Courtney Bailey Parker – Fallen Angels? Christians and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

Sexuality remains a very contentious matter in evangelicalism, as, we have to admit, is the case in other Christian traditions. Of course, nobody can deny that we live at a time of over sexualisation, even of little girls, to such an extent that media, both religious and secular is constantly warning about the serious consequences of this phenomenon. However, many evangelicals respond to this social pathology with pudibond (i.e. ‘prudish’, if you want) reactions that are reminiscent of neo-Platonism, and have no connection to Christian anthropology and the proper biblical understanding of human sexuality, which is not rooted in the fall (and, thus, inherently evil), but in the perfect plan of God for a humanity that bears, be it in ‘broken vessels’, his perfect image.

In a recent extremely well written article done for Her.meneutics, the Christianity Today‘s blog for feminine matters, Courtney Bailey Parker, a a PhD student in English at Baylor University with a concentration in Early British Literature, who blogs HERE, discusses the manifestations and implications of this distorted view of human sexuality.

I paste below a few quotes from this excellent text.

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I never gave much thought to the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show—which airs Tuesday on CBS—until the broadcast a few years ago, when my college students came to class buzzing about a new catchphrase their classmates coined: I’d rather marry a Proverbs 31 woman than a Victoria’s Secret model. It became an overnight sensation on social media.

These students went on to launch the Live31 Movement, encouraging women to live out the characteristics of the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31 and promoting their cause with T-shirts and hashtags. Like most online campaigns, Live31 fizzled fairly quickly, but the dichotomy the campaign endorsed—the Proverbs 31 wife vs. the Victoria’s Secret model—has stuck with me over the past few years. Why was it so easy to come up with that, to position the Victoria’s Secret model as the perfect foil to the Proverbs 31 woman?

As a Christian feminist, I recognize how the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is problematic for women. It’s fairly easy to critique with respect to tokenism and negative effects on body image. But when I saw advertisements for this year’s show, I felt guilty about my own judgments about the character of the beautiful women designated as “Angels.” Like Katelyn Beaty in a recent Her.meneutics piece, I’ve worked hard to rethink my own prejudices against beautiful women, Victoria’s Secret models included.

Still, I believe our fears and hesitancies over Victoria’s Secret are more attached to the wild sexual power the “Angels” represent, rather than to Candice Swanepoel, Alessandra Ambrosio, or any of the models themselves.

Yet whether we designate certain women as “Angels” or as “Proverbs 31 women,” we almost self-consciously label them as abstractions, not real women.

This inclination to group women into binary categories exists in our culture at large, with “the lily and the rose” or “the virgin and the whore.” Christianity has reference points in the Bible for these cultural archetypes, but they are easily abused.

Because of this, I now understand why it’s so easy to judge the Victoria’s Secret model: in our Christian imagination, she fits the bill of Dame Folly. It’s easy to cast a Victoria’s Secret model as the foil to Lady Wisdom, but when we do this we view the woman through the lens of a literary construct and not through the eyes of God.

At the end of the day, though, aren’t we just trading one abstraction for another? Isn’t it time we move beyond using abstractions as our primary tool for discussing female virtue and vice? Scripture contains so many paradigms for understanding the Kingdom-oriented life for both men and women, not the least of which is the example of Christ himself. We diminish the rich complexity of the Bible when we amplify the few literary constructs that are easiest for us to categorize, teach, or promote, rather than a more realistic, nuanced view of our pursuit of God amid our own struggle with sin.

Sarah Bessey’s just-released Jesus Feminist reminds us that Christianity advocates for the personhood of all women—Victoria’s Secret models included. And the reality is this: abstractions put personhood in jeopardy.

Christians must be especially careful when they teach through the lens of literary abstractions in the Bible..

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You may read HERE Courtney’s entire article.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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