As kids, the varying levels of embarrassment come to us in different forms. My brother loves to recount the story of my encounter with McDonald’s one day when I ordered my food, arrived back to the van to discover that I had forgotten to add fries to the order. However, the horrific mortification of returning inside to order AGAIN was too much for me. “I’ll give you an extra dollar,” I offered to my overly confident, capitalistic brother. “If you purchase the fries.”
In retrospect, my low self-confidence as a kid seems rather ordinary. All teens go through this “everything is embarrassing” phase, right? I’ve heard the laughter of adults over the red-faced teen who caught him/herself in woeful blunder, or at times, a strictly imagined one. “They’ll get over it in time,” they nod, believing that time and age mercifully erases many of the heart-stopping embarrassments that afflict our late childhood and teen years.
Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.
“Everyone can see this stain! I have nothing to wear.” I’ve heard countless of my adult girlfriends pronounce bitterly, investigating the obscure coloring on the back of the dress.
“Just wear it anyway,” I suggest helpfully. “We live in a world where stains happen. People will understand…. if they notice,” I say under my breath.
“I would be MORTIFIED.” is the tiring, predictable response.
In a ironic twist of irony, because humans are naturally so self consumed, most of the time they are completely taken with their own reflection in the mirror to ever notice the stain on your clothes. More than likely, they are concentrated on how their walk puts their body in the best possible image, how their shoes sound on the floor, ensuring their image is in the best possible light.
No one notices your clothes or cares, unless of course, you put yourself into a place that cares about clothes, such as New York Fashion Week, or in a hive, full of hypercritical humans who gratify their own insecurities by critically examining garments and judging the characters therewith.
“Nobody cares” is perhaps the most enlightening, freeing sentiment I have learned in 2019. That phrase, however, carries a double meaning. “Most people don’t care,” and “If they do care, so what?” Their reason for caring is likely spurned out of some relentless insecurity of their own. By letting their opinion effect you, you sell your soul to them. They control you. You are no longer your own. Any takers? Shockingly, there are quite a few partakers in this controlled prison of the mind.
My journey to this particular realization was fraught with some difficulty as attaining complete freedom from the controlling fear imposed from other people isn’t something I was taught. But then again, perhaps I had a head start in some ways… I remember being mocked as a child for my dad’s ridiculous gospel signs that he plastered generously on our means of transportation. My dad absolutely did not care what anyone thought or said. He cheerfully waved to the screaming hecklers, befriended the quizzical atheists, ignored the snobby remarks from the superior religious church-goers who deemed his methods of evangelism a complete outrage or, laughable. My dad only cared what God thought, and followed his understanding of what that might entail to the letter.
In reality, after a time, this unique childhood fostered my confidence. People don’t like you? After awhile, the response became “So what?” This realization contributed to my delightful pastime of trolling others. Was I going to be the cool, mainstream, culturally appropriate human? No. That was boring. Everyone desperately fighting to climb a certain social ladder to gain the acceptance of their peers. That looked, frankly, exhausting. I would rather sit on the bottom run of the ladder and laugh at everyone trying to climb.
In the Anabaptist circles, the radical concentration on the correct appearances was stifling. At first, I tacked this up to a culture that’s painstakingly removed themselves from the rest of “worldly society,” and set up home in a vacuum. All they have left at this point, for their own amusement, is the gossip and centering on the people around them which cultivates an exasperated focus on outward appearances. Right? Well yes, but… no.
Let’s compare the lives of two girls, one living in the mainstream American culture, and the other, a born and raised conservative Anabaptist. We’ll christen them “America” and “Ana.”
America attends public school. Each morning before the bus arrives, she carefully spends a half an hour putting on her face. Foundation, blush, mascara, eye-shadow, lipstick, she chooses her clothes with care. She can’t be a “prude,” neither can she be a “whore.” The cruel social constructs of her school cause great anxiety, as well as the overbearing drive to become “popular.” A desire created by pop culture; the mass attention and fan love of the Hollywood celebrities that transferred itself into the hearts and minds of impressionable teens. She’s young, she hasn’t developed the self-confidence that can weather the storm of the jeering bullies on the playground. She didn’t get the chance.
Obviously, any conservative Anabaptist, myself of a few years ago, included, would agree this scenario is a result of worldly behaviors. The worldly attitude that informs girls “Your face isn’t good enough. You aren’t good enough. You need to fix yourself.” It breeds low self-esteem, it causes low self-confidence, at times crippling anxiety, because the American culture has created a superficial unattainable lifestyle. America’s parents are trapped in an endless cycle of credit card debt, the brand new car, the house they could not afford. They live in the imprisoned environment of someone who lives by someone else’s rules.
