Weddings are most often big and beautiful declarations of love between a man and a woman. Sometimes they are flashy, sometimes quietly artistic, and usually highly emotional. Whatever the budget, weddings are a time for individuals and families to lay aside other important endeavors and invest what they can into the creation of a new family. They take a lot of energy and a lot of focus.
In the West, we commonly talk about a wedding being the primary time for a women to "express herself," carefully arranging even the smallest details to reflect her beliefs, tastes, whims. If she wants to feel like a princess, her wedding will involve sparkles and tiaras. If she is an environmentalist, she will work to make her wedding as green as possible. If she is a musician, great care will go into arranging the music. The list of things to express is as varied as women are. Every bride has been told, "It's your day." We've all had conversations with women who are greatly concerned with displaying the best things about herself through her wedding. The West looks at a wedding and expects an answer to the question, "Who are you?"
We need to pause here and consider how much pressure women are under by believing the idea that their weddings must demonstrate who they truly are. So much of the stress surrounding weddings is first and foremost stress concerning identity. Even the bride who declares, "I don't care about all of these silly details!" is often still trying to tell the world something about herself. She is still telling us what to think of her as much as any other bride.
If this is all true, and weddings have become the primary place for women to express the things they identify with, then I've come to realize that weddings really incredibly fragile and tender things. And the women behind them even more so. How can an event and the woman behind it bear not only the weight of a covenant and vow, but also the brunt of ultimate self-expression?
I first started to see this problem in myself when I got engaged and then married. Up until my engagement, I had exhibited many different attitudes towards weddings. As a little girl growing up, I idolized them and dreamed of the day I would act and feel like the fairy princesses I dreamed of being. In high school, I believed a wedding was an inevitable dream and would never have doubted my chances of wearing the white dress. By college I started to develop a more critical attitude. A hint of scorn started to show towards other women who openly obsessed about their future wedding day. Though a wedding still loomed large as my secret heart's desire, I thought it best to approach it circumspectly and realistically.
In the five years between finishing college and my own marriage, I mostly harbored bitterness towards weddings. Really what I harbored was bitterness towards other women's weddings. I hid this jealousy under a veneer of criticism concerning "wedding traditions" and "frivolous expectations." The amount of money, time, and energy given to weddings became ridiculous to my mind and only the closest and dearest of my friends escaped my all out exasperation with wedding season. I declared to myself that I would not be like every other bride if I ever found myself planning a wedding. I was going to be sensible, after all, and avoid throwing myself into the unnecessary craziness of obsessing about insignificant things. My three main goals were to never make wedding planning a bigger priority than all of my already established relationships and responsibilities; to never obsess over what I perceived to be the silly and superfluous "details"; and to make sure the wedding was a community event, not something isolated from the people involved in every aspect of my life.
But once the ring was on my finger, and real decisions had to be made concerning an actual wedding, it felt like something slowly and powerfully started to take over my mind. I cared about everything connected to the wedding and obsessed over every detail. But it wasn't an obsession that led to joy and delight in the coming day. It was an ensnaring obsession that more often than not led to insecurity and worry. I could not let go, because in my mind, the decisions being made weren't about an event, they were about me. For example, if I had never been a girlie girl, but chose pink bridesmaids dresses, what did that say about me? My girlfriends were all surprised with this color choice, as was I, so how could I not contemplate what these physical details told the world about the changes romantic love was creating within my personality?
As I broke everyone of my three "goals" concerning weddings, it felt like I was slowly loosing ground to a version of myself that I never wanted to exist. I felt guilty about putting so much time into the wedding, but I didn't know how to not think about it. I became more and more isolated over the period of engagement, one of the primary things I had promised myself would not happen. I wasn't being the person I wanted to be, but I didn't know how to be free of this thing that was so incredibly important.
I continued to muddle through this minefield my entire engagement, through the wedding day, and into the first months of marriage. Of course, I often found peace in knowing that in the light of eternity, the details of the wedding didn't matter. In the comfort and love of my fiancé, I knew that the vows we made were the most important part of the whole thing. And of course my wedding was one of the most wonderful and amazing experiences of my life, blessing my husband and I deeply as we committed our lives to each other before the Lord.
