femininity dissected

I hate the phrase “girly girl”- like you have to decide if you’re more of a girly girl or a tom boy.  I hate it because it puts us in categories that don’t need to exist at all, instead of letting us bask in just being girls, which is terribly exciting when we don’t screw with it.

I’ve been confused and a little mad about this for almost two decades of memory.  I love flowers; my room is full of greenery and I used to memorize the Latin names of dozens of plants just because.  I also love snakes and frogs and caught them as pets growing up.  and in my head, even though both of those things felt like equal parts of me, I felt that I wasn’t allowed to fit into the “tom boy” category, because even though I loved climbing trees and showing off my scars, also loving tea parties felt like a trump card that cancelled me out of that grouping.

so for all these years I’ve been thinking about what kind of girl I am, and whether I’m the right kind of girl or the wrong kind, whether I’m enough of a girl or too much of one.  whether I’m the kind that guys like or “friend zone” or straight up don’t notice, and whether I should change to be a different kind than whichever of those I feel most like at the time.

I can’t be the only girl out there whose head is always swimming with these thoughts.

but the moments that triggered this blog post were a) my incredible friend Sam posting an instagram where she talked about insecurities and what femininity meant to her, and b) the moment when I decided to re-chop my hair a month ago.

I don’t think most of us learn to criticize our own features until we get into the weird tween stage at least.  I was a super awkward tween person who both second-guessed everything I did and somehow remained totally oblivious to how badly I dressed.  (beside the point.)

I think most of us will always want to be beautiful, even if we manage to believe we don’t need to be.  most of us will compare ourselves, and feel dissatisfied with something, and wonder why? to some feature we have.  sometimes I have to look in the mirror before I leave my apartment and say, “love it,” out loud in an attempt to drill new subconscious thought patterns into my own skull.

the thing is, I don’t remember a time since the blissful ignorance of childhood that I liked how I looked for longer than a good day here or there, until I chopped off my hair three years ago.  I had tried various long (or really long) styles over the years but had never liked my hair.  I didn’t look good in bangs, or with my hair at my shoulders.  I was never happy.

for years I moaned, “I’d cut my hair like Carey Mulligan except I could never pull off hair that short” because of some built-in idea that somehow I would suddenly look indistinguishably like a boy, and hate myself even more (other insecurities were already warring for which could rule my life so I didn’t need “looking like a man” added to the list).  I don’t know where that came from; no one told me “Lydia if you cut off your hair you will look like a man”.  people did tell me, in an off-handed, matter-of-fact way, “men don’t like girls with short hair” (obviously what I should base my own appearance on, right?  because what’s my value as a woman if not being at least generally attractive to men?  that’s a blog post of its own I think).

I eventually just worked myself up into this frenzy of “if I don’t now, I never will” after doing that thing in the mirror where you drape your pony tail over your forehead to simulate a shaggy pixie.  so finally I went and cut it off – and thank God for that day.  it took some getting used to, for sure; I had to learn to make it look good (primping ugh), and true, I honestly got a lot less attention from men (to clarify: a lot less than the already minimal amount I got).  but the second I had my pixie, I was lighter.  I was freer.  I was more me than I’d ever been.  I was relatively comfortable in my own skin (for the first time in a decade!), more confident in my friendships, and felt like I’d found my tiny groove as an “artsy writer person”, since I finally had the cool haircut to make me feel more legit.

I vividly remember a day where I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “I don’t mind my face”, and if that sounds silly to you then let me just tell you that I cried when I thought it, because it was a new feeling.

there’s a quote I read recently that’s something about God being most glorified in the life of a person who is living fully as the person they were created to be.  I don’t remember who said it but I feel that deeply.  I felt like I was the Lydia I was meant to be.  and I’m not advocating for making shallow changes so that you’ll feel better about yourself and thereby not resent God for who he made you to be.  but I think there was an element to me throwing off the subtly ingrained insecurities that had nothing to do with what God said about me that was really healthy.

fast forward almost two years with the short hair; still loving it, still always trying new things.  I bought bolder jewelry and cuter dresses to hone “my look”.  but when I didn’t take the time to make myself look nice, I’d get so little attention from men that I started to notice.  and then sometimes girls would check me out or subtly flirt with me and it made me really uncomfortable, because I didn’t know how to handle it well.  and then came the fateful day in the pizza parlor where the waitress asked for my number.

