Sometimes I read posts written as responses to something unusual and esoteric written online and wonder how the respondent found the original elusive piece in the first place. And then in spite of myself, both pieces make me think about my own experiences and its broader applications.
So went my mind as I read Britni Danielle’s argument in support of President Obama calling his daughters beautiful during his post-election victory speech. Danielle wrote an intelligent and succinct response to Alice Cobb’s piece on the Oxonian Globalist, criticizing the president for praising and taking pride in his daughters’ physical beauty.
Danielle does a thorough job of recognizing the nuances of race that Cobb and other white feminists don’t see, so I’ll move on to other points. Reading Danielle’s piece made me recall two things: First, “The Virgin Daughters,” a documentary I watched over the summer about purity balls—prom/wedding-like events in which daughters as young as six sign pledges to God and to their fathers to remain virgins and otherwise sexually pure until marriage, and the fathers pledge to guard their purity. The documentary was about the Colorado family who created the events and also followed three other families whose daughters have taken the pledges.
Around 31:15, the Colorado patriarch blesses and says a prayer over each child in his family—five daughters, two sons. He starts each daughter’s blessing with, “You are beautiful, a joy and a treasure. Your name means …”
Couldn’t he start with smart, talented, kind, powerful, or the meaning of their name? I thought as I watched it. I know this man’s primary goal in life is to get his daughters married, but does he have to start the blessing with, “You’re beautiful”?
As Danielle and many people in the comments section of both posts pointed out, beauty isn’t always external. But at around 44:00, it’s clear to me the dad means external beauty when he says every woman wants to know she’s beautiful and it’s important for him to affirm that. And given that this family is among the leaders in the evangelical purity movement, all the debate over the president’s words made me wonder how much emphasis the Bible puts on a woman’s physical beauty.
Beautiful women—Sara, Rachel, Esther, the object of King Solomon’s affection in “Song,” to name a few—are noted, but physical beauty as a quality to be highlighted above all else? Proverbs chapters 6 and 31, and 1 Peter 3 and other scriptures make me conclude the Bible doesn’t support that. Which makes me wonder what lengths the women in that family will travel to remain physically appealing when their fleeting beauty is running away. What will their marriages be like? If they fall apart, or if their husbands cheat with younger, more beautiful women, will their father feel some responsibility? What should a Christian dad teach his daughter about her beauty and her value outside of that?
The second thing the debate made me recall was a remark my father made when I was about 25. I sent him some self-portrait photos in black and white and in sepia. “My daughter has turned out to be quite the fox!” he said in response. I was glad he said so. I was proud of my amateur photography skill and proud of my looks. Recalling it now, I also have to say I looked happy and confident in the pictures.
My dad gave me the book, “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters,” for my seventh birthday, and on the inside cover he wrote, “You are the brightest light in my life, and I just love you, love you, love you. Enjoy this book and always remember that you are beautiful too, but pretty is as pretty does.” In those pics at age 25, it was like the beauty my dad, who doesn’t claim to be Christian and who I consider a feminist, had told me when I was seven should be on the inside, had finally radiated out.
What has your faith taught you about beauty? Dads, what do you teach your daughters about the value of her looks?