But I started to realize something was really wrong when I continued to obsess about my wedding after it had taken place! For days, then weeks, then months, I found myself going back over the details of the wedding. Had everything been as I wanted it to be? Maybe if I had just changed a few things here, a few things there, then it would really have been ideal. I fully acknowledge that some of these things can be chalked up to personality - it's rare, but sometimes I really can be a bit of an OCD psycho.
But who among you married women of my generation hasn't dealt with some of these feelings when you first get your wedding pictures back from the photographer? You scour them, desperately hoping that the photographer has captured the true atmosphere of the day, the one that you skillfully crafted and planned. You look to make sure that you are captured as you want to be, according the image that you picked for yourself on the most special of all your days. And if something, anything in the pictures didn't turn out how you hoped? You have to admit you feel like a key piece of the wedding, a key piece of your identity, has been lost.
So let's pause here. What am I trying to get at with all of this musing and soul sharing? Frankly, I believe modern weddings have become a quagmire of idolatry in our generation's drive to create their identities. Women are being trapped within their own drive for self-expression when it comes to their weddings. I spent a lot of my first year of marriage chewing the cud on this topic and here are the conclusions I came away with.
1) We need grace.
Your identity is not found in your wedding. Christ has made you free and given you a new identity! You do not need your wedding for anything - anything - to tell yourself or the world who you are. That is Jesus' job, let him do it. If you want an environmentally sound wedding, and styrofoam plates show up, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to lose ten pounds and instead gain twenty, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to create community by inviting everyone you know, and your parents will only pay for half of the guest list, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to walk down the aisle to Sufjan and your best friend insists on singing a duet, the blood of Jesus covers you. Create beauty and do good in your wedding, but remember that not a single thing on that day can stick to you like the sweet blood of Jesus. Claim it is as the strongest identity you have.
2) Think upon the wedding feast in heaven.
Because of your new identity, you know where all of this is headed - think upon it in the months leading up to and following your wedding. Whether your wedding turns out exactly as you dreamed up, is an unmitigated disaster, or just more normal than you're content to accept, it is only the faintest foreshadowing of the real wedding we expect to attend. Relish the good things about your wedding as a foretaste of heaven and mourn the disappointing things about your wedding as the remnants of a fallen world, but in both, keep your eyes on heaven. With the whisper of heaven in your ear, the work of a wedding will become sweeter and the disappointments less tragic.
It took me months before I could think about my wedding without worrying over everything that went wrong and what people would think about it. But I learned that with your identity soaked in the blood of Jesus and your mind caught up in the winds of heaven, the anxieties and frustrations of "your day" can blow away like the chaff of yesterday. There are many things I still wish had ended up different, or better, about my wedding. But when I think back on it, I delight in the beauty that was created not because of what it said about me, but because "...Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know if part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." The feast of Christ is coming and I could see its approach on my wedding day.
Well, I'm thirty years old and I have finally succumbed to a love for Taylor Swift. I've tried desperately to avoid such an admission for years, but alas, I can dodge it no longer. I'm a Swifty.
The long descent started two years ago. I was visiting Pittsburgh and Ruthie had just purchased Red. She insisted on blasting its best tracks and singing along with my youngest brother Josh. I threw out repeated snide remarks, but my sister was insistent - Taylor Swift was good and if I didn't agree, the problem was with me and my inability to enjoy the simple things in life.
I don't quite remember why or how, but at some point over the next year, I cautiosly opened Red on Spotify. I think one of its tracks had been stuck in my head and as is my common strategy in my life, I tried to confront the despised music head on. I was set on finding all of Taylor's musical flaws. I had been deriding her Hollywood persona for years, so now it was time to really take a listen to how bad her music must be.
I listened to it and while she really can't sing, and it was sappy in many places, and it was definitely much more girly than I considered worthy of my attention, I found myself humming the songs over and over again. Slowly I kept reopening Red for a listen. I never went older than Red. Those glittering ball gowns were just too much. But eventually, more quickly than I liked to admit, Red became a solid fixture in my music stream. It didn't take long for me to choose my favorite tracks and learn them by heart. My husband was shocked to come home and frequently find me singing along while cooking dinner.
