The crippling cost of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ pattern for woman

Today I have a retelling of an old story as a parable.

One fine morning in a small village a woman looked at her children and said, “My daughters, you are growing up fine and well. It is time to take you to the seamstress. Soon it will be time to bind up your hair and put on the dress of a woman.” The girls looked at each other with their eyes aglow, excited at the prospect of being ‘all grown up’.

They skipped merrily along the path with their loose hair blowing in the wind. Mother followed the girls into the shop where they spent an hour exclaiming over the beautiful fabrics. The colors were rich and the prints exciting. Each girl eventually narrowed down her choice of fabric. The seamstress took careful measurements  and said “See you next month for your fitting!”. Their mother pulled them out of the shop and they were on their way.

One girl asked her mother “I didn’t get to see the patterns and make my choice. What kind of dress will it be?” The reply came “Don’t be silly, my girl, from now on it will be the woman pattern. There is no choice.” “Oh” she sighed, but then remembered the beautiful bright fabric she had chosen and set aside her worry.

The month plodded along, but finally the girls were off for their fitting. The first admired the deep blue of her dress and pulled it over her head. “Wonderful!” exclaimed her mother. “Exquisite!” chimed the shopgirl. “Wow, you really do look all grown up!” her sister praised. The girl turned this way and that and admired her form in the shop mirrors.

Next was her sister’s turn. “How fine you look!” said her mother as she fastened up the red gown. “Really? Doesn’t it seem the collar is a bit high on the right side?” she asked looking in the mirror. “Don’t worry about that!” said the mother. The seamstress chuckled, “Just lean to the left a bit and it will be perfectly fine. “Oh, I see what you mean.” The girl said as she complied.

“And what about this sleeve here on the left? It is a little high.” “That’s okay said her mother, just pull it down and hold on with your fingers so it doesn’t ride up. There you go!” “Okay,” answered the girl as she held the cuff with her clawed hand and leaned to the left.

“Have you noticed the hem is a little high in the front?” she wondered “What am I to do about that?”

“Simply hunch a little forward, that will take care of it.” her mother hinted. The girl complied, though she was getting a little uncomfortable.

The mother thanked the seamstress as she left the shop. To the girls she said “We are off to the market for a few things; won’t it be fun to show off your new gowns?” One daughter beamed with her eyes aglow. The other was almost too busy leaning to the left, holding her sleeve, and hunching forward, to notice that she was starting to feel itchy as well. The fabric, though beautiful, was not nearly as comfortable as she would have hoped. “It itches!” she whispered to her sister. “Mine does too, but see how fine we look. Don’t pay it any mind,” came the response.

Across the market was a family from the next town over. The girl said to her mother “Look! It is a pity one of the daughters is so deformed.” “Yes, it is a pity she has become crippled. But see what a beautiful woman dress she has on!” replied her mother. “Soon you will have one of your own.”


What is the cost of pretending? That you aren’t uncomfortable? That you aren’t hurting? That there is only one way to be a woman?

Are you bending yourself into a lesser version of yourself?

Do you over-identify with an archetypal woman and burn yourself out trying to be something that is impossible for a flesh and blood woman? Becoming a martyr without cause?

Do you sacrifice your deepest self on the altar of conformity?

Will you do the same to your daughters? Will you allow them to be taught there is one right way for a woman to be?

Are you wearing a life that doesn’t fit you? There are options! Alter your life, or get a new life. Live a real life that is truly yours. Don’t let the inherited pattern for your life restrict and compromise you into something you don’t recognize.


Chiaroscuro is a play of light and shadow. Finding noisy messy lovely life in all the shades between.

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6 Responses

  1. Lily says:

    I am not wearing the traditional pattern and am frequently reminded that it makes me less than a real woman.

    • Wondering Why says:

      That is terribly sad. The point of the Plan of Salvation, and our time here on earth, is that it is personal. We cannot live it in other people’s shoes, and we cannot use their pattern for ourselves.

      We need to use the pattern that is meant for us. The hard part is finding the pattern – it takes, time, study, fasting, prayer and experience. But once found it will look beautiful on us – and no one else.

  2. nrc42 says:

    I appreciate the overall message and meaning, but I feel like I need to point out that this whole post comes off as incredibly ableist.

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      yes, sorry. those aspects are directly from the old story it was imitating. the retelling was to make the application I wanted about “woman’s role”, but I did not change that part of the original story where the person has to bend themselves strangely because of the clothing

  3. Thank you for the post. I’m glad for the thoughts behind it, but I’m not comfortable with the implementation. It’s easy to say “[d]on’t let the inherited pattern for your life restrict and compromise you . . .” when you’re able to do so. Sometimes it’s what we’ve got and have no means to get to what we want to be. I’ve had a few times when I’ve been fortunate enough to be accepted as a woman by a group of other women. It tends to bring me to tears to even think about, as it has been so rare and so precious.

    We have so many messages of the “kind” of woman we are “supposed to be”, not just in the clothes we wear and the roles we choose but in how well our mortal bodies fit our spiritual selves. We should not pity, disdain, ignore, or dismiss the core of who others are simply because the outer layers don’t match expectations, nor because of how we’ve had to try and contort ourselves to fit into the layers available to us.

    Thank you for the post. It’s such a difficult line to tread between wanting to be encouraging and wanting to not discourage. I’m not sure how I’d approach this at all.

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