But as a grown woman, especially a married grown woman, I have found myself approaching this differently, wanting the way I look and behave to reflect my femininity. I’d pretty much worked out what that meant to me personally in rural South Carolina, but now that we live in Latin America, there are definite differences on what a woman is expected to look like. So what’s a girl to do?
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rendition of this post and skip a few paragraphs. ;)
The problem for me starts with the shoes. I have particularly high arches, so even if I wanted to wear those crazy high heels, I’d probably get about 3 steps before doubling over in foot spasms and tripping on the curb. Nothing graceful about that!
Women don’t leave the house here without being totally “done,” either. Full make-up, including vibrant eye shadow and lip colors and often some really long, fake, glittery lashes. Nails long and painted, with swirly designs or little drawings on each one. Hair is always coiffed and usually dons some sort of feather or barrette or flower, clipped just so. The heat and humidity here leave my natural curls making their own way, so any attempt to stick a flower in it would look more like a wild weed in a briar patch.
Here in the land of machista men and oversexualized women, it’s nothing to see pornographic images plastered in public places, on commercials, or as part of TV shows. You can imagine what that does to fashion…plunging necklines, painted-on pants, tiny skirts. Nah, that’s not me.
I am apt to pull my hair up in a pony-tail or wear a ball cap when working in the community with kids, with or without my minimal makeup. I find myself most often wearing what has been called pajamas here (cotton or denim pants/shorts, t-shirts, tennis shoes, flat sandals) for reasons of comfort, heat (how DO they wear those tight pants in 110 degree weather?!), ease, or habit.
I struggle with differences in the definition of modesty, with having to analyze everything I wear or say or do for what message it conveys to men, with what my girls are learning about what it means to be a woman. And I notice that I lose a certain bit of credibility with women, believers and nonbelievers alike, because I don’t “look the part.”
Sometimes I feel I’ve gotten sucked back into that high school drama of peer pressure and worrying about my image, but with real-world consequences this time. Now, before you comment, don't hit me with "a genuine smile, a sweet spirit, the beauty of holiness." I really do get all that. But if we walk out of the house in nothing but a smile and the beauty of holiness, well, some heads really would turn!
I know that we should assimilate as much as possible into our cultures, but I struggle with where to draw the line on this one. I think of those missionary women in cultures where they are expected to cover up more than they are used to or be more conservative in their behavior, and I wonder if they have to redefine that “look” that makes them feel pretty, too.
Do you find that the way you look in the mirror on the field is different than how you look on furlough? How do you reconcile or express your femininity within the culture where you live?