For a long time after that, I considered Taylor Swift my secret love Mr. Darcy style. Whenever she came up in conversation I still rolled my eyes and laughed. What a joke. Even though I loved her music, I still couldn't get past her personality in the media. When I was bored, I found myself watching her music videos, clips of performances, and interviews. It was so painful. I just couldn't reconcile the awkward, annoying, studied personality on the screen with the warm and delightful music she created. I kept thinking I would find that one video or clip in which I would think, ah, I do love Taylor, but it never came. I was a schizophrenic fan. Listening to her music, I thought she was the best thing ever, but as soon as anything involving the woman herself appeared, I want to cringe and hide my face.
Around this same time, Jennifer Lawrence bursted into our awareness and everyone commenced on a frenzied obsession with the woman. Everyone wanted Jlaw as their BFF and that included my sister and I. We loved the Hunger Games, we loved Jlaw's falls on the red carpet, we loved her interviews, we loved just about everything this new wonder-woman did. She was just so... fun.
In the midst of all this buzz, I happened across a red carpet interview of Taylor Swift. (Don't ask me how or why I follow all of this stuff so closely. It's terrible.) I say it was a Taylor Swift interview, but really that's what it was supposed to be. What it turned into was a Jennifer Lawrence interview. Basically what happens is that Taylor Swift is being total Miss Tay Tay - big beautiful dress, over the top speeches about the most ridiculous things, super poised, breathtakingly beautiful, in short, everything Taylor Swift ever is. And all of the sudden Jennifer Lawrence sneaks up behind her, surprises her, and then proceeds to take over the interview, outshining and making fun of Taylor in every way possible without Taylor even really knowing what was going on. Typical Jlaw. Typical Tay Tay.
The first time I watched it, I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. In my mind, Taylor Swift had got her up and comings. It proved that she can't be the center of attention all of the time, that there are better and smarter women in the glitterati. I hadn't been able to find a video in which I actually liked Taylor, so at least I found one that made a total fool of her.
And then somehow, on the third or fourth viewing, I realized something. I realized in the grand scheme of things, I really actually identified with Taylor Swift far more than Jennifer Lawrence. I've never been that cool girl, a la Jlaw style. I've never been the girl who can effortlessly be the center of attention, radiating beauty and confidence while everyone looks on and blesses me with laughter. If anything, I'm a whole lot more like Taylor Swift, needing to study and premeditate how to act and what to do when eyes are upon me. If I were in their shoes, I would totally be the Taylor Swift, having to try very hard to be poised and delightful for all of America. I'd probably even be prone to live in an illusionary daydream the way she does.
And that's when I started to realize that despite all of her true ridiculousness, make-believedness, and glitz, Taylor Swift is one of my favorite women in show business. She is studied. She is awkward. She is fru-fru. And yet who can blame her? She has a phenomenal product to sell - her music - and she is smart enough to do what needs to be done to sell it.
And that gets back to her music, the first true crack in my dam of resistance to all things Swifty. All of this soul searching I've done about Taylor Swift herself is pretty superficial, but the peace I've made with her music is anything but. And this is where things get personal and very subjective. The primary gift Taylor Swift's music has given me is the ability to take myself less seriously. Just as much as Taylor herself has to take herself all too seriously in order to survive show business, her music blesses me with the reverse. It's just so girly. That was the primary thing I hated about it for so long. When music is a badge we wear to signify to others who we are, Taylor Swift didn't really seem like a great choice.
I first realized that my music choices could make people think well of me when I was in high school. I started listening to a lot of stuff, exploring different genres, and cultivating the musical image I wanted. My music somehow represented me and I wanted to people to think highly of my taste. I wanted to believe I listened to the things I chose solely because I liked them, but really the careful cultivation of an idea of my own serious taste was never far behind. None of it was girly. Of course there were quite a lot of female artists in the mix. But they were serious artists, people who communicated my own seriousness.
