A woman should be kind, quiet, and subdued. Dainty yet fit. Sexy yet modest. Helpful yet humble.

A woman should not be stronger than a man, smarter than a man, or more successful than a man.

This is what society has ingrained into us. Even if we’re making strides to break free from these expectations, women are still looked down on or judged if they dare to break out of the mold.

These restricting expectations have had a hold on me for years. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been physically strong. I outraced the boys at recess, went undefeated in arm-wrestling until I was 20, and benched more weight than the boys’ basketball team (well, that was 9th grade).

I used to appreciate the fact that I was strong… until I started getting negative reactions. “Dani, that’s not going to attract the boys.”

Hmmm… I never realized that being strong could decrease my chances of marriage. Although, I did notice that boys seemed rather intimidated by me. At the time, I just thought there was something wrong with me.

I don’t know exactly when things changed for me, but these expectations began affecting me. I never lifted weights over three pounds for fear of “bulking up”. After all, that’s not very feminine.

It wasn’t until just recently that I began questioning this idea of femininity. Strong is unfeminine? Says who?

As I have been hitting the gym and getting back into shape, I find myself really enjoying building muscle. It actually feels like a form of warfare against the shame that’s been holding me back. And I’m not afraid of “bulking up”. I’m thankful for my strong body.

When I’m strong, I can keep up with the kids and do things that I love–like hiking, biking, and playing volleyball–without getting winded or fearing injury.

For the first time in a long time, I’m embracing my body and the way God created it to be. Some women are naturally dainty, but that’s not me and I’m OK with that. In fact, I’m really happy with my body.

So, why are women being shamed with messages about what is and isn’t beautiful and feminine? We’re being shoved into this unrealistic–actually, quite impossible–standard of what it means to be a woman.

I was told that a man wouldn’t love me for who I was. I became afraid of the idea that I was unlovable and unacceptable. I hid who God created me to be because I thought there was something wrong with me.

That’s what many women do. We’re afraid of not being loved or accepted, so we force ourselves into this straight jacket of “beauty” (what society deems beautiful).

We wax, we trim, we dye, we pluck, we squeeze, we diet, we sweat, we mani/pedi, we shop, we lift, we tuck, and we spend a fortune on all of this. In fact, a recent survey shows that the average American woman spends $8 a day just on her face. That averages to $300,000 within her lifetime! This doesn’t even include clothing, surgery, diet pills, spa treatments, etc. And then there’s all the time involved and the anxiety created to maintain this lifestyle.

Now, some women probably enjoy these things and that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I love getting pedicures, but I’m not going to anxiously travel across town to my favorite nail salon because I’m embarrassed of my peeling polish.

I used to be that way about wearing makeup. I couldn’t step out of the house without at least a bit of mascara. Sometimes I enjoyed putting on makeup and looking nice, but other times I resented it as if I were being forced. In reality, it was my shame and insecurity controlling me. Now I’m comfortable with or without it, but I first had to get to the place of accepting myself as I was.

Women, we need to start loving and accepting the way God made us. God loves us just the way we are. He created our bodies with unique design. We are His work of art. We ought to treat our bodies as such. Don’t allow society or your own fears to decide what’s beautiful for you.

Let’s toss aside society’s restrictive definitions of femininity. I AM FEMALE, so the true definition of femininity is being the best version of myself!

Psalm 139:14

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

For more on combatting shame, read “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown.

For more on perfectionism and living whole-heartedly, read “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown.

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