sick and in prison, and you visited me."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Nose Job

I'm ashamed of it, really. Ashamed of one part of my body, because I've been told all my life it's unacceptable. I have a small, dainty nose. Embarrassing, right? Maybe I should get a nose job. For years I've seen pictures in magazines of women with big, beautiful, bulbous noses. I know some women with small ones get plastic surgery for enlargement. But how could I write this blog if I got a nose job? Not that I'm against all cosmetic procedures. But it's been a personal struggle, and it would be admitting defeat to have surgery.

Meanwhile, my brain is still brainwashed. I walk down the street and look at other women's noses. If a woman's nose is small like mine, I feel better. If her nose is big and bulbous, I feel worse. It's hit or miss.

I confess, I have gone to the Internet for affirmation. I google, "beautiful small noses," and "men who prefer small noses." Tonight I was trying to text some friends for support. They have dainty noses, too, so they know the struggle. But every time I tried to send the message, my phone gave me an error message. I wondered, can God block cell signals to get our attention? Sheesh, if God can heal the sick and raise the dead, a cell signal is small potatoes.

Sometimes God's answer to pleas for help is, "Yes, I thought you'd never ask." Maybe I'm at that point. Well, go right ahead, Lord, but I've struggled with this for a long time, and I don't know what you're going to try that I have not attempted. Yet, it feels right to ask you for help. I guess it's ridiculous that I've gone everywhere else but to you. So unbrainwash my brain. I'm asking because I need help. I'm giving You the nose job. Get it? Okay, sorry. Just tell me what the next step is.


What about you? Have you ever asked God into your personal body image fight? What happened?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bikini = Sinful? Really?

Is wearing a bikini sinful? Well, what's sexier -- a breast or an ankle? A rear end or a bare leg? Long flowing hair or a knee?

That depends on where and when you are. During times when women wore only long dresses, the sight of a woman's shapely ankle was enough to give a man fits. Today in parts of some African nations, it's normal for women to be bare-breasted in public.

A few days ago I posted a link to a video in which a woman decried the immodesty in U.S. culture. I think she would say wearing a bikini is sinful. She insisted our overexposure was encouraging men to see women as objects. But perhaps she has it backwards. If men were regularly exposed to women's breasts, for example, maybe those parts would lose their allure. After all, topless beaches in Europe are not orgies, are they? (Never been to a European beach, myself.)

Ironically, topless beaches might be less sexually arousing than American beaches. Could the tease of a bikini be more interesting than two bare breasts?

A week ago I was drawn by the argument of those who said, "Wearing a bikini is a sin." I thought, "Yep, showing that much skin is just too much stimulation for men. By definition it's immodest." But by whose definition? Today I wonder if calling a bikini sinful is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Modesty codes are complicated and vary widely. For now I'm suspending judgment on midriff-baring suits. But the really skimpy bikinis . . . I don't know. Maybe it depends on which continent you're sunbathing on. In any case, the American Academy of Dermatology and I suggest the amount of fabric in your suit and the amount of sunscreen you apply should be inversely proportional. If you've ever had a sunburn, you know why.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Immodesty and Rape

Does immodesty lead to rape? If a woman wears a low-cut shirt and a mini-skirt, isn't she inviting inappropriate attention? If she's dressed like that, and a man rapes her, it's partly her fault, right? Doesn't she have to take some responsibility?

I have not thoroughly studied the mind-sets of rapists. I suspect their motives are varied and complex. And oftentimes women are raped when they are covered from head to toe, so immodesty has nothing to do with it.  But let's address this notion that women should bear some of the blame for being raped if they dress immodestly.

First, define immodest. The definition changes based on culture, time and situation. What American culture calls modest attire on a beach would be considered immodest at a wedding.

But let's assume we can agree that a certain woman is dressed immodestly. Then, yes, she is guilty of sin, first and foremost against God and herself. She is not treating her own body with respect. She has also sinned against other women and against men who may see her because (1) she is encouraging men to see women as objects, and (2) it's possible men will be tempted. HOWEVER, if a man sins as a result, she is NOT to blame for his sin.  He bears full responsibility for it. After all, which of us can say to God in ANY situation, "It was the tempter's fault that I sinned"?