The older I've grown, the more I've realized just how little I have indulged my girly side. Somewhere along the way, girly things became associated with weak things, with "unserious" things. And since I wanted to be great, those weak and unserious and girly things had to be done away with. The music that replaced them were either serious or sexualized versions of femininity. Taylor Swift realigns those categories altogether. Somehow she is girly, but she is by no means weak. Her music is full of sentimentality and wishful thinking, but I'm no longer convinced those contradict the serious things in life. The older I grow, the more I embrace the girlish bumble gum daydreams of life. As a woman, I find increasing relief in these things compared to the other images presented me. In a world where women are increasingly represented by either pantsuits or Beyonce, I prefer the image of woman who tries just a little too hard to create beautiful things in order to celebrate girliness.
I cut my hair short last week. It's not too short - I can still put it up in a ponytail. But a bun is definitely out of the question, and probably also a braid. For those of you who keep abreast of hair fashions, I went for the long bob a la Emma Stone, Olivia Palermo, and dare I say, Taylor Swift. (And no, I did not intentionally copy her as my dear sister had the audacity to suggest.)
I've been thinking about cutting it this way for quite a while, probably about a year. But I am not very adventurous with my hair and it's taken quite a lot of back and forth in my brain to make this move. Considering it's not even that short, you think it wouldn't be that difficult. But as amply noted by the hairdresser, I had very long hair and this was a really big change.
I have a really difficult relationship with my hair. Since I was thirteen years old, I've been going back and forth between long and short cuts. I was in my early teens the first time I cut it short. I got what I thought was the absolute coolest haircut - a short bob that I had to learn to blow dry with a round brush for the very first time. Additionally, the cut had awesome 90s barrel bangs. I was so proud. But eventually, I realized that a certain piece in the back always stuck out and I couldn't get it to curl under like the rest of the look. So I commenced an effort to grow out my hair back out. What had started as my first departure from little girl locks and foray into grownup fashion had ended with frustration and introduced the first feelings of insecurity about my hair.
By the end of high school, I had the typical really long, really pretty teenage girl hair. It was healthy and shiny, and flowed down my back. My sister dubbed it "The River" and I was incredibly proud of it. When I briefly relapsed my freshman year of college and cut it short, I immediately and bitterly regretted it. The only funny surprise to come out of it was discovering that puberty had given my hair more natural wave when short than I remembered it having the first time. No wonder it held curl so well! Throughout college I continued to work on growing it out again and maintained some sort of long length throughout my twenties.
Growing up is a hard thing to do. Becoming an adult is a rough and gritty process. And I believe this is especially true for women. You see, I wanted so desperately to be beautiful. Puberty causes young girls to become frightened of so many things about their bodies. Things start to happen that make them feel powerless and out of control. Things change and they have no say about it whatsoever. Feeling beautiful somehow seems like a significant affirmation that everything will be ok. Maybe you have to start dealing with weird and distressing hygiene issues. Maybe no one will know what to do about your breasts or your weight gain. But at least you can be pretty. You can still be precious.
I wanted to be pretty, but I didn't feel like anything about me was particularly beautiful. I would frequently ask my girlfriends if I was pretty and bemoan with them what I felt sure to be my plain and average features. Then one day, a girlfriend told me that though she didn't think I was the most beautiful girl ever, she did think my hair was really pretty. It's amazing how the smallest and silliest comments will stick with you for the rest of your life.
From that point on, my hair has been an extremely important thing to me. That doesn't mean I've always been obsessed with it or put lots of time into it. But it does mean that my hair has had a lot of power over the way I view myself. I feel good about my hair, it's a good day. I feel crappy about my hair, it's a crappy day. I think all women have something like my hair. Maybe it's their hair too, or maybe it's some other physical feature, but whatever it is, it's their safety net for feeling pretty. And most likely it's something that they were complemented on during their most insecure time in life so that now it's like a pacifier. "Well, I may not be a size 2, but at least I have a really awesome nose." "Ugh, I always hate my skin, but man, I have good boobs." "I don't like the shape of my eyes, but I know I have really great cheekbones." All women have something they feel they can hold on to in their darkest moments of physical self-loathing. Mine was my hair.
