Women At Church stories are submitted by church members and shared anonymously.
It’s remarkable how answers come in the most unexpected ways, sometimes long after you’ve given up looking or hoping for them. I’ve struggled with eating disorders and seemingly intractable anxiety about my looks since I was 11 years old. Over decades, I’ve learned to sort of manage those feelings, but they’re never very far below the surface, and I’m particularly aware of them now as I try to guide my young teenaged daughter through those years that were so devastating for me. I have often worried about the ways Mormon culture can contribute to these feelings, with makeover night activities, and “modest” fashion shows and lessons about the importance of attracting a husband. I’ve never felt like I could adequately convey how painful it was to be a Mormon girl who isn’t especially pretty to any Mormon man.
But recently, a man whose name I don’t even know bore his testimony in a ward we both happened to be visiting for the day, and I found that hard, cruel knot in my heart unraveling a little. I was surprised when a man stood up and said he wanted to bear his testimony of Girls’ Camp. He went on to say that he felt a bit strange relating this story as a visitor in a ward where he didn’t know anyone, but that the experience was burning inside him and he needed to talk about it.
He said that he had been asked to give a talk at girls’ camp and felt sort of silly about it. He’s a Management professor at a business school and he didn’t know what he might possibly have to say that would be worthwhile to these girls. He remembered some recent conference talks about preparing by simply working harder to be able to perceive and welcome the Spirit, so he spent a lot of time trying to prepare without really knowing what he should talk about, reading scriptures and praying and finally just desperately hoping that it would be given to him “in the very hour” to know what he should say.
When he got to camp, he began by reading a page of quotations about light, and asked the girls to write down one sentence or phrase that really stood out to them, and then write a paragraph or two about it. And then he asked them to talk about what they had written. They spoke for several minutes about light and intelligence and love and truth — the sorts of things he was kind of expecting. Finally, one girl said “You know, I don’t think of myself as beautiful, but I feel really beautiful right now.” Seven or eight girls, he said, took up the theme of beauty, which would never have occurred to him in the context he had been thinking of, but he realized that this was the deepest need of their souls. He related, with deep emotion, how he had been given to understand that these girls are “pulverized” (his word) by constantly having crushingly impossible ideals of beauty flung at them from every side, and that this was the pain they needed to have healed by the Atonement. And then he testified that he had seen that healing happen, at least briefly, as they saw themselves in the context of the kind of light the scriptures describe. He expressed gratitude for wise counsel about receiving revelation if we will really love those whom we prepare to teach, and concluded that he was grateful for having had his prayer answered, having known without knowing how to open that door for the young women whose souls he had been privileged to glimpse that day.
I spoke with him briefly afterwards, to tell him how much I had needed to hear what he said–both because I needed the prescription for seeing myself and teaching my daughter to see herself in the different paradigm and different light provided by the gospel, but also because I desperately needed to know that a man can receive a strongly feminist revelation, without going looking for anything except what God wants His daughters to hear.
I wish I had asked his name.