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Redefining the F-Word

by Emily T. Wierenga


August 3, 2014

Redefining the F-word


I was nine years old when I tried to starve away my curves.   

I tried to starve away the parts of me that made me a woman, because maybe then I wouldn’t miss it, this need to feel loved by somebody. 

I grew up a minister’s daughter and was told vanity was a sin when I asked if I was beautiful. Mum didn’t let us play with Barbies, or look at fashion magazines or take dance lessons because she was scared I would get an eating disorder. And so I did, anyway, because that’s what a person does when she no longer understands her role on earth. She tries to starve away the curves, until there’s nothing left. 

We were told to cover ourselves, to not let any skin show, and I wondered what was so bad about my skin? And when I finally got undressed for my husband on our wedding night I was too scared to let him in. 

And even as I became a wife and mother, I was afraid of the f-word: Femininity. I was scared to know what it really meant — with all of its potential power and biblical responsibility. With all of its multi-tasking and nurturing and wisdom and pink lipstick. With all of its curves. I wanted to unveil the true meaning of the word.

As Elisabeth Elliot says,
“We are women, and my plea is — let me be a woman.”

Apart from all of the gender and theological debates, what does it mean to be this unique creature who weaves humanity in her abdomen and nurses infants through her breasts and speaks life with her eyes, her mouth, her hands? What does it mean to be this in today’s world? And why does it feel so lonely?

I was walking down the stairs, one night at midnight. My sons were asleep and my husband was reading in bed. And I had been tidying up because I hate to wake to a messy house. I took that final step from the stairs to the floor — and I stepped straight into Love. Like it had been waiting there for me, the whole time, I just stood there, feeling it. Love.

I was scared to move should it fly away. And I saw myself, then as a passionate, scatter-brained 33-year-old woman who loves the world deeply and laughs loudly and needs alone time. Who gets paint on the kitchen table when she’s making art, who would rather write than do housework, who has tattoos, who cries when her sons refuse to listen to her.

I adored her. I adored this girl and I suddenly knew who I was as a woman, right in the middle of that sacred moment surrounded by LEGOs and train tracks. I was loved.


Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit Find her on Twitter or Facebook.


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What is femininity to you?

Share your thoughts

What a beautiful, well written piece! I loved reading it! I grew up in a household of that I mean my mother, sister and I and my father. Poor guy bought my sister and I Barbies every chance he had! He wanted us to grow into strong, independent women...not that that is what Barbie teaches...but that's what he and my mom wanted for us. It sounds like you had a different childhood but I am so happy that you have found love in your sons and husband. I have two sons and a daughter and a husband. I try to find 'love' in each of them every day...although it can be a struggle and often times I can't wait for my husband to return home from work so I can have 'sane' adult time!


Ashleigh, thank you so much for sharing--I love your heart sister! Bless you! e.


I would agree that things were extreme in your childhood. We do need to teach our daughters modesty though. I will let my daughter play with a barbie if she wants to (so far she is not interested in it though) but would not allow her to get a monster high or bratz doll. I was not taught much of anything about modesty or why it is better not to wear triangle bikinis and looking back, I am not sure how my mom could have said it without me rebelling but I really do regret going out in one. I was only sort of taught why chastity was important so I ended up letting my hormones drive me. I think the essence of Femininity is SO complicated but the focus should just be to be comfortable being you. To many it is a synonym with feeling/being pretty, or some certain roll fulfillment...just another thing someone says I should be. I am not conforming to this world and I have that same hope for all women. Be comfortable being you. If that is a sports lover who hates dresses that is OK if it is dress


Toni, I completely agree... I am very big on modesty too... I just wanted to feel LOVED, more than that I had to dress a certain way... Grateful for you and your heart! e.


dressed to the nines that is ok too :)


My daughter is five and she loves to run and jump in puddles and ride her bike and fish and catch bugs - AND all of a sudden she wants to wear a dress every day. So I let her pick what she wants to wear - even if it's a fancy holiday dress on a random summer Tuesday - and I wonder who she'll grow up to be.


She polishes her own nails and toenails for fun and I let her put on clearish pink lipgloss of mine if she asks, but no Monster High dolls or Barbies at our house, thank you very much.


aw Liz, I love this... we're always figuring out who we are, aren't we? Bless you as you mother on this precious daughter. e.


That said - I grew up with Barbies and I don't think they've scarred me for life. I'd simply rather gravitate toward other forms of play with my kids.