The Church Made Me Ugly

We’re back with the provocative titles…

If you don’t know by now, I am a follower of Jesus. I don’t identify with any particular denomination, I just believe in the God of the Bible.

In the Bible, it says that He has made us fearfully and wonderfully so you may be confused about my title. Well, there’s a difference between God and the church, you see. Sometimes there is a discrepancy between what God says and what we, His representatives, do. The Church is made up of people and people are human which means we are flawed and we do make mistakes.

Growing up, I attended a church with a large West-African population. I was part of an ushering team at church with strict uniform rules. The girls were not allowed to wear anything that showed our bra straps while on duty so that we didn’t, and I quote, “tempt our brothers to sin.” And when we were not ushering, there was an aunty on shawl duty; she brought hundreds of shawls to church just in case our clavicles were on show or, God forbid, our ankles. She was ready to cover our ‘sin‘ with a satin scarf and rescue the boys from the fiery furnace of lust.

Now I’m all for modesty but even then I thought that this was ridiculous.

Instead of encouraging the girls to cover themselves, what happened to teaching the boys how to deal with their wandering eyes? Or better still, why not teach us all how to respect God by respecting ourselves? The focus should never be on pleasing other humans but should always point upwards. Always.

It’s only now that I’m older and have attended many different churches that I realise our Christianity is infused with our culture.

For example, in many African cultures, we dress all the way up to go to church. “Sunday Best” means a lot to us. It is usually justified as ‘giving our best to God’ but really, I haven’t found anything in the Bible to support us having to dress to the nines to attend church. It’s purely cultural. I have no problems with people wanting to do this, but the distinction must be made between ‘preference’ and ‘gospel’.

‘Serving the men’ is a typical practise I’ve come across in every African culture I’ve been exposed to. But this is a preference from a collectivist and patriarchal culture. It is not a Biblical principle. Serving everyone is Biblical.

woman-serving-man.jpg

Image by mindthefunboxgap – WordPress.com

Nonetheless, this very African message started to affect every area of my life. Looking back, my decisions were shaped by ensuring that I wasn’t compliant in causing other people to stumble in their faith. I tried to be a good, little Christian girl, meek and mild, in the background, not drawing any attention to myself.

I barely wore makeup because I didn’t want to look as though I was trying too hard. I invested in baggy tops to hide my shape. I even remember shopping in the men’s section to find jeans that would hide my Ghanaian booty (if you know, you know). In my first year of university, I had this horrendous weave which, to many, may have seemed as though I was purposely trying to make myself look unattractive. I wasn’t. I was just too out of touch with looking after myself to even care.

The truth is I was hiding. I thought that if I focused on my beauty, I would become egotistical and empty. So, what did I do? The total opposite. My focus wasn’t on God at all. Deep down, I didn’t want people to think I thought I was ‘too pretty’ or ‘attention seeking.’ So in me trying not to be attention seeking, I was still seeking the approval of others. What a contradiction!

Speaking of ‘very African’ messages, isn’t it funny how in African Christian homes, the advice given to young girls is birthed from a fear of us becoming pregnant? We are told to abstain from any form of romantic or sexual relationships so we will not cause our parents shame before the ‘village.’ However, once we are done with education, the advice quickly shifts to ‘Finding A Spouse 101.’

Has it ever dawned on them that we may be ill-equipped at finding a spouse because a lot of us have spent our young adulthood trying to ward them off? We can’t magically transform from Jane Doe to Beyoncé as soon as we’ve made our way across the esteemed graduation stage. I mean, who exactly were we supposed to learn from? The fact is, because of faulty, culture-infused information, many of us Christian girls become unattractive women with low self-esteem who are overlooked by men. And that is totally unacceptable. Something clearly needs to change.

Luckily for me, I have an older sister to keep me in check. I remember a pivotal moment for me was when we went to Ghana for our Grandma’s funeral in 2010. We were reflecting on life, as we do when we haven’t seen each other for a while. We were conversing about being in our 20s, supposedly the prime of our lives, and discussing all that we were planning to achieve. As she sat on the bed opposite me, she asked me if I thought I was pretty… I told her I thought I was alright and she absolutely flipped out.

She told me that I didn’t need to dull myself down in order for other people to be able to feel better about themselves. She told me God’s message of serving everyone applied to me as well. She told me that not taking care of myself and not embracing what God had given me was actually a spit in the face of my Maker. She told me if being pretty intimidates others, the problem is with them and not with me. She told me there’s a way to avoid becoming prideful and conceited: it’s called being humble.

humble and wise

Image from extramadness.com

The rest of the conversation was a blur but one thing I remember for sure was coming away from it knowing that something had to change.

It was also important that I reflected on some of the beliefs that I personally held to be true. Some of the values I held came from church; some of them came from friends who spoke with words born out of their own insecurities. So why on earth was I still holding onto this? And what did the Bible have to say about it?

Ultimately, I had to convince myself that there was nothing wrong with being beautiful.

Taking care of myself and buying things that make me look and feel fantastic is not ungodly. And most importantly, these things do not disqualify me from trying to be a good person on the inside. I can do both…

Fast forward to the present day, I’ve made some major strides but I’d be lying if I said some of these things still don’t affect me now. It’s taken me a lot to get to a stage where I can wear makeup to enhance my features, or wear tight-fitting clothes which accentuate my figure and actually feel okay about it. I’m still out here tackling how to be a ‘sexy, married Christian woman.’ Sounds like an oxymoron (so if you know any or if you want me to do a post on this, please comment below!).

Everybody is blessed with something. God has given us all different talents and He wants us to use them. Fully. We shouldn’t shy away from them because of what other people think? Haters gon’ hate anyway.

That’s why it’s so important to go to the source. We can be so easily influenced by environmental factors that we may not even be aware of. It has taken me a while (waaaaay too long, in fact) to realise that God has made me beautiful unapologetically, contrary to some of the doctrines I have learned, and it’s high time I stopped trying to hide it.

butterfly-blue-insect-blue-morphofalter-66268.jpeg

Things to take away:

  • We need to be careful about what we say to young people, especially the girls. I’d hate to think that my future daughter would be afraid of embracing her God-given talents and beauty or that she has to live her life in order to please everyone else but God, especially when the reverse is actually true.
  • Kingdom culture needs to come before our Earthly culture otherwise we’re going to find ourselves in a mess.
  • Reflect and give yourself a chance to acknowledge and grow from mistakes we all make as Christians.
Advertisements

10 thoughts on “The Church Made Me Ugly

  1. Another wonderfully written piece. Well done. It’s clear that you write with authenticity and humour. Keep it up.

    Like

  2. Hats off to you for such an honest account of a lot of girls experiences growing up in church.
    Great read and a great reflection of how God actually wants us to see ourselves as females! Keep up the great writes. X

    Like

  3. The pressure of society norms and misinterpretation of religious beliefs does impact the overall development of a girl child, i enjoyed reading your write up, and the everyday girl child struggle. Nice One!

    Like

  4. I love this. I think it’s a hard balance to strike – doing things for God and doing things to not cause your ‘brother’ to stumble. I’ve still not quite worked out how to tell the two apart if I’m honest…

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.