I follow an amazing woman on social media named Debra Fileta. She is an incredible Christian marriage and family counselor and writes all sorts of wisdom about dating, sexuality, marriage, and everything that goes with it. She posted a few days ago on IG that one of her single followers wrote to her, “Please stop posting pictures of you and your happy family. Your happy marriage. You have no idea how that makes a single person feel. It’s triggering. How dare you write to me about saving sex till marriage when you have been enjoying glorious marital sex for the last several years. It’s hurtful and painful” (I am paraphrasing of course). Debra thought a lot about this for a good while as she did not want to upset or trigger her influential base, but in the end she concluded that she wasn’t going to stop posting pictures of her husband or family because it was part of her journey and story with all the ups and downs.
This got me thinking about what we post on social media. On the one hand, I complete get the person’s point. I have heard similar comments about how seeing pictures of babies and children can be triggering and upsetting to a woman who struggles with infertility or a single woman who longs to be a mother. I know that pictures of a happy marriage can be upsetting if someone is walking through a divorce or now widowed. I know that seeing a picture of someone sharing about their new job promotion can be upsetting for someone who has been laid off work during the pandemic and I know that me posting about the church may be hurtful to someone who has been deeply wounded from spiritual abuse.
Here’s what I also know. I have walked that road myself. And this is where the body image thing comes in. I have never felt that I was particularly “good at being a woman.” My other friends seemed to grasp the concepts of fashion, make-up, hair and everything else whereas it has not been my natural default position. I have been overweight (I probably still am). I have never been obese, but people have still felt a need to comment about my looks. One of the most painful things anyone ever said to me was “you lack sex appeal.” This comment was made a few years ago right in the height of my dating and marriage obsession when I was finding singleness painful. Even though this person later said it was about a certain outfit on a certain day, the thought has stayed with me. When I go on a night out I now obsessively run through a checklist in my head: do I have make-up? Is the make-up ok? Is my shirt ok? Is my handbag ok? Are my shoes ok? Is my watch ok? This checklist sometimes keeps me up at night as I look through the pictures of a fun event. I also sometimes cringe looking at old pictures of me (even though the memory might otherwise be pleasant).
My marriage obsession took over my life and actually made me physically sick. The worst thing is that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I literally tried everything as the obsession grew stronger and stronger. Back at that time I would have done anything to have silenced it for 5 minutes let alone 5 hours or 5 days. A lot of it came from being told by Christian society that this was the role of a woman. Women were created to be a wife and mother, and to not do so would mean I had failed. And the reason it had not happened for me was that I apparently lacked sex appeal. I continued to feel this way despite the fact that I had several interested candidates online and even a few in person.
The journey out just came one day. In the height of lockdown I attended an online retreat called Came to Believe for 3 days. At the end of the retreat the obsession left it. I can’t explain how or why. I think it was a Holy Spirit moment. I obviously still long to be married, and I believe I would be a fun mum, but aside from a simple wish, it doesn’t control my life anymore. As I have come to love myself, as I have come to see my role as a minister as of primary importance (being married to the church taking precedence over being married to a man), and as I have come to realize that even my deepest wants are simply that “wants”, I have felt freer and happier. There are still a few times when I see a friend post a happy family picture online or a recent engagement shoot or photos of their wedding and I think “man, I want that.” But then there are many other times I have posted pictures of me on trips, travelling around the world, hanging out into the wee hours of the morning, and receiving other achievements and my friends think “man, I want THAT.” It has taught me that we don’t have to LIKE the situation we’re in. You may not LIKE being single, having a recurring illness, or having a certain character flaw, but you do have to ACCEPT it. And I found that once I ACCEPTED my singleness, in a way, I even started to enjoy it.
Now when I look back over the last few years I realize a few things. Firstly, when the majority of comments about my appearance have been negative it is hard to believe that I am a beautiful person, but I have learned the soul is the most beautiful part of any woman. After all, what exactly is a woman? So much of what we think about womanhood and femininity is simply a byproduct of cultural conditioning and gender stereotypes. I believe that I am a woman because I am strong, capable, and have a loving spirit. There are women who love to dress to the nines, and women who like to wear jeans and t-shirts all the time. Both of them are women and both are capable of loving and being fully loved. Sex appeal doesn’t come from wearing make up or clothes, it comes from having a kind, gentle and passionate spirit. If someone is secure in themselves it doesn’t matter what they are wearing or how they are looking. Anything else is superficial.
So to my friends who are posting happy family pictures, please keep posting them. To my friends who are engaged or recently married, congratulations. And to my single friends who find all these posts triggering and hurtful please continue to seek God and have faith that God wants the best for you and His purpose will be revealed. If you are meant to get married you will. If you are meant to stay single, you will. God will equip you in either case and use you in either case for His glory. One is not better or worse than the other, and God will use your individual circumstances to shape the world in a way only you can. There’s nothing we can do to speed up or slow down the process, it simply is God’s timing and God’s timing is best. And yes, you are not defective and there is nothing wrong with you, you’re just waiting for the person who really deserves you more than anyone else.