Just Right

Have you ever seen that Dove commercial where they ask women to describe themselves so that an artist can draw pictures of them? If you haven’t, let me give you the quick synopsis.

The women sit down with an artist who can’t see them and begin to describe themselves. As they do, this artist draws these women based solely on the way they talk about themselves. Then, he asks them to describe another woman in the room. And again, he draws that person based on the way the woman describes her. At the end, he places both sketches of each woman—the one he drew off her own description and the one he drew off of someone else’s description—side by side. And the contrast is shockingly noticeable. The portraits of the women drawn based off of someone else’s descriptions are nearly spot on. But the ones drawn based on the way the women described themselves? They’re sad, dark, and almost hollow looking—nothing like these women in real life. 

I love this commercial not because I love Dove products (though I do), but because it’s a creative, powerful way to show what it’s like to be a girl in this world. Because no matter how hard we try, there’s something about being a girl that leaves us unable to be comfortable in our own skin. We can’t see ourselves the way we really are, and even if we do, we have a hard time accepting and embracing that person. 

I don’t know if this is a uniquely female issue. I tend to think it is, but I’m a female so I may be a biased sample size for this little survey. But because I’m a woman, I can only speak to what I’ve learned in the last 34 years of life. And that is this: It’s hard being a girl, ya’ll. 

Like me, most women are wading their way through a constant internal struggle over who they how and how they were created. They’re battling between some version of being too much or not enough. Almost every girl I know at almost every age is constantly feeling the tug between these two extremes. For women, there seems to be no middle ground of confident, self-acceptance. Instead, you can only be one: too much or not enough.  

I know a lot of women who fall into the struggle of feeling not enough in a number of ways. They struggle with being not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not successful enough… just generally, not enough. I know that struggle is real because I’ve watched so many women I love (and who are most definitely more than enough I my opinion) fight it.  

I, however, have spent far too many hours on the couch of my counselor, crying in my car, and silently struggling with the other side of this coin—the too much. 

Too tall, too loud, too opinionated, too curvy, too outspoken, too strong, too emotional.

Too much. 

My life has been a constant struggle to tone down some part of myself in some way. Why? Because no one likes a woman who is too much. 

That’s the message the world sends women like me over and over and over again. If we don’t fit the perfect female mold—if we’re too much or not enough in some way—then people just won’t like us. And because we all want to be liked (or at least think we do), we do whatever we can to change whatever it is about ourselves that the world tells us needs to change. We do what we have to do so we won't be too much or not enough anymore. Instead, we’ll be “just right.” 

For me, one of the places in my life where my “too much” has always seemed to be waaaayyyy too much is the church. In the Christian circles of my life—the ones that are supposed to be about loving, accepting, and encouraging me to be the woman God made me to be—my "too much" is most definitely too much. 

That message of being too much has been the banner over my life as a female in the world of ministry for many years. I’ve gone to church since I was in high school, went to a Bible college, interned at a Christian organization, volunteered in ministry for years, and even worked in several faith-based organizations, and for some reason, it’s always been in those places where I’ve felt like way too much as a woman. 

For the most part, none of this has been deliberate on the part of people around me. In fact, very few people in those settings ever outright told me that something about me was “too much.” But the subtle, unspoken messages in those circles is just that. If you aren’t that Proverbs 31 woman (and ya’ll, is anybody really that woman?), then you simply aren’t fitting the mold. You aren’t the right kind of woman.

Strong women are having a moment in our culture right now. They’re loud and proud, owning their voices and who they are. And the best part? The world is embracing them wholeheartedly as the women they are right now—the messy, complicated, funny, smart, strong-willed, independent women they are. These women aren’t always likeable (because nobody is likeable 100% of the time), but they are always relatable. They are always real. And believe it or not, the world actually likes that realness. 

The church? Well, we’re taking a little longer to get there. We’re still grappling with the way we think women are supposed to be. We’re having a harder time shedding that ideal of the “just right” woman and instead, embracing the real woman. 

I am fortunate enough right now to write for an organization that lets me work alongside a lot of strong women. I get to sit next to them, listen to them, talk to them, and be a part of shaping the culture of the church with them. It’s a real privilege to have a seat as a woman at that table, and it’s one I don’t take for granted. 

Last week, I was at a conference for that organization where I got to see them champion men and women of all kinds from the stage. I got to sit up close and listen to each one share so many different stories from so many different perspectives. One that struck me more than most was from a woman named Danielle Strickland

Danielle is an incredible woman who has dedicated her life to teaching and writing to encourage people to be free in who they are. Her campaign, Brave, works to empower vulnerable girls in this world so that they can live better stories with brighter futures. And as she was sharing some of her heart behind the campaign, she said this:

“What would America be like if communities viewed the church as a place that empowered young girls?”

Whoa. Mic drop, righ?

What kind of world could we live in if the church wasn’t a place that made women feel cast aside? What kind of world could we live in if Christian circles stopped making women feel like they needed to either measure up or tone it down? What if instead, it was a place that empowered women in their strengths just as they are?

Whatever it is, whover you are, whatever version of a woman God made you to be, wouldn’t it be amazing if you felt like the church in your community was the place to not only embrace you, but empower you to live out your life as that woman? To stop trying to be some other version of a woman, but instead, to love who you are as that woman. 

I spend a lot of time watching women do this who are years ahead of me. I’m amazed by who they are. I’m amazed at the confidence they have to stand strong in who they are as women. They know they are "just right" simply because they know who they are in Christ. Whether they know it or not, they’re empowering me to try and do the same. 

And my prayer is that for the generation of girls coming behind me, the church will be a place that never makes them feel like too much or not enough. Instead, it makes them feel the way they’re supposed to feel—created and loved by God. Because of that, they are just right.

Sara Shelton