I’ll admit- people have me pegged as one. Disney princess hair and big blue eyes don’t exactly scream “rebellion.” And honestly, I used to very much be one. And it’s not healthy. This “good girl” complex is holding women back, regardless of if we are willing to admit it or not.
I struggle with perfectionism, and while perfectionism feeds the good girl persona, they are not necessarily linked. For me, being a good girl meant being well-liked, kind, thoughtful, and doing the right things. I don’t like to do things halfway, and this combination of striving to be some perfect caricature of a person with my tendency for extreme intensity fused to feed an all-consuming eating disorder. Now, most people will not have such tangible results. But some will. I wouldn’t wish that kind of living hell on anyone. What bothers me is not only that encouraging females to be “good girls” can help to feed these sort of problems, but the fact that there are such immense problems being created that we don’t immediately see. All of this begins with how we deal with encouraging just one kind of “good girl” woman, especially one kind of “good girl” Christian woman. What a disservice that we aren’t embracing the kind of diversity that gives us so much more progress and growth!
I don’t know that “encouraging” females to be this is the right way of explaining it, because it’s not as if we set out a blueprint of a woman and tell people to follow it- instead it is this intangible inner goal that I think we acknowledge it and smile warmly on these people who are following whatever they are supposed to do. It’s easy to do- they tend to be very sweet, kind hearts that you want to encourage and protect. And honestly, we’re doing our females a great disservice by doing that. Now to clarify, there is NOTHING wrong with being kind and thoughtful and well-liked. In fact, those are great positive attributes to have. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about making those the sole attributes of your personhood that you are willing to share. That’s a problem. People are naturally very messy- the more together you believe your life is, the more skeptical I tend to become that you may just be ignoring the harder parts.
I don’t think females encourage each other to be authentic and messy. Frankly, it’s uncomfortable. Most of us don’t want to see each other’s inner explosions and toxic matter. But I firmly believe the only way to eradicate bitterness in a heart and make those inner mountains manageable bumps is to share them. It’s not healthy to repress things, obviously- but I would argue that it’s also not healthy to only show your good side. That only encourages other females to feel they must be that happy and light also, and that they are failing when they notice their lives aren’t so cookie cutter clean. We all have messes, and only by sharing them can you find that fellowship and connection with others who have similar problems. The good girl persona is simply a cop-out to all of it- it is an excuse we all smile at and say “my, she’s so sweet…” when we should be encouraging her instead to dig a litter deeper and share her pain so that the burden is not too much for her to carry. She has more to share than a plate of cookies on your birthday. But she needs help opening up to share those.
I would even go so far as saying that the good girl persona so evident in Southern churches is downright toxic to unbelievers. As someone who started college trying to discover what I believed and what faith meant to me, finding a faith home felt like a daunting task. Everywhere I went, I would be faced with a new group of the same girl, over and over again. This girl had all of her stuff together. She was gentle. She was sweet. She was always at all of the church events, and always texted me Bible verses in the morning telling me she was thinking about me. But she also never got too personal in Bible study. She never opened up. She never shared. And as a result, I left. My sin was too great for these white linen dress girls. I felt that I was too messy. I felt that no matter how much she told me she was praying for me, I believed that it was because I was a charity case. Something broken. A project to fix.
Now, all of this is highly inaccurate- these girls were beautiful souls who just struggled with opening up. We discussed this one day in a Bible study, where we had been shutting down after the first few topical questions. Every time. And as these girls all admitting they have trouble opening up, they all sort of smiled over it and shrugged. It was an acceptable mistake. One that was allowed and sometimes encouraged in church culture. Keep your messes under wraps, but encourage others to feel safe and open. Are you seeing the problem yet?
The Good Girl persona is a cop-out. It is not an acceptable “just how it is” condition. And unbelievers and young Christians NEED that transparency. They will be possibly even be blinded from the gospel by how shiny perfect and seemingly untouchable your lives are. Failing to be open is not just an “oops” in female church culture, it is a huge problem that is a roadblock in God’s work. You can’t fix someone else. You can share the gospel, but trust me, these new Christians want someone to share life with, not just a church building. They want a friend more than they want a mentor. They need to feel not just support but connection, and fellowship. This is vital for a new generation of Christian women- only we can break this cycle of shoving the hard sins under the rug. Only by bringing them out into the open can we attack them together and see how deep, and life-giving, and truly limitless God’s love is. That’s more approachable, more real, and more challenging. And absolutely vital in a generation starved of authenticity in this world.
A final note to good girls everywhere- I am not attacking you. We are the same. We are humans. And we have something to give. And your bravery will touch another’s heart. And that will be truly beautiful- I believe that kind of authenticity is exactly what Jesus would smile about. You’re more than one dimensional. And you’re already earned your right to be here. You’re already arrived-fearlessly, as a messily as ever.