We spend a lot of time telling women not to put themselves in situations where they could be raped. This is good information to have. But we must not overemphasize it, or it leads to the idea that it's a woman's responsibility not to be raped. How often do we tell men, "Don't rape"? Men need to hear, "No means no. Remember, sir, you control your own body."

Everyone should dress with modesty. But when it comes to crime, don't blame the victim.
Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you. Leave comments here or on Facebook.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Focus on Inadequacy

I needed a head shot. What I got was the photographer's take on a woman's sense of inadequacy.

A head shot is a close-up photo of a person's head used for publicity fliers and business cards. I was attending a Christian writers conference, and Mary Denman was the photographer. Mary's studio had a blue backdrop, lamps, and one of those black umbrellas that directs the light just right. She told me to sit on the four-legged metal stool set up in front of the backdrop. I obeyed and waited for her to tell me how to tilt my head so she got my good side.

But before I could say a word about which side that was, she stepped up to me, took my hands in hers and looked me in the eye.

"Wendy," she said, "every woman who has walked in here today has apologized for her looks. Every single one has criticized herself and focused on what she considers inadequacy. So we're going to pray together, okay?"

I hadn't expected this introduction, but I nodded and bowed my head.

"Lord Jesus," she prayed, "let Wendy see the beauty you have created in her. You have made us all beautiful, inside and out. Help us to remember that you are the Great Artist, and You create only beauty when you shape our faces and souls. Amen."

Mary proceeded to adjust the lamps and went to work with her digital camera. A few days later she emailed me ten photographs suitable for my business cards. I had encountered a servant of God who took quality photographs and delivered them along with truth and affirmation.

I got her good side.


Ever complained to a photographer about your looks? Why? Leave your comments below or on Facebook. Let me learn from YOU. Find Mary Denman at www.marydenman.blogspot.com. Sign up at left to receive emails when I have new blog posts up.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pick a Fight

The  Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, has kidnapped
hundreds of Nigerian girls.     

What does that have to do with this blog?

 My goal is to remind women that their value is based on being God's creation, made in God's image. The kidnappers' low view of women provides a stark contrast. Refusing to educate girls is just one manifestation of their twisted belief system.

But even in countries that have made progress on women's rights, we still hear whispers of similar messages.

"Your value is tangled up in how you look. A man's desire for you is directly proportional to your worth."

Consider the local strip joint. Behind the flashing lights, pulsing music and cigarette smoke, a woman is treated like an object, and her body is bought and sold. And it's not just on the seedy side of town. It's on the grocery store magazine rack, on the Internet in your home, and, dare I say it, in our beauty pageants. Our daughters may be safer here than in Nigeria, but they are not safe.  See the difference?

What to do? There are many ways to deal with the culture. Since I opened the can of worms, maybe you should talk to your friends (or daughters) about pageants. What do they promote and what messages do they send?

Of course, kidnapping is a much more serious problem than beauty pageants. But is there a connection between the attitudes that give rise to both? I know. To pageant lovers, them's fightin' words, and maybe that's not your battle. But it's time to pick some fights. Where's yours?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Maternal Messaging

Who's to blame  for a woman's struggles with body image?

Cosmopolitan Magazine?
The Internet?

No, the most dangerous enemy is much closer to home. When you were young, she probably lived in your house, cooked your meals, and taught you how to shave your legs.

Mothers are the No.1 cause of body issues for girls.

Did your mom affirm your inner and outer beauty, or did she criticize your shape?
Did she focus on your achievements, or zero in on your appearance?
Did she praise your looks, but criticize her own? "Sweetie, you look beautiful. It's a good thing you're not fat, like me."

The way your mother addressed this issue may directly influence the way you're handling it now.

Are you still carrying around baggage Mom packed and placed on your back? Or was it a mixed bag -- some positive messages and some negative? First, separate the truths she told you from the lies. Believe the truths.

If you have a daughter:
  • Focus on her accomplishments, not on her appearance.
  • Encourage healthy eating and exercise, not diets. Don't focus on your own weight or shape.
  • Discuss messages she hears from the media.
And, if necessary, forgive your daughter's grandmother for things she said and did to you. That may be a process and not a simple act. Some wounds are deep, and we need God's help to forgive. Don't forget to thank your mother for what she did right.

