When it begins you think they are giving you power. You are a little rosebud girl with easy smiles and a heart to please. They give you music: sing this for us. Jesus loves you, this I know. You are the light of their life. You are a princess, a daughter of God, they lavish royalty on you every time you swallow your pride, every time you cry over a lie, every time you make a little art from the scripts they wrote you. You learn the right words to say: “I’m not that kind of girl.” You never wear skirts above the knee. You never think about boys. You say weed is a gateway drug, you say you prefer real literature, you say everyone outside the nursery are living half lives and you are living the true one. They are all proud of you. They say your heart is beautiful.
But then they begin rationing their attention, these men who shepherd our hearts from the pulpit. That pride you swallowed, whose pride was it? You begin to not measure up.
So you get desperate. You make sure those other girls know exactly what they are: other. Sluts. Shallow. Vain. Boy crazy. Gossipers. It’s their makeup, the way they talk, the boys they date, the way they dress, the movies they watch, the books they read.
You think you’re the reason you’re losing your power. Something about you is wrong. Your grip on your conscience squeezes tighter and tighter. Maybe you’re still prideful. Who are you to want their approval anyway? Have you made an idol from the love of others? You should be content with the love of God. Was this all a performance after all? (Yes, it was. The one they taught you, the one they paid you for). You’re looking less like a rosebud girl now. You’re a woman. You’ve lost your sweet petal purity before your first date.
So you get louder — you’re singing onstage now, you’re writing, you’re talking, you’re itching itching itching at their ears. But something in you has fractured. Half of you is lost in grief for the girl you never got to be, the other inconsolable with your failure to be the girl they wanted.
You want to rebel, but you never learned how. You are sick and weak at a soup kitchen, they ladle out three spoonfuls per bowl of what they once set you swimming in. All those pastors who loved to listen to us girls sing, they start lecturing us in batches about sexual and moral purity. They’re suspicious of our bodies and their appetites. It doesn’t matter now that we’re still trying, they don’t have eyes for us anymore. We are no longer princesses. We’re cattle to be pastured off into feminine grazing grounds where we all keep an eye on each other’s modesty while we wait for husbands and children.
Every once in a while we manage to earn a taste of their approval again. You have such a beautiful heart. For me it was writing. For you, maybe the same, maybe something else. We are on our knees with open mouths. It’s just enough for us to feel we could repent our way back to our prepubescent radiance.
Or maybe we get angry.
Maybe we say: enough.
Maybe we become one of “those girls.”
Maybe we realize the power we thought we were accepting from outside was only the cannibalization our own innate strength as women together, and that we were never separate to begin with.
And maybe we don’t have to be quite so fucking beautiful.
Photo: me, five years old