Is There Anything More Hideous Than . . .

. . . beauty pageants for little girls?

Beauty pageants for anyone, period, under any circumstances, are hideous. This is particularly detrimental where it’s most often found, and that’s in judging women and girls. One of the strongest indicators of a world saturated with sin is the primacy given to the external in determining a person’s worth.

The Spirit brings what has little value in an empty culture lusting after glitz, glamor, flash, and flattery. Where the Word speaks of inner beauty, the world lauds external prettiness that has less to do with genuine beauty of being and more to do with sexiness, flavor-of-the-day prettiness, and unabashed appeals to male approval. Where the Church honors character and virtue, our male-centric culture favors the ability of females to compete against others like dogs in a show ring. And anything that’s male-centric, or appeals to male-determined standards or argues for male superiority, is not God-centric, cares little for Spirit-determined standards, and argues against Christ’s superiority as Lord, Savior, and Arbiter of right and wrong.

It’s tragic that adult women choose to swim in these waters, no matter how good they look in their swimsuits; it’s horrifying that little girls are tossed into an environment that communicates, sometimes while they’re still in diapers, their worth as little girls based on their appearance, their ability to charm adults, and their grotesquely coquettish prancing around on stage. I’d heard of these events; I’d even disrupted one some 20 years ago at a mall in Lynnwood, Washington, and I suppose I probably knew that in a world even more brazenly sexualized, these displays of debauched mini-divas would continue.

But two shows on cable television, “Little Miss Perfect” and “Toddlers And Tiaras,” demonstrate that the hair-extensioned, spray-tanned, heavily made-up and boa-and-bikini-clad world of infant-to-teen posing and posturing has taken hold with a vengeance. In conference centers, shopping malls, and hotels across the nation, particularly in the South, adorable mothers glorifying in their former pageant, cheerleading, or homecoming queen days — or frumpy mothers determined to exact revenge for their own exclusion through the pimping of their daughters — fit their five-year-olds with dental “flippers,” false teeth that masquerade a kindergartner’s pride and joy, missing teeth, and submit their little girls to the jarring tutelage of pageant coaches and makeup-and-hair artists. Even fathers, in what thinking men and women can see only as unabashed if unwitting preparation for their daughters’ teen pregnancy or prostitution, are shown taking part in the primping. I can’t imagine the Monday-morning watercooler talk that sort of thing must lead to, but, as a feminist, I can assure you that none of us enjoys seeing guys tapping into this version of their feminine side.

The church culture of the South, especially, fails to see the incongruity of pageants and Christian faith, which isn’t at all surprising given the strength of “Christian” patriarchy in the Bible Belt. A doctrine of female subordination to men naturally gives rise to a practice of female appeasement of males and male lust, power, and pleasure, with the early-childhood mastery of such considered an important endeavor, albeit one that flannel boards and VBS curricula haven’t yet been designed for.

But a Church truly devoted to the things of Christ, while perhaps elsewhere eschewing pageants, would nonetheless never incubate the silliness of “God’s Princess,” “Captivated,” and other evangelical Christian phenomena that juvenilize women but fill arenas, sell books and trinkets, and promote mincing coquettishness as a viable fruit of the Spirit. These fads, just a step removed from actual pageants, trivialize women’s experiences and limit their contributions, demonstrating to a distressing degree that the Lord’s people have embraced the value of primping and eyelash-batting for half of its members at the expense of modeling, recognizing, and encouraging Godly female strength in them. Christian women and girls have as their mothers in the faith Junia the apostle, Priscilla the teacher, Mary the God-bearer, Hulda and Anna the prophets, and Deborah the warrior-judge. I long for the day that vixens, doll-babies, painted ladies, and seductresses regain their places as women the Church dedicates itself to reaching for Christ and not as role models for the little ones He died for.

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