The Essence of Womanhood


A_RachelOlder Sister was once told her younger sisters had no fat on their bones and she had just a little bit of fat.

Middle Sister’s friends didn’t ask for her school photo, they asked for the photo of Younger Sister.

Younger Sister was told by a teacher that she would never be as smart as her two older sisters.

Each sister battled deep questions of femininity in the specific areas of beauty, value, and intelligence. In 2006 Older Sister initiated an email conversation that filled months and pages.

Older Sister: Struggling lately with what it really means to be a woman. I read a book that said every woman’s big question is: Am I Beautiful? This sounded ridiculous. Physical beauty must be important but I don’t want to be reduced to just being beautiful. What do you think is the essence of being a woman?

Middle Sister: That question, if it’s right, can’t be referring to physical beauty, can it? Because then all we need to do is get plastic surgery. It must be more like: Am I Valuable? That’s a deep question for me, anyway. 

Younger Sister: I’m coming to understand that God created me as a valuable human and as a unique person. Somewhere in there is my womanhood. This means I have particular strengths and insecurities of my own. Like, my question has always been: Am I Smart Enough?

(Does anyone else think these question stemmed from childhood experiences?)

Older Sister: I think there is something at the core of every woman that God has placed within us. The desire to feel valued or beautiful or a priority. And the better I understand the essence of this, I think the better I will understand raising my boys (one just looked in the mirror and said he looked, “handsome and brave.”).

Middle Sister: (in response to the desire Older Sister mentioned) Once while praying about this – am I valuable (or beautiful), I saw a picture of a woman dressed in white and she was beautiful and, I can’t quite describe it, it wasn’t that she looked beautiful so much as that she simply was beautiful, just being herself. I realized this is how God sees me, as a woman, as who I am, as he made me. Not looking a certain way, but belonging to him.

Younger Sister: It is so easy to accept standards, praise, and criticism from those around us but so difficult to simply seek God’s approval and be content in him. I have to learn to trust that I am Beautiful. I am Valuable.

These are promises, factual statements.

Mom: As mom in this mix of letters I have a sinking feeling that in my zeal to teach you to be independent and to downplay makeup and physical appearance vs. character, I have gone overboard and failed to encourage and uplift the beauty of each of you. Partly that came from my own insecurities, partly because I truly believe that outer perfection in the world’s eyes isn’t important, and mainly because I wanted most of all for you to be the best women you could be in God’s eyes, living lives worthy of the calling to which he has called you.

Current Status: Older sister is a surgeon working among the urban poor. She couldn’t be more beautiful. Middle sister is a writer and development worker, living in the Horn of Africa. She couldn’t be more valued. Younger sister holds a Master’s degree and is a political lobbyist addressing issues of health. She couldn’t be more intelligent. They are each authentically living out of how God designed them.

Mom: Recently I had to answer the question: Who most inspires you? And I could only answer honestly: my three beautiful, valuable, intelligent daughters (and their brother).