It’s been a couple months now since the controversy surrounding Carrie Prejean first blew up. Since then Prejean abdicated her Miss California throne and has been touring the Christian speaking circuit supporting traditional marriage and Christian values. I just watched a video of her appearance at Liberty University, and in it she is considerably more composed and articulate than she has typically been portrayed. You can check it out for yourself here.
Although Prejean’s interview was well-done and uplifting, I couldn’t help but get hung up on something. Over and over again the interviewers commended her unwillingness to compromise and her boldness to stand for Christ. Prejean herself challenged the students at Liberty to do the same. Yet every time she and Liberty’s chancellor discussed her strength under pressure and the importance of personal holiness in a worldly culture, one image kept flashing into my mind: The swimsuit competition.
I don’t know what Liberty’s dress code is, but I would be willing to bet they frown on women donning string bikinis, let alone parading around in one before millions of viewers on television. In fact, most church youth groups won’t even let their girls wear a two-piece bathing suit to camp.
But before jumping to any conclusions, I decided to do a little research. I found that Prejean did wear a skimpy bikini in the contest, but she was not the first professing Christian to do so. Last week the latest Miss America appeared on the 700 Club with evangelical Pat Robertson, and she talked about her faith in Christ and and the central role it played in her life. When I googled her name, a picture of her in a tiny black, barely there bikini popped up.
I tried finding photos of contestants wearing one-piece bathing suits in these competitions, but they were few and far between. In the process of searching I actually discovered that it was in the mid-90’s when the Miss America Pageant began encouraging participants to wear two-pieces instead of one. The organization highlighted the skimpier and less inhibited bathing suits in its promotions in order to boost ratings.
While I am not morally opposed to two-piece bathing suits (I own a few myself) I am bothered by 2 things about the nature of these competitions:
1. The Display Factor–these women aren’t just wearing the suits because they’re comfortable or to get a good tan, but to show off their nearly naked bodies to a watching audience. Displaying one’s body is the sole purpose of the swimwear.
2. The Face Factor–While there is some emphasis on personality, intelligence, and philanthropy, you don’t exactly see a lot of chubby girls up there. Try as they might to convince us otherwise, we all know that at the end of the day, a woman will not become Miss America on the basis of a great personality if she’s got a little junk in her trunk. That said, the pageant compares women on some characteristics that hold little value in God’s economy. In a culture of womanhood that is already so competitive, should we really be encouraging women to willingly subject themselves to it?
But what really concerns me more than anything else is the way Christian media outlets seem to eat this stuff up. In addition to Liberty’s broadcast, Prejean appeared on Focus on the Family and presented an award at the Dove Awards. Is that really wise? While some of these women do profess Christ in public and that is a good thing, does being pretty, Christian and famous automatically qualify someone as a role model for young Christian women? Even the young lady on the 700 Club admitted that she rarely goes to church because of her busy schedule. As a member of the Body of Christ, that is a significant problem, yet Pat Robertson nodded along with a sympathetic look that conveyed, “I totally understand.”
It may not be clear from my tone, but I do feel torn on this issue. After all, we need Christians EVERYWHERE–we need believers in the workplace, the government, Hollywood, etc. so that we can be salt and light to the world around us. But that doesn’t mean women should become strippers for the sake of reaching other strippers. The Miss America Pageant is not nearly that extreme, but it is a point worth considering. Is it possible for a Christian woman to participate in a competition that compares her with others on the basis of their looks, shed their modesty as they stand before millions in a tiny bikini, and still be uncompromisingly faithful to God?
I’m not going to give an answer to that question, but I do know this–conservative evangelical institutions that are loud about modesty and personal holiness might pick their spokespeople wisely. Fame and visibility are the kind of qualifiers that will later come back to bite you.
I just find it funny (in a sad kind of way.) It’s like some christians can become so desperate for some kind of ‘famous’ face to give christianity validity that they bring out the double standards without blinking to make room for it.
One of the recent Miss New Zealands is also a ‘christian’ (pastors daughter.)She was used as the cover girl on one of the top christian womens magazines* down here. She also wore a tiny bikini and gave the same kind of blurb about ‘maintaining her standards in a dark industry’. It’s just ridiculous.
