Tag Archives: Women

Ugly is a Matter of Perspective

The downside to 11-year-old slumber parties is clear – a very big mess, very little sleep and the very real danger of permanent hearing damage. If you have not experienced the extraordinary pitch and volume of excited pre-teen babble… well then, I’m happy for you.

On the upside, it’s a fascinating peek into the mind of children-becoming-women. I mostly hung out in the background at my daughter’s first sleepover party, as per her strict instructions. And if I happened to lurk in the hallway listening from time to time, who’s to know? After all, it is my house.

It’s a lot like I remember. A lot more OMG and iPod usage than I’d like, but the silliness and the shrieking and the inhuman levels of energy ring a bell. The enthusiasm of childhood intersecting with the concerns of growing up.

The birthday girl wanted a “fancy dinner,” so she and all her guests dressed up, then big sister played waitress and Mom played chef and somehow everyone got fed. There were candles and flowers and the good china and the good white tablecloth. It’s possible that more food ended up in the “wine” glasses than in their stomachs, but they weren’t complaining.

After cheesy party games, presents, a movie, pranking poor big sister and several hours of whispering (until Mean Mom made an appearance at 2:30 am), they managed to get a few hours of REM in.

Enough, apparently, that the next morning they found a few minutes to wax philosophical. They even asked me to weigh in on the conversation. I think the question had originally been asked in jest, but the discussion seemed pretty serious for pajama clad partiers.

If you had to choose,
one or the other for the rest of your life,
would you rather be pretty or smart?

On the surface, it’s a simple conversation starter. Like, what kind of superpower would you choose? Or where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world? Fluffy and unimportant. But in this day and age, for a group of young women just discovering who they are, it’s a serious question.

What’s most important to you? Who do you want to be? Why?

Of course, this is a rhetorical argument – we don’t have to choose, though it may seem like it sometimes (but that’s a blog for another day). And on some level, our physical appearance and natural intelligence is not within our control. We are who we are. Accepting that is the first step to contentment. Still, we can nurture and enhance both our mind and our look. With limited resources, we tend to focus more on one or the other.

Our priorities and values, especially as women, can be largely determined by our devotion to either appearance or substance. It affects how we see ourselves and others. It affects our goals and our dreams and our sense of purpose. It affects how we spend our time and our money and our lives.

I gave the girls the “Mom Answer” they expected. Of course, I’d rather be smart. That’s what I was supposed to say.

Afterwards I wondered… is it really true? I mean, I definitely want to be pretty. I’d love to have movie-star good looks and wear size 2 and fend off drooling hoards of admirers. Who wouldn’t?

But would I trade the power of my mind, the things I know and have experienced, my connection with God, my common sense, and my hard-won slivers of wisdom for that? Even just a little bit?

Never. Not for all the pretty in the world. I wouldn’t lessen myself that way.

Yet, women do that all the time. We live in a world that tells girls, in thousands of different ways, that their value lies in how they look and what they weigh and how well they can attract a man. Sometimes we even slap a “feminist” label on it and call that power. But real power isn’t being noticed or shaking your ass – real power is being confident, unique and strong in a way that is MORE than skin deep. The world doesn’t need more pretty women, it needs more smart ones.

Without time to prepare, I didn’t offer the eloquent, inspiring comments I would’ve liked. I said something about looks being temporary. That I need intelligence to understand and enjoy the world. That I want to do something good and important and make the world a better place, not just decorate it.

One little girl looked at me, then said, quite sadly,

“But then you’d be ugly.”

There was a pause then, before other conversations intruded and crepes wanted flipping and sleeping bags needed folding and the party carried on.

I carried that sad comment with me all day. And I wondered about the nature of ugly, about the world we live in and the world we’re making.

If a girl chooses smart. If she chooses substance. Could that, ever, be ugly?

So here’s my answer girls: don’t pick pretty. Pick smart. Even better, pick kind or brave or outstanding. Because there’s nothing uglier than a pretty face with nothing behind it.

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Would You Like Cheese With That?

Yes. Yes I would.

cheeseI’ve always been cheesy kind of gal. And I’m not just talking about hamburgers and pizza.