I stammered “sorry I like boys/don’t like girls/something awkward” and spiraled internally, doubting myself and my face and mostly my hair because that was the obvious problem.  so I started growing it.  I told myself I’d try a bob, and see if that still felt fun and edgy enough.  I impatiently let my hair grow and grow, and then, last month, just under a year and a half later, it was finally there.  brushing my shoulders, looking pretty cute some days, less so others, but always like a girl, always “feminine”.  I did it, I’d tell myself, and I’d look in the mirror and I’d daydream about swapping my face and my body out for literally anyone else’s in the world.  and as melodramatic as it sounds, I cried a lot because I was convinced I wasn’t pretty, and as much as I didn’t want that to be a big deal, it felt like a big deal.  a really fucking big deal, to hate how you look every day.  and I started to realize that over the last year and a half, I’d worried more about how I looked than ever.  and I’d disliked my appearance more than ever.  and most importantly, even though I started getting male attention again (and, for the record, was more awkward with it than ever), I did not actually feel like more of a woman for having longer hair.  not even a little.

and when I realized that, and I realized that I hadn’t felt like myself all that time, I googled “best places to get an edgy haircut Cambridge” and I made an appointment and I snipped away a year and a half’s useless patience, and I was finally myself again.

it’s made me think and think, about what being a woman even looks like.  I started running over a list of women who the scriptures commend, and what they’re remembered for, and it kind of blew my mind.  indulge me; I’m gonna pick on a few notable ones though I know there are so many more.

Leah – shortest end of the stick ever, married to a man who loved her little sister / never liked her no matter what she did, but God shows her kindness and favor, and then literally makes his people through her when she shifts her perspective and praises him in the midst of her hard life.
Tamar – despite her circumstances and family turning against her, she pursues what God’s law promised her and (by cunning and unconventional means) becomes one of the mothers of Israel.
Jochebed (Moses’ mother) – praised for her faith and for being “not afraid”, she defies the edicts of the Egyptians out of love for her son and hides him, and it is through him that God saves his entire people.
Deborah – one of the famous judges of Israel, a poet and prophetess that people would line up to speak to, not afraid to call out men on their disobedience to God; a woman of faith, boldness, bravery; she goes into battle with the Israelites and rallies them with a battle cry/reminder that God is with them; God tells her that because the army’s commander is too afraid to go without her, the enemy king will fall into the hand of a woman.
*bonus character* Jael – fulfilling God’s words through Deborah, Jael’s epic (& gruesome) cunning in killing King Sisera wins the victory for the Israelite army.
Rehab – cunning, brave; she hides the Israelite spies in her roof and lies to the face of her evil king; her whole family literally gets saved from death because of her bravery and her belief in the God of Israel who she had heard about and chose to honor.  the book of Hebrews lists her in the “Faith Hall of Fame” for the faith that saved her.
Ruth – hard work, faithfulness, devotion to family and to God, honoring her mother(in-law), boldness that saves her family and makes her a part of the lineage of Jesus.
Hannah – her faithfulness and endurance in prayer are rewarded and she’s given a son who becomes the mouthpiece of God for generations; also a prophetess herself, a woman of faith, steadfast, feeling, and long-suffering.
Abigail – described as “discerning and beautiful”; humble, brave, bold; she risks her life to save her household, pleading with an angry King David at risk to herself.
Esther* – beautiful, young, brave, willing to stand up to evil even though she’s terrified and it will almost certainly cost her her life, all to save her people fulfill what she believes could be her life’s purpose.
Mary – obedient to God and courageous (she literally calls herself “blessed” to bear the son of God despite the ridicule that a pre-marriage pregnancy would no doubt bring on her), and just a teenager no less.
Eunice & Lois (Timothy’s mom and grandma) – commended for teaching Timothy the word of God growing up (though his father did not become a believer), and for mentoring younger women in the church.
Lydia (person I was named for!) – a successful business woman in her own right who opened her house to Paul and Luke and the other missionaries as a church, and preached the gospel to her family.

I’ll stop there for the sake of time.

here’s the thing: in the scriptures, there are some women who are mentioned for their beauty and outward appearance, but very few of those are cast in a positive light.  I’m not saying there’s something wrong with being beautiful, but clearly, I think, the things God prizes in women are their faithfulness, courage, boldness, humility, endurance, kindness, hospitality, character, cunning, obedience to his word, etc.

my point is that no where do I see that to be feminine is to look a certain way and to make sure men are attracted to you and to fit a certain mold that society (both Christian and non-Christian) has drawn up for us.  I have come to believe that to be feminine is to be fully woman.  and that means anything from loving Disney princesses (me!) to loving to help my dad with repairs on the car (me!) to snuggling babies (me!) to target shooting (me!) to a million things that aren’t me at all.  I am learning this: that God is glorified in me when my security is in him.  and I am so bad at this but I want it so badly.  and a part of that is realizing that he didn’t create women to all fit the same cookie cutter.  (remember that whole “what good would a body that was all eyes or hands be?” thing?  while that specific passage was addressing the church as a group, if that doesn’t apply to us as women, then the gospel doesn’t.)

