My whole life I have been something of a misfit. I am a Christian and I like piercings, unnaturally colored hair and tattoos. My hair is often blue, teal and/or pink. Currently I have industrial piercings in both of my ears. My nose and naval are pierced. I have a tattoo on my shoulder that I got with my brother after a dark time in my life. It symbolizes a very big truth in my life that I needed to discover for myself. Just so we’re clear I don’t have more tattoos because I feel they are wrong. I don’t have more tattoos because they are expensive and I am saving for quality work to be done. Tattoos and piercings were not something I had acquired as a teenager but the love for them was there.
Like a lot of teens in the world who just want to find a place where they are accepted, I went through a dark phase. When I was 16 I wore black clothes and black nail polish frequently. I liked the way it looked. I thought it looked “cool”. When I was a teenager these things were often associated with the devil.
I went to one church for nearly half of my life; I basically grew up with most of the people there that were my age and attended regularly. The adult members that had been there since I was a child knew me and my family well.
The youth pastor they had at this time was a pompous simpleton. He constantly invaded my personal space and he was always hugging on me or touching my head, back, arm or shoulder. He made me feel extremely uncomfortable. The amount and type of attention this man gave me was inappropriate. He would constantly tell me, my parents and pretty much anyone who would listen that I was demonic because wearing all black and black nail polish was evil and what a devil worshiper would wear. Was I really? Definitely not.
Thankfully most of the people who were important to me at the time didn’t believe him. My mom told me that if he touched me again I could “deck” him. She assured me that I would do so with her full support and without concern of being punished. I think my dad believed him, he didn’t do anything.
(For the record, I never did “deck him” as my mom put it. Tempting though it was, it was way too confrontational of a response for me to follow through on)
This is where my struggle with self-acceptance really began. It’s difficult enough to accept yourself when you’re young and trying to discover who you are in a world of endless possibilities. It’s even more difficult to accept yourself when the people, who are supposed to love, teach and guide you won’t accept you and try to force you to change. When they encourage you to pursue a path that is not yours to walk. This has led to a very long struggle to accept myself. I’ve struggled with eating disorders, depression, self-confidence and self-acceptance for a little more than half my life.
On my 18th birthday I went with a friend and some money I had managed to save up and I got my belly button pierced. That was back when it cost $60 at your local tattoo parlor. I managed to conceal it for a few days from my parents, until my mom accidentally saw it when I was playing with my little brother. Soon after that my dad found out.
His response? “You take it out, I’ll take it out with my pliers, or get out of my house. Those are your options.”
I was 18, barely. I was afraid of my dad, so I took the piercing out. I was completely dependent on my parents.
With my dad, everything had to look a certain way from an outsider’s perspective. Unfortunately, this does occasionally become the norm within some Christian families. Sometimes it’s all about appearance and double standards are a common state of mind. But what goes on behind closed doors and shuttered windows can be, in my experience, very different.
Needless to say, my current piercings and tattoo came after I was grown and out of the house.
These are two of the experiences that impacted me to an extreme. I go back and forth between accepting myself and not. Those times that I am happiest with who I am, are the times that I am making a conscious decision to accept myself as I am. One could (and it has been) argue “As a christian you shouldn’t give the appearance of evil.”
O.K. well, what about my appearance is evil? I don’t have naked people tattooed on me, or 666 tattooed across my forehead. I do not dress to expose as much of my body as possible. I am a Christian gal trying to make it in the Christian world. I just decorate myself differently.
Conviction is a very personal thing. Everyone feels conviction about things individually. You may feel convicted about having blue hair, piercings and tattoos, but that conviction is yours to bear. Not mine. It is important not to let your personal convictions bleed over into your opinion of others.
Growing up my mom was the sole voice that encouraged me to be myself: “be who God made you to be.”, “it isn’t about what others think…“, “be yourself, if you’re happy with who you are that’s all that matters.” Or “I’m proud of you.” These words have often been a light in the dark, even as 32 year old me.
I am by nature very shy and introverted. It has always been very difficult for me to go up to someone I don’t know and initiate conversation. Initiating conversation with strangers takes a great deal of mental preparation, then I find myself stuttering and fumbling through a conversation until I get so frustrated with my inability to communicate properly that I burst into tears. Okay, perhaps that hasn’t happened as often as it used to, but it has happened. As I have gotten older it has become much easier; but it still takes me a long time until I am comfortable opening up to someone.
And this brings me to my point:
It is very unfortunate that as much as Christians and churches as a whole have evolved with the times, people who don’t fit the “Christian mold” are still considered unacceptable amongst the acceptable. Then, the people who are “acceptable” wonder why so many people turn away from God and/or the church.
Wanna know the answer?
We, the “unacceptable”, leave and turn away because it is difficult, almost impossible, to feel welcomed by a group of people who judge us by our appearance. The “acceptable” then make their own assumptions about the quality of our character. We are assessed, then we are dismissed and we fade away into the background. Though, we never blend in because our appearance is distinct, or our personality forces us to stand out a little more than the rest or both.
Judging by appearance they find that we lack the “acceptable” gene, and proceed to barely acknowledge our existence from then on while continuing to not make the effort to get to know us for who we really are. People see that person and think “that person isn’t a Christian, there is no way.“, “She doesn’t have a relationship with God. She doesn’t look like someone who would.“, “that person doesn’t pray, she has tattoos.” Or taking it to somewhere else entirely, but equally personal: “She doesn’t act like a christian, because she isn’t vocal about her relationship with God.”
It is painful. Why would we want to stay?
Having the vast amount of experiences here that I do, I do try very hard not to make my own uneducated judgments about people. It hurts, why would I want to put someone through that? I like to think that most of the time I am successful. I do know that I fail at times. I am only human and I am most certainly not perfect. I am often assumed to be, or considered “not spiritual” or “shallow”, and I will admit, like every other person I know, I absolutely have my moments.
Here is a real truth about people: You absolutely cannot tell the heart of a person by how they look on the outside. You don’t know what someone has been though, bad decisions they’ve made and fought their way out of. You don’t know how people have hurt them before. How is a person supposed to love, minister to and encourage others if that person is forever shunned by society because of a tattoo? Or because they look or act differently? They can’t.
I am creative. I refuse to conform to an ideal. I love God and I believe that Jesus died for my sins on the cross. I pray. I worship God. I put my whole heart into whatever I do. I do not want to live my life filled with double standards and I try very hard not to. I am Proud of who I am and that gives me the strength I need to accept myself. This is how I find my acceptance amongst the acceptable.
Please excuse the lack of make up. 🙂
People are people. The heart of a person is far more important than how they choose to decorate themselves.