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J. Lo, Shakira, and the Evangelical Purity Culture

j lo and shakira super bowl

Guest Post by ObstacleChick

In the United States, Super Bowl Sunday is a big deal. People who rarely watch American football during the regular season will gather together to watch the Super Bowl Championship game. Companies pay millions of dollars to buy advertisement time during the broadcast, and many of the ads are quite clever, funny, or touching. The halftime show typically features A-list performers with advanced choreography, lighting, and showmanship.

This year, the performers were Latina entertainers Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. Both are women over 40 who are superstars in their respective genres. In addition to her career as a singer-dancer-entertainer, J. Lo is also an actress and a judge on the show “World of Dance”. Shakira is known for her dual Lebanese and Colombian heritage, incorporating belly dancing into her performances, and she was a voice character in the animated movie “Zootopia”. Both performers have won multiple awards during their careers.

It did not take long for the Evangelical Christian world to lose their minds over the halftime show. J. Lo and Shakira, along with their backup dancers, put on a dance-heavy performance in which many appeared to be scantily clad, though in photos it’s obvious that J. Lo’s base layer was a long flesh-colored bodysuit, and Shakira’s costumes were no more scanty than the outfits of the cheerleaders on the field. However, Evangelical Christian sensibilities were ruffled by the fact that these two women, both over the age of 40, were dancing and wearing costumes that showed some of their skin or what appeared to be skin.

Common in Evangelical Christianity is the concept of purity culture. Purity culture revolves around the way that Evangelical Christians believe their deity designed men and women. They teach that men were designed to be predatory, dominant, aggressive, and aroused by visual stimuli. Women, conversely, are designed to be passive, nurturing, submissive, and aroused by tactile stimuli, and are therefore the designated gatekeepers of all sexual activity. The belief is that if a man sees something that arouses him, he will be unable to control his urge to dominate and possess what he sees. As women supposedly are not aroused until they are touched, they have the ability to thwart sexual activity by not drawing attention to themselves and by saying no. The idea is that if a woman draws attention to herself by wearing clothing that shows her physique, by any motions that draw attention to her physique (such as dancing or swaying of her hips), even by making direct eye contact with a male or “flirting,” that means she is signaling that she welcomes sexual activity. She is therefore at least partially culpable in any sexual activity. In Evangelical Christian purity culture, I learned that it was important to be as silent and as invisible as possible in order to prevent sexual advances from men.

When J. Lo and Shakira sang and danced on stage, purity culture adherents viewed their activity as openly welcoming sexual activity. The performers were tempting upstanding Christian men and boys to desire sexual activity with them. Additionally, J. Lo and Shakira were demonstrating to girls and women how to draw the attention of men. The performers repudiated purity culture’s directive to be as silent and as invisible as possible. These two mature, successful, talented performers dominated the stage and made their voices heard. (I won’t even address the references they made to children singing in cages, the nods to Shakira’s Middle Eastern heritage, J. Lo’s use of the Puerto Rican and US flags or her daughter’s singing of “Born in the USA”, but those were all important elements in the show as well.)

I grew up in the 1980s with purity culture, but fortunately I was too old for the more slickly marketed purity culture that exploded during the 1990s and 2000s. It affected me as well to the point that I hated and was ashamed of my body and wore oversized clothing for several years. In the Fundamentalist Christian school I attended, we had a strict dress code that included rules about skirt length, sleeve length, and cleavage-covering. Prior to our senior trip, girls had to model their swimsuits in front of three female faculty members for approval. The message was that we were to be “feminine” but also well-covered so as not to draw too much attention from our male classmates and teachers. My mom did not know the extent of purity culture that I was taught at church and school, and she did not understand the source of my body hatred. When I was in my early 20s, my mom bought me a two-piece bathing suit and a suede miniskirt and told me that I should wear these types of clothes while I still “could” before the inevitable obesity that plagues females in our family set in. Eventually, I became accustomed to wearing age-appropriate and body-appropriate clothing, but the body image issues have never completely gone away.

I no longer see my body as a temptation to men, something to be covered and hidden. Life experiences taught me that people are responsible for their own actions, and I am not responsible for someone violating my consent. As I have grown older, I am a lot more vocal about what I will and will not tolerate from other people. As someone who has become an athlete later in life, I have learned a lot about what my body can and cannot do and about the signals it gives me when it is hungry, tired, or in need of care. I can still find plenty of things “wrong” with how my body looks, but I will no longer cover up just because of someone else’s rules about “modesty,” nor will I cover up because of my own insecurities, which are probably mostly in my head anyway. I wish I had known at age 18 what I now know at age 50, but I believe I have been successful in passing along to my own daughter that she should use her voice, own her space, and demand that others respect consent.

I will no longer be as silent and as invisible as possible in order to ward off actions that are the responsibility of someone else. Purity culture and all it entails can go to hell.

6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    “Purity culture and all it entails can go to hell.”

    AMEN, Sister!

    I was spared Evangelical Purity Culture, and I might have been too old for it anyhow since my teenage years started in 1970. But my mother was extremely appearance conscious, and I was a fat kid. My baby picture shows a little round soccer ball in a pretty light-colored dress, ornamented with stunted limbs and a laughing face. The photos of me growing up, before I learned enough sense to hide from cameras, show a fat kid in ill-fitting clothes. I might have a genetic tendency to obesity or not; I was adopted at birth, records closed, and know nothing of my birth family. But my mother was an extremely anxious woman who showed her affection for her family by cooking well, and was terribly hurt if we didn’t eat large quantities of whatever she cooked. I learned bad eating habits early, and in the context of being comforted and comforting or pleasing others. That’s a huge mind-mess that I might never completely unlearn. But I digress.

    So, appearance-conscious mother and fat daughter. I was taught that my body was very ugly and unacceptable. I was meant to wear dark clothes always, preferably dark blue or dark green, unless I had to wear my Catholic school uniform. Black was an unacceptable color for some reason that had to do with Mom’s early childhood associations. But fat women/girls are less noticeable in dark colors. Fat women’s/girt’s clothes were also far more difficult to find back when I was growing up than they are today, and the crap I had to be seen in among my peers made me want to just go home and crawl in bed. Don’t get me started on swimwear. Mom and society declared in unison that I was disgusting and should hide myself under a rock.

    And so I want to reach out to every growing girl and young woman, whatever their body shape, and say YOU ARE OKAY AS YOU ARE. Your body is your own, and you don’t owe anyone management of it for their benefit. I encourage fitness, because you will feel better and be able to do more things, but fitness and body shape have a far more tenuous connection that our society likes to believe. Dress yourself to be comfortable in the temperatures you need to live in, with clothes that behave themselves and don’t do unwanted things when you move around. Dress your own self for easy movement. At the end of the day, someone who might find your pencil skirt attractive won’t be worth a connection unless they’d find a garment that you can walk freely in equally acceptable. A bra that cuts off your air supply, or pants that require enormous effort to squeeze into, aren’t worth it. Don’t get me started on heels so high you teeter on them. And if your body is larger or rounder than Fashion says is appropriate, consign Fashion to Hell and live your life. I repeat, YOU ARE OKAY AS YOU ARE.

  2. Avatar
    dale M

    Right on ladies! Also don’t let that crap that after childhood (25 yrs old), that turning slowly into women is a reason to slowly become more invisible. It ain’t true. Women R