I was blessed to have parents who didn’t go out of their way to tell me what I could and couldn’t do on this earth because I was a girl.  they encouraged the tea parties, and they encouraged the tree-climbing, and they encouraged my writing and my art and my horseback riding and my piano-playing and my rock-climbing and whatever else on earth I wanted to do and I assumed, all of my life, that there were no doors closed to me.  I know that there are many women who were not allowed to believe those things growing up, or who hear from peers or bosses or even husbands and boyfriends that because they are women, they are worth less.  I am so sorry, and I am so angry, when I see that.

when I read the Bible, I don’t see that.  honestly I love the way that the Bible treats women.  I love that God himself said men would be lost without us, and that our first mother’s name means “life-giver”.  I love that God frequently chose the ones that society dismissed to stand out in faithfulness, often when men around them did not.  I love that the New Testament epistles challenged every convention of the day by addressing “wives” directly, in the same breath as “husbands”.  I love that Paul and his companions would “sit down and speak to the women who had come together”, despite the taboo nature of it at the time.  I love that the first person Jesus told his true identity to was a shunned woman who then shared the gospel with her whole city.  I love that the first people who saw our resurrected Lord (and were trusted with his story) were women who the world looked down upon.  I love that when Adam and Eve broke God’s perfect world with their sin, he said that humanity’s deliverer would come from a woman.  I feel honored to be a woman.  there are so many Christians who have treated women horrifically over the years.  but the God they claim to serve never has, and for that I am grateful, and because of that, I am trying to take my cues from him and not from the flawed ideals of the broken world where I find myself.

so, to sum up: I believe that to be feminine is not to fit a man-made mold of certain hair and make-up and shoes and clothes and interests, but to be fully women, and I truly believe that that will look different for every one of us.

for me, femininity is beginning to look like this: I have really short hair and I wear mostly dresses and I smile at everyone on the street even though it’s Cambridge so NO ONE smiles back, and I like to swing a hammer and climb rocks and jump off of high things into water with all the boys and I like to watch Hilary Duff movies and I especially love to tell stories, which I believe I was made to do.  and mostly I love Jesus, and I want to love the person he made (that’s me) because when I don’t it’s unhealthy and he won’t get a lot done through me on this planet while I’m all in my head about it.

I could have a lot of this wrong.  I’m 24, for goodness’ sake.  and even if I had all the answers, I am so far from actually implementing them into my emotions and thoughts and actions that I need help.  my sincere hope is that we women can learn to build each other up, to honor each other, to love each other, to encourage the differences in each other, and to recognize the amazing potential that God has placed inside each of us.

that’s all I’ve got for now; I tried to keep this short and failed (this is the cut down version) but I crave conversation on this topic.  if you have thoughts, things you’d like to push back on, additions you’d like to make, I’d love to hear it all, as long as it’s kind.

I love you all, really.


this is me in Central Park the other day, really happy, really myself:

I want to stay this way.

*on the note of Esther’s story- can we talk about how God literally saves his people through a petrified teenage girl who never would have been queen except that the first queen refused to give a strip tease to her husband’s party guests, and then all of his advisors freaked out, literally because they said “all the women in the kingdom will think it’s okay to deny their husbands sex now if we don’t put them in their place”?  and then God uses a woman to defy the rules and break every cultural standard for a woman and through her boldness, yeah, he saves his people and blesses them.  what.


  • This is a beautiful post. As a girl who grew up, as many do, with many facets, this post resonated with me.
    One thing though: if girls are asking you out, please don’t let that stop you from living in the hair you love, which you seem to have realized anyway. A simple, “I’m flattered, but no. Good luck…” They’ll get it. You shouldn’t worry. Funnily enough, I think women of any sexual persuasion are better at handling rejection than men…

    Thanks for a beautiful post.

  • Lydia A.

    I totally never saw your comment, sorry!! I think that’s what I had to learn- was not to stop living how I wanted to, just because something made me uncomfortable. it was easy to see my hair as the thing to blame, but I think that was just my own insecurity and not anything to do with the sweet girl who accidentally made me awkward. it’s been interesting that since chopping it again, I’ve gotten some of the same attention, but it doesn’t faze me the same way. and you’re so right- women do take rejection of that kind wayyyyy better in my experience. ugh.