On Mother's Day, send her some flowers or take her out for Sunday lunch.

And thank her for teaching you how to shave your legs.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Manure on Marble

God made you beautiful.

“But I’m not,” you protest. “My face is not the face of a model. Neither is my body.” Perhaps you don’t have perfect facial features or a large bust or a thin waist. But remember, you’re thinking of a recent American ideal. Leave this country and you’ll find different definitions of physical beauty. For that matter, if you polled American men, not all of them would agree with that “perfect” image.

Why is that standard in your head? Because someone who is selling something put it there.

“Small-breasted? Buy this push-up bra! Not thin? Try this brand of underwear! New wrinkles popping out? Our facial cream works wonders!”

Don’t let someone trying to make a buck tell you what beautiful is.

More importantly, don’t be content to scratch the surface of beauty. Look deeper. Your soul is a work of art. Think of your closest friend. What do you like about her? Her sense of humor? Listening skills? Those are her inner beauty marks. You have your own as well. Ask your friends what they are.

Even the most conniving, sour, selfish woman has inner beauty, because at its core, her soul is like pristine marble. But it’s covered in sin – like a statue caked with manure.

If we’re honest, that’s the state of all our souls. We’re made in God’s beautiful image but fouled by sin. We look to Jesus, the Living Water, to wash our statues clean.

Let God turn the hose on.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tangled in a Tape Measure

A tape measure would solve this.

When a man shops for clothes, he knows his measure-ments. He looks at the rack and finds the number. Simple.

For women it's more complicated. Our clothes are not sized in inches. And a size 10 dress is larger than it used to be. With bras, it's reversed.

I am small busted. You know those calculations for finding your bra size? (Gentlemen, listen and learn.) "First, measure under your breasts, and then add five inches. This is your band size. Next measure the fullest part of your bust. Subtract the first number from the second. If the result is four, you are a D-cup (the largest one). If the answer is three, you are a C-cup," and so on.  When I do the math, I get a negative number.

There is no way I am anything but an A cup, but the lingerie department wants me to flatter me. So they've made B cup bras smaller. Sneaky.

We want the grade inflation so we can live the fantasy of being a nicer size. Otherwise we'll have to face the truth of the tape measure.

Are you tangled up in the lies the culture tells us about our beauty and value? Convinced that you'll never measure up?  Good news. Your value does not lie in meeting the culture's standard. You are a woman of eternal value because you are made in the image of God. Period. Use that truth to cut through the lies.

Snip, snip.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Power Stretch

I pull the clothing catalog out of the mailbox and glance at it.
Some decisions are easy.   I toss the
magazine into the recycling bin. From front cover to back, this company preaches that it's okay to wear tight-fitting dresses with plunging necklines.  And that busty plus thin equals beautiful. Not a message my daughter and I need to hear.

But there's a catalog that always makes it into the house. It's from Athleta, a company that sells women's athletic clothing. Their motto is, "Power to the She." I make a point of sitting on the sofa with my eight-year-old daughter to flip through the pages. The models are athletes in real life, and they are pictured riding surf boards or running or in stretch positions. We try to duplicate the poses.

"Can you do that one?" I ask my daughter as I point to a model who has her foot behind her ear. My flexible little girl is much better than I at holding the pose. I blame my sciatica.

This is what I want my daughter to see -- real, healthy women taking on physical challenges. Granted, the models are slender, and that may be annoying to healthy women who are not as small. And I know the marketing people at Athleta make sure the sports bras and yoga pants look good on these women. They probably digitally enhance the photos just as much as the next company. But at least Athleta focuses on strength and confidence. Their message: what a woman can do is at least as important as how she looks.

I'll take it. Any catalog that promotes a woman's strength and accomplishment is welcome in my house.

Power to the She.

Yes, indeed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Another Pretty Face

I hate her. Granted, we haven't even been introduced. But she is beautiful, and I hate her for it.

We're at a business conference together. Her face is perfect. Large eyes, small nose, high cheek bones. I stare at her. What is it about beautiful people that makes us stare, even if we despise them?

Does she get this all the time? Who stares at her more? Men, with admiration and desire? Or women, with envy?