When somebody claims to follow christ that means all the walk, which includes modesty. Cherry picking out the parts you like is not christianity.
If christianity is just a club then sure, you can be one and do whatever you feel like once you’ve paid the membership fees. But it isn’t.
However the fault is more with the people who accept it and pretend they don’t see it (expecially the leadership) in my opinion. It can be hard to tell exactly where the heart is of someone pulling something like that – but it’s pretty easy to see everyone elses when they deliberatly ignore it.
And if you want an even funnier example. Do a search on youtube for a song called ‘China Wine’. It’s sung by a woman who’s husband is the pastor of the biggest church in singapore. I actually went to a conference where he did an incredibly convincing job of explaining how his wife was actually ‘spreading the gospel’ by doing what she does. People hadn’t seen that clip at the time, but he gave enough photos in his presentation to give everyone an indication of where her standards were.
And he was clapped and cheered off the stage at the end because he was so clever in his presentation. (Even I clapped believe it or not because I was trying to figure out if he was really saying what I thought he was saying and decided to just clap the ‘good’ bits because I was a coward. (Along with a lot of other people.)
The whole ‘religious’ ‘narrowminded’ ‘self-rightous christians attacking the gospel being spread through the entertainment industry’ bandwagon.
It’s just another example of selling out.
* Interestingly enough. The singer I just mentioned and Brooke Fraser who also uses/d ‘come fuck me posing’ (s’cuse) to promote herself in the music industry (and I think Natasha Bedingfield too) were all featured as cover girls on the same magazine.
While i’m not convinced that all modelling is inappropriate for Christians, I do struggle to reconcile such competitions that blatantly promote immodesty and the objectification of women with a faithful Christian witness. While it is possible that some of the Christian women getting involved in this stuff are young Christians who don’t know any better yet, there certainly isn’t an excuse for Christian leaders who certainly do know better promoting what these girls are doing. Christian girls struggling with body image and guys struggling with lust already have enough rubbish thrown their way by the world without having such behaviour glorified in Christian circles. Not to mention the terrible message of hypocrisy this sends to the world, particularly when one of these celebrities gets themselves involved in a scandal. Similar things show up with the Church embracing all sorts of celebrities eg. John and Kate.
I think this is symptomatic of a bigger problem, namely that we’ve lost our grip on the goal of evangelism. Evangelism should be about presenting the truth of Jesus so people can make a meaningful (hopefully positive) response to Jesus and be saved by him. The way a lot of Christian groups approach reaching the world is to try to make people like us Christians so they will join our churches/Christian culture. When the goal becomes getting people to like us we become like any secular brand and start marketing ourselves. In the church this plays itself out in things like trying align cool people/celebrities with our side (as we see here), making everything we do as exceptionally convenient, entertaining & undemanding as possible, spending absurd and unnecessary amounts of money on the latest sound systems ect. in an attempt to outdo the world and toning down anything that may offend people’s fallen nature. Rather than glorifying God, it ends up being about glorifying ourselves and the coolness we’ve achieved. Under the faulty approach that the big goal is to get people to join us because they think we’re cool, such beauty pageant contestants make perfect sense. But when compared with what we are meant to present, such tactics often stand in contradiction.
I am personally astounded that beauty pageants still exist at all. When one does the swimsuit competition it looks like a meat market. It seems to this man that regardless of your faith – Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or no religion at all, that it is degrading to women in general. It reduces a woman to an object.
Very interesting subject. As a man, I constantly am weighing my motives and being cautious about what tries to draw or entice me. I for one would appreciate more women being more modest. At the same time, we men need to be extra cautious with what we condone. Women are pretty. Duh. Why do they have to show it off? might as well wave food in my face when i’m on a diet. “beauty is fleeting…but let the woman that fears the Lord be praised.”
I am a 25 year old Christian lady and have been a pageant girl myself. I have been having such debates with a few fellow Christians and so decided to do my own research. I have found quite interesting facts and comment from this very conversation which I have found very helpful.
However, I have a question. Gathering from what you all have said, it seems like you all are saying that beauty pageants are good for Christians if there was no swim suit round… My question is, what if there were no swim suit rounds in pageants? Would it be recommended for Christians?