When we first got married, I was dumb enough to ask my husband a question no wife should ever ask—and he was dumb enough to answer honestly.
I had enough close man friends to know that guys (even Christian guys) often rank women on a scale of 1-10, and I wanted to know where I stood.
By nature, I’m the sort who constantly assesses data. Somehow knowing the absolute truth (good news or bad) felt like a responsible part of being a woman on planet earth. I knew that if I assumed too high, I could end up going out on a limb and looking like a fool. Too low, and I wouldn’t maximize my potential leverage as a female in culture—a capacity too often limited by a woman’s physical appearance.
So, I caught my poor young husband at a vulnerable moment and made him nail down a number. I’m not going to tell you what he said. I will tell you that the number did something permanent inside me.
I considered it generous. Took a deep breath. And from that point onward, I embraced it as cold, hard fact.
I would look at other women and think about what their number was, then I would think of my own. I don’t remember thinking ill of those who might fall lower. I do remember feeling a need to defer to those who would rank higher.
Because I’m a visual artist, I had pretty strong ability to look at my essential features and know what could and couldn’t be changed about me. Working out is good, getting a tan is nice, but I knew none of this would bump me up more than half a point or point. I had certain limitations effort couldn’t negate. No matter what effort I put into my hair or clothes, there would always be a woman who could slip on a pair of denim shorts and an old t-shirt, throw her hair in a pony tail, and still be a 10. And she would have more power because of this.
Eventually, I looked out into the world and decided what I could and couldn’t do—what I could and couldn’t be—within the parameters of my number. As a female, I could be respectable but not powerful. I could be beneficial but not moving. I could be a companion but not a muse.
I watched from the sidelines and noticed how other men treated men with 5’2”, blonde trophy wives. I watched how a woman’s number played out in a thousand scenarios—like a meeting I attended with hospital executives. Another woman and I entered a room full of men. She was shorter. Blonde. Cute. Her number would have been at least three points higher than mine.
I don’t remember what compliments those men lavished upon her. I do remember her smiling like someone who got the same response everywhere, and also that awful next moment when an older male friend was sensitive enough realize nobody had said anything so complimentary to me. He spoke up with a sincere-sounding but obligatory, “And you, too.” The other men mumbled in polite agreement, realizing their error. I wanted to sink through the floor.
Now that I’m older, different numbers seem to matter more. In artistic community, some writers are 10s. When their names are mentioned, a flurry of affirmations naturally rises.
They seem to be effortlessly relevant. Restrained on social media. Vulnerable yes, but in attractive, careful ways. The look. The credentials. The eloquence. They read what’s just right. They go places and post pictures that seem like snapshots of fullness.
All their pieces fit together into a balanced whole. They are welcomed into forums. They are invited to travel and speak.
And there’s a fraternity to it all. Tens recognize one another at events and take pictures together because there’s a mutual respect and trust among them.
My writer number is similar to the rank I held for a long time as a female. I’m not a big deal. I’m fairly respectable, but I’m not powerful. I’m sometimes beneficial but not culture moving. I’m a companion to a few but not a muse for a movement.
My personality is awkward in some ways branding can’t fix. I’ll never be Nashville relevant.
And, it’s funny, I still feel the same old embarrassment I felt over other limitations. I show people a little bit of me. Then, as I look out into the world and see writers with magnificent minds, and vast stores of deep knowledge, and experiences that I will never be able to reference, I regret the foolish clank of my two mites thrown in a pot, and I want to run and hide away in shame.
“What do you have to offer?” I hear whispered from the darkness.
Reality burns, so I retreat and back off and watch from a distance while those who are clearly made for influential community get out there and run in packs.
They will know what to say. They will know how to say it.
“Who do you think you are?” A second accusation hits out of the silence.
When the Bible talks about boasting in our weakness, I always assume it means weaknesses like a 5’2” blonde cutie with a pimple on her perfect nose. Or, I assume it means the scholar-writer with razor wit who goes to edgy coffee shops and live concerts while wearing the jeans-du-jour—but dropped his journal in the trash by mistake.
A doll with a blemish. An icon who fumbled.
Not people like me. Not the ones who will never even get in the B range. Out of self-defense, I want to assess reality, absorb the blow of my limitations, and live invisible.
But this morning, after finishing one of my regular deletion frenzies, feeling stupid for reaching out and believing my words mattered, I felt a hot rumble in my soul. “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
Humans rank humans. Humans rank, and rank, and rank humans. The Bible tells me so. There are things man “looks at,” and there are assessments that rule culture—and I am barely passing on any of those standards.
But here in the quiet, God kicks away all constructs. The physical beauty that never was high enough. The relevance that never hit hip. The little habits and preferences known by gentility but not to someone like me. The intelligence that never reached brilliance. The numbers, the brackets, the everything I’m not.
There’s something beyond all this God sees, knows, values—even loves. He treasures me, and it’s the oddest thing in the world to believe that. He sees worth in my receptivity. That’s enough for the God who made an entire universe out of nothing.