What's it like from her perspective? She walks in a room, and half the women (the insecure ones, like me) hate her before they even know her name.

How unfair.

It could be something biological. Humans are not merely animals, but sometimes our behavior is similar to the beasts'. Does some part of me, buried deep in my brain, see her as a competitor for a mate? Or, if I'm not quite that savage, as a competitor for the love of a man?

Is it simply that our culture tells me she is more valuable than I am?

Whatever it is, I must fight it. Because she's more than just a pretty face. She's a human being whom God calls me to love. Perhaps if I can see beyond her exterior and get to know her, God will help me love her. If she becomes a person in my mind and not merely a body, I can slay the envious beast that lives in me. The root of the problem is that I don't believe that I am enough. I believe the culture's lie instead of God's truth. God says both she and I have eternal value.

O Lord, help me stop hating her. Instead, help me to hate the lie. And love the truth.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Girly Warriors

A friend of mine was shopping for a gift for my daughter's birthday.
"She's so active," the friend remarked."Should I look for some kind of sports equipment? She's not into dolls or dress-up, is she?"

"Oh, she's active," I replied, "but she would like the dress-up things. She's a girly girl."

Dear Reader: if you ever hear me say that again, please give me the following lecture.

"Wendy. She's a girly girl? Meaning what? That it's more girlish to 'dress up' in ribbons and bows than to 'dress out' in athletic gear and kick a ball around? Do you mean a real girl plays with dolls and tutus, but a girl who prefers to do archery or build something is less than a girl? Why do you equate femininity with frills and not with field hockey? Whatever a girl likes to do is 'girly.'"

Guilty as charged.  Why do I have such a narrow view of femininity? By definition, whatever a girl's inclination, THAT is feminine.

Beauty can be frilly. But beauty is also competitive and strong. If you're a follower of Christ, you live on a battlefield, and you're a soldier. If you're like me, you need some practice associating femininity with the sword of the Word and the helmet of salvation, to borrow Paul's words from Ephesians.

When we fight for God's cause, we're not women acting like men. We're women acting like women. And we need every soldier in the fight.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


"What's the
 solution?" my friend asked. "How do we win the war against a culture that lies to women about their worth?"

Could we develop a strategy for victory on this beauty battlefield? Some women from the past would tell us, "Good luck with that. We've been fighting these battles for a few millennia. Nothing's going to change."

This battle is a part of the whole struggle between good and evil. That war will end only when a force more powerful than evil invades and conquers it. I have good reason to believe that Jesus is the invader. He has already won the war against evil via his death and resurrection. We are witnessing evil in its death throes. As we should expect, that's ugly. Both women and men suffer. But on the whole, the suffering of women is different. Seldom does a man suffer as the result of the systematic oppression of males. Women endure discrimination and brutality simply because they are female, especially in developing countries.

We witness the march of Evil. But are you paying attention to the march of Good? Especially in the West, women have more rights and a stronger voice than ever. Messages from the media are often destructive, but some are constructive. When was the last time you watched a movie climax where a helpless woman was waiting to be rescued by a man? Not in recent films. We are making progress.

What's the solution? Ultimately, the death of a Man on a cross. What's the strategy now? Keep fighting.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Me and My Alter Ego

A few posts back I said plastic surgery is okay,
 especially if it's to correct signs of aging. A
few readers claimed I was capitulating to a beauty- and youth-worshipping culture. My alter-ego and I have been hashing it out.

Me: Not all plastic surgery is bad. I would not deny corrective surgery to a child born with a facial deformity. And a woman has the right to reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy.

Alter Ego: But a face-lift is going too far, because wrinkles and sagging skin are a normal part of aging.

Me: The fact that something is normal does not mean we must accept it. Would you say, "Old sick people should not be treated because illness is a natural part of aging"?

Alter Ego:  Not the same, because sickness means a part of the body is not functioning properly, or it has been invaded by a virus or bacteria. Sickness involves suffering. Wrinkles don't cause suffering.

Me: Speak for yourself.

Alter Ego: You're vain.

Me: Yes, I am. But unwrinkled is how God intended for us to be. Won't God restore our youthful looks in heaven?

Alter Ego: Who knows?

Me: I still say having a face-lift is a personal decision.

