I entered the dermatologist’s office with mild trepidation, having never had a total-body skin check before. Like many professional women here in Malaysia, the doctor was wearing a beige head covering, a tudong (Malay word for “cover”) with a matching jilbab (a long and loose-fit coat or outer garment). Her eyes were inviting, kind, and her poise beckoned respect and admiration. We introduced ourselves and she invited me to sit down.
“So how can I help you today?” she asked me in English, with a gentle melodious voice.
Knowing that I’m easily distracted, especially in the presence of strangers, I had prepared a list of concerns to go over with her. She listened and asked me a few questions, before she had me undress behind a curtain. Using a magnifying glass with multi-colored lights around the edge, the doctor went over my whole body, naming each defect on my skin and telling me it was benign.
“You have several angiomas,” she said, “and lots of freckles.”
When I showed her the loose skin on my belly, and asked what I could do about it, she laughed out loud. “Honestly, of all my patients, I have never seen someone with less of a belly. Loose skin happens…it’s just a part of getting older.”
A few thoughts came to me after this and other experiences I had in Malaysia last week. First, women covering their heads in public isn’t necessarily oppressive. From my understanding, heterosexual men typically like to see women—all kinds. Head and body coverings don’t make it easy for men to pick up women or find an attractive wife, but I suppose it helps them hang on to their wives once married, keeping men in public from being overly distracted by physical features of the opposite sex.
This got me wondering, if I were a single woman wearing a tudong and a jilbab, how would I attract men? It’s no wonder the doctor laughed at me and my “loose” belly skin—she has a completely different worldview than I do when it comes to men and how they work. In her world, men actually restrain themselves, by acknowledging their own weaknesses. But still, I have absolutely no idea how to attract a man by my face and character alone. Every boyfriend I’ve ever had started with physical attraction, before dating.
It has been my experience that “seeing” is very important to men, while “hearing” is more important to women’s attraction and love. Men want a visually beautiful woman, but women don’t necessarily need the same to feel deep love. Women fall in love with men who treat them well, who put them first, who accept them for who they are, who care for and protect them, who cherish them as human beings. Not all women are the same, but generally speaking, feminine energy is highly receptive to masculine love. Yin/Yang are two in tango.
I was married only once, for twenty years. In an attempt to save the marriage, my husband and I went through a Christian-based “Married for Life” course. One of the classes was devoted to the study of Ephesians 5:22-33. Here’s The New Living Translation below…
22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.
31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
My ex-husband and I had problems that didn’t allow him to love me the way I needed to be loved, and didn’t allow me to submit to him either. But I can definitely see truth in this teaching. Head and body coverings are not oppressive because they don’t serve man’s way of seeing and falling for woman. They serve woman because they greatly increase her probability of snatching up a man who digs her as a person, who loves looking at her face and into her eyes, who cherishes and protects her being. It takes the focus off her body and sex appeal and forces man to look and see deeper.
While liberal American women might think that head and body coverings are oppressive, Muslim Malaysian women don’t have to act like men at work. It doesn’t seem like they are being violated by men or sexually harassed, and they don’t have to please men to get ahead. Meanwhile, most smart American women who move into big careers in one thing or another, either develop a strong masculine energy about them, or they become boss-girls with their sex appeal. This reeks havoc on male-female relationships in our society, and masculine-feminine harmony.
While our culture encourages young women to dress like prostitutes and do torturous things to their bodies (boob jobs, plastic surgery, sex changes, etc.), there’s another culture that commands masculine respect of the feminine woman and her energy. It’s impossible to understand this from American liberalism, from a society that sexualizes everything. So again, who’s really oppressed? I look around Malaysia and notice so many different people and cultures in harmony. I don’t see or sense the gender and racial divisiveness that is so apparent in the United States.
While Thailand seems like a place where American and European men pick up young women, it’s not something you see here Malaysia. This country is more family oriented. The message is “my body is sacred” and “only for the relationship I have with my husband.” When a man looks upon a woman here, and decides to spend his life with her, he sees her eyes, her face, her soul. She’s not marketing herself like a product. The tudong and jilbab forces him inward, to see who she really is…and not be distracted by her physical “features” that are transitory.
The other thought I had came after I received an authentic Thai massage. It started with a young man kneeling to wash my feet in a large metal bowl of water with floating flower petals. It got me thinking about the spiritual significance of submission, remembering that Jesus washed the feet of the twelve apostles at the Last Supper (John 13:1–15) on the night before his crucifixion. No matter how many times I go through this ceremonial process of someone submitting to me, I always feel a sense of shame. Hard to explain, but it’s uncomfortable to accept someone’s submission or to submit.
I don’t know how to attract a man without my beauty, and I don’t really know how to submit to anyone either. Could I kneel down and wash someone’s feet like Jesus did? I don’t know. Submission feels like surrender, and it terrifies me. Being vulnerable to someone, or something, takes a great deal of trust. Yet I’m fascinated by the idea of letting go. I’m tired of being in control. I want to stop resisting and fighting against the world. I want to give up and give in to something greater than myself. In doing so, I somehow think the opposite can happen…I can be set free.
My last thought is more of an epiphany, that beauty comes from artful exchange. I used to work in the field of Education Abroad, managing a variety of international exchange programs for students. We received Malaysian students for a semester, while sending our students to Malaysia. On both sides, they grew and changed so much. Exchange, both a noun and a verb, comes from the Latin ex-, meaning “out” and cambiare, for “change” or “substitute.” If you are not exchanging, then you are not growing and changing.
I have no real point for this post. I’m traveling, and when I travel, my thoughts get shaken and I don’t have the same kind of time to sit down and sort them all out. What is a beautiful woman? She is true to herself. She’s not afraid to submit or surrender to love. I don’t think a beautiful woman needs plastic surgery to make herself more attractive to men, although it might make her feel good. She doesn’t need to dress provocatively or wear lots of makeup and perfumes. A beautiful woman surrenders her heart to artful exchanges that accentuate authenticity. She is kind, caring, and not skin deep.