Ana, on the other hand, does not paint her face. She would have a severe flash of judgment towards such a notion. Instead, she worriedly frets into the mirror, examining her acne. She takes great pains to ensure that her hair is combed in a smooth, untroubled fashion before setting her covering on her head. It depended on the trends of the decade, but if her hair was out of place, her peers would remark cynically on her need for attention. Or worse yet, Ana shivered in this wretched contemplation, be pulled aside by an elder and “talked to” about her worldly spirit of vanity. If her dress was too showy, she would suffer the same fateful shame. The entirety of life all weighed heavily on what her peers thought, the boys, her parents, her parent’s friends, the preacher, and anyone else who might step out their way to look her over.
For an outsider, it would be very difficult to understand the social pressure Ana has been subjected to her entire life. From the time she was a child, if she didn’t take the form of a statue during a church service, she was spanked. If she wore the wrong type of shoes to an occasion, or wrinkly clothes, her friends may stare and giggle. Or her mom suffer from acute embarrassment as her parenting methods were undoubtedly being questioned by others. It’s ingrained, hammered, sewn and rooted into the very soul of a person’s being. The overwhelming tremulous responsibility of being the person that your parents, the culture, your friends, and your grandparents expect you to become. It’s exhausting, it erases self-confidence, because it speaks the same message. “You aren’t enough. You aren’t enough unless you conform to a mass assembly of cultural rules, and unspoken social expectations. You have to fix yourself.”
America and Ana abide under the same worldly crippling attitude. They are bound to the foreboding gods of culture, that fearful dominating force that slowly and deliberately removes everything that makes a person unique, and replaces it with a replica, a blueprint of the “ideal.” Ruthlessly sacrificed in the flames that have consumed millions.
Low self-confidence expresses itself in many forms. I had a friend who was mortified by the idea of carrying a box into a coffee shop, because of how odd and strange that would appear to any possible onlookers. One of my formerly close friends, suffered a great deal of anxiety over the constant torment of not being “cool” enough. What I enjoyed about her, the lovable quirks of her personality, slowly slipped away and was replaced by a shell. Hurt by the rejection of her peers, she sacrificed herself, burying the unique aspects of her character that had been deemed “weird” in exchange to become accepted by a group of seasoned and weathered facades.
One group of girls once remarked how utterly relieved they were that they weren’t males. When I asked why, the response was “So we never have to speak in public. Thank goodness. That would be terrifying.” I understood from where the terror materialized, due to the already overwhelming cultural restraints that hinders self-confidence and breeds self-doubt.
However, that’s when I realized that the self-confidence that was taken from them, was being effortlessly shifted to the opposite gender. Since the males control almost the entirety of all the “important” matters in occasion, it enables them to establish their self-confidence. Also creating an unfair balance where the women with no self-confidence become prey to a male dominated culture and religion. Where, without fail, there are a few rotten apples in the barrel, and with the women faithfully obeying the “keep silent” model conveniently provided for them, the abuse fosters like bacteria in a warm place. Not to mention the immediate shame and victim-blaming that takes place if something does come to the surface. Which for centuries has been apart of every single culture, the saving grace of manhood a most blessed virtue which enabled every excuse in the book.
It’s a curse. This all-consuming infatuation humans have with outward appearances because of what society and sub-cultures have determined as an excellent strategy to bring about religious control and manipulation, and to sponsor a world obsessed with making money off of humans insecurities. The primary motivation, as dictators know far too well, fear. The bullies in the playground, hurt from the same insecurity and fear that they inflict. The preacher’s wife that scolds a girl for her spirit, had her spirit crushed into submission by fear.
Christ knew. The fear and cultural abuse was present all throughout history. While the Pharisees stood in judgmental huddles, glaring at outward flaws of appearance, Christ looked straight through into the heart. His band of followers were fellow rejects, regarded as monstrosities, trolling the religious system. His entire message focused on the heart, and by the response of the crowd, clearly, such a focus was an unknown concept. It was a dangerous concept. It offered a life of freedom from the fear and restraints of culture and kingdom. Obviously it was rejected by the Jews, and the Romans. How does one control the masses without fear? How do you control someone who cares about the inside instead of the outside?
Inside, the heart, if fed and watered, arises a certain power. “Perfect love casts out all fear.” Its true. Try it. Just love. Its hard to fear someone who you truly, deeply love. “Reject father, mother, sister, brother, reputation, and follow me.” Try it. It’s freeing. Whatever life they expected of you, all the outward ties to family, home, country, it no longer matters.
An insane realization dawns when you step out of the bubble, the facade, the vacuum, the overbearing cultures that are screaming “you aren’t enough” and go to a place where all is still. It gets quiet. The outward is stripped away and all that remains is your soul. The voices that formerly crowded everything else out, disappear. Once you anchor yourself in that freedom, and listen to He, who knew the power of a heart that’s free and untainted from the rest of the world, He, who created you because you were good enough, you break the curse.