Alter Ego: What about other body parts? Should small-breasted women who feel inferior get boob jobs? Isn't that caving to cultural pressure?

Me: Um . . .

Alter Ego: Well? I'm waiting.

Me: That's a personal decision, too. For example, I know a woman who is six feet tall and small-breasted. She says, "I've considered a boob job, but not because I hate my breasts. I think my body would look more balanced if I had a larger bust. It's no different from buying the type of clothing that looks good on your build. Granted, surgery is more trouble than buying a new dress."

Alter Ego: Hmm. I'll have to think about that. I still say you're a hypocrite.

Me: Most definitely. But I don't think the position I'm taking in this debate is hypocritical. And you can go away now. The conversation is over.

Alter Ego: But I have more to say.

Me: You always do. Save it. I'll need something to blog about next week.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


How do you stop believing a lie?
 You've been told all your life that you are too much or not  enough. You're too big, you're too small, you're not pretty enough. They're lies, and you know it. You know your value  rests in being a daughter of God and not in measuring up to  that standard.

Well, one side of your brain knows it.
The other side still believes the lies. In this life, we may never be 100% free of our feelings of inadequacy. We've been
brainwashed, and that's hard to reverse. We've been wounded. We have scars.

Back in 1969, when I was a toddler, I took a tumble and cut my face. The doctor put two stitches in my cheek, one inch under my left eye. In pictures from my childhood you can see a little H-shaped scar. I was proud of it. I told friends it was a brand because my last name was Herrmann. A few years ago I was planning to reunite with a childhood friend, and she asked if I still had the scar.

"I don't know, " I said. I hadn't thought about the scar in years. I looked in the mirror, and, sure enough, it was still there. But it had faded.

The same can be true of the emotional scars and attitudes we have about ourselves. On this side of heaven, we may never completely lose our insecurity. But we keep telling ourselves the truth.

And if you hear the truth enough, who knows? Maybe one day the feelings of inadequacy will fade. You'll believe the truth about how valuable you are. You'll peer into the mirror, and it will be hard to spot that scar.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

God on Hands and Knees

For Christmas my husband promised me an amethyst ring. I wanted to inspect the stone before it was set. As the jeweler grasped it with a pair of tweezers, it popped out. Neither of us saw where it landed. Soon three store employees and I were searching on our hands and knees. One man flipped on a flashlight, but he said, "Too bad it's not a diamond. It would catch the light, and we'd see it right away."

There are people like that. Beautiful people who catch the light. The girls who get the boys' attention in school. The women who turn men's heads. Maybe you're one of those women. Maybe you're not.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of a woman searching for a valuable silver coin. She lights a lamp and sweeps her home, eager to find it. It's a picture of God, down on hands and knees. God is looking for you and me, searching for people who are lost in a culture that denies our value because we don't measure up. Then God finds you -- there you are!-- and dances with joy. And, if I may take some liberties, in God's fingers we see not a coin, not a diamond, but an amethyst. The world says it's merely a semi-precious stone. But in God's eyes the tiny purple gem is beautiful and worth just as much as the rarest diamond.

An hour after I returned from the jewelry store, the phone rang. The jeweler had found the amethyst on the floor, hiding under an electrical cord. Soon my new amethyst will be set into a ring. Next time you see the color purple, think of yourself as that amethyst God was searching for. You wear purple -- the color of royalty. Of course you do. You're a daughter of the King.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Resolutions in Reverse

This year I resolve to:

1. Teach my daughter that her value is based on her looks.

2. Laugh about bachelor and bachelorette parties featuring strippers. It's all in good fun.

3. Always greet a little girl with, "Hey, pretty girl,"  so she'll know how important being pretty is.

4. Allow my children free rein on the Internet. At the ages of eight and fifteen, they're mature enough to sift through all the sexual messages and images.

5. Read my daughter stories in which beautiful people are good and not-so-beautiful people are evil so she will associate physical beauty with virtue.

6. Criticize my body within earshot of my daughter.

7. Disrespect my husband. He says I'm beautiful the way I am, but the culture says I don't measure up. And I respect the culture's opinion more than his.

I also resolve to feed my children poison, stab my husband in the back, and beat myself up regularly.

Here's to good health in 2014!