But what happens when even that feature lets you down? I turned thirty years old this summer and a lot of things are changing about my body. I'm ten pounds heavier than I've ever been and I'm finding it absolutely impossible to take the weight off. I'm starting to crease around the edges of my eyes and my neck is getting flabby. And most heartbreaking of all, my hair is just not what it used to be. It's thinner and wirier than ever before. The natural wave is doing weird things. I swear my hairline has receded some. All of this may be my imagination running wild. Or it may not. The point is that my hair, the one thing I've felt to be beautiful about me, is failing to give me that affirmation I'm always looking for.
And so I cut it off. And man, I can tell you that it was one of the most freeing moments of my life. Do I think this is the best haircut I've ever had? No. Do I think I actually look better this way? No. Will I grow my hair longer again? Probably. But I desperately needed to be free of the shackle I had forged for myself. I needed to stop trying to grow my hair longer and longer, chasing the years of youth that are far behind me. I needed to stop obsessing about every reason my hair might not be as great as it once was. I needed to stop feeling insignificant on bad hair days. I need my hair to not be a big deal.
After all, beauty is the eye of the Beholder and he tells me to live in freedom.
Ok. Let's establish one very important thing first. I do not approve of the see-through dress trend. Please hear this loud and clear before I make my next statement.
I completely appreciate the above photos of Jennifer Lawrence. And I'm so so thankful to her for wearing this dress.
Because the actress is showing that she actually has a woman's body rather than the tiny, hardened, adolescent ones we've had been shown for decades.
This is not denying that Lawrence is one incredibly beautiful and attractive woman. I don't look at her and think, "Oh yeah, I could be JLaw's twin in beauty and sex appeal." God obviously gave her things he didn't give me. BUT I can look at her and see someone that looks human, someone whose tummy pooch, round thighs, and butt cleavage are all recognizable. They may be the best looking tummy, thighs, and butt I've seen, but they are still there and that dramatically changes the way I think about myself.
Lawrence publicly refuses to diet or work out to attain a certain body type and she frequently talks about the need for more real women's figures in Hollywood. I can't think of anyone better than her to promote this message. She is healthy and balanced in a completely gorgeous way!
To be completely candid, looking at these pictures almost wants to make me cry as relief washes over me. I could be completely healthy and trim and would still never be able to relate to the images of beauty surrounding me. I just wouldn't. But when I look at Lawrence, I see a reality that isn't completely foreign to me - a reality that celebrates the truly beautiful without attacking God's creation, a reality that cares about the body without altering it.
Most importantly, appreciating Lawrence's beauty might actually help me believe those near to me when they tell me I look beautiful. When my husband compliments me, maybe my first reaction will be less "thanks-but-I-need-to-loose-10lbs" and more "Why thank you for thinking I'm beautiful!" I'll still try to eat only 5 pieces of chocolate instead of 10 and will try to convince myself to go for a run. But because in my mind there is an image of a woman who has a gorgeous figure and a bit of flab along with the thousands of other images of women whose thighs are infinitely smaller than mine and whose busts are infinitely larger, I can feel a little more freedom.
Women cannot healthily admire beauty if our ideals aren't grounded in reality. While I won't be putting on any see-through dresses any time in the near future (or EVER!), I will take a moment to enjoy what a beautiful woman's body actually looks like and appreciate the young woman who has enough spunk to wear a see-through dress for all of us to see what reality really is.
"Where did this beauty-intelligence false dichotomy come from? ...The women I met at the conference last month shattered these kinds of paradigms—and my own ugly prejudice against beautiful women. They were articulate, curious about the world, deeply kingdom-oriented, and passionate about much more than hair and facial products. Physical beauty for them seemed important, but clearly (and rightly) not as important as global and eternal questions and concerns. They gave me a new model for what it means to lead as a woman—not as a woman trying to hide their femininity, like so many women in leadership, especially in male-oriented workplaces, feel they must do."
If you have ever judged a woman for being too beautiful, automatically chalking her up to superficiality and shallowness, read Katelyn Beaty's recent little confession on Her.menutics. Like her, I am often guilty of this false dichotomy and find myself repenting of such an attitude. Her thoughts were convicting and refreshing, reminding me of the many amazing women I have struggled to appreciate for completely illegitimate reasons, but by the grace of God have learned to love and admire.