I savour the warm, gooey embrace of a predictable chick flick, a sappy romance novel and an estrogen-fueled women’s gathering. I’m a fan of baby showers, wedding parties and craft circles. My favourite, however, is a time-honoured church tradition: The Ladies Retreat. With youth group and summer camp in my rear view mirror, this is where I go for a regular dose of silly fun.

A lot has been written online about this phenomenon, and women’s ministry in general, over the past few years. One of the bloggers I love most wrote a piece this past weekend, while I just HAPPENED to be at our church’s bi-annual Ladies Retreat. Her account was funny, honest and mostly positive, in a surprised and begrudging way. Many I’ve read are not nearly so gracious.

I get it. I do. They’ve had bad experiences. I have too. There are judgmental cows. There are sugary sweet phonies. There are women who live to make everyone miserable in the name of God.

As someone who used to organize these events, I have heard every complaint in the book. It’s impossible to please everyone… The die-hard athletes and the girlie crafters. The all-night-gigglers and the crack-of-dawn-whistlers. The girls-who-just-wanna-have-fun and the women-with-deep-thoughts-to-share. The single-and-loving-it-professionals and the babies-are-my-life-wives. Then there’s the food and the location, the uncomfortable beds and finding a speaker who is just the right mix of fun and profound.

There’s a lot that can go wrong. It’s not for everyone. My husband would rather cut off his own thumbs than attend a men’s retreat. It ranks right up there with third degree burns and eating peanut butter for him. Knowing him as I do, this is the right call. Ladies Retreat might not be for you.

But it is for me.

Every time I read the mocking posts or hear the complaints I shrink a little inside. Suddenly I’m back in Jr High and the cool kids are snickering at me. They’re too grown up to play. I wonder if it is childish and wrong.

I wonder if I am.

I’m that dork in the front row, with tears streaming down my face as the speaker shares an emotional anecdote. I’m the belly laugh during the “share an embarrassing story” activity. I’m front of the line for silly games. I’m the introvert who is comforted by schedules and ice-breaker games and name tags. I’m the lady rushing around doing Very Important Work, so I don’t have to mingle so much, but still be part of the group all the same. I’m the one taking a nap and solitary walks during free time, because this is such a luxury. I hear God in the nature and the songs and the words of the women around me.

It’s not perfect and I barely sleep and I always have a few awkward, this-isn’t-working-for-me moments. But I push through, because there’s more good stuff than bad.

I LOVE Ladies Retreat!

So to all those people rolling their eyes and folding their arms: We get it. You’re too cynical and insecure cool for this stuff. That’s your perogative.

With a critical streak a mile wide myself, not to mention a cynical husband, it’s something I understand. There may even be some truth in it. You don’t have to come to the parade, but please, try not to rain on the rest of us.

When I look at the women I admire most, they aren’t the ones on the sidelines. Last weekend I sat beside 80-something year old Gladys. She was gearing up for the Sun Run race the next day. “I take a lot of rests, mind you, dear.” She wore a grass skirt to the tropical dinner and was front and centre, neon pool noodle in hand, for the ball relay. She knows how to laugh at herself and she’s game for anything. I want to be like her when I grow up.

I’m not in Jr. High anymore. I’m learning to embrace my enthusiastically dorky side. It’s not for everyone. But I’m glad I’m me.

I’ll take EXTRA cheese, please!

So here’s me, after a totally awesome Ladies Retreat. Carolyn Arends (one of my FAVOURITE authors) was our funny and insightful speaker – and she remembered me!!! – but I was totally cool about it (sort of). It feeds my soul – the beautiful decorations, the goofy games, the Indian Head Massage (developing a slight girl-crush on Lisa), the worship time, the hanging out with friends, the path by a waterfall, and most of all, no one needing anything from me for a day and a half!

NOTE: My friend Jessica attended this retreat with me. It’s not really her thing, but she’s a good sport like that. She has plenty of good reasons to stay on the sidelines, but she doesn’t, and I respect that a lot. Her post Be Kind to the Cynics is the slap upside the head I needed, a reminder to be more patient and understanding. It had me doing some soul searching today. Not always comfortable and rarely fun, but definitely good for the soul.

I thought about ignoring it. I thought about deleting this post or parts of it. I thought about rewriting. I  thought about chocolate (cause that always helps). In the end, I decided to add this link and hope you will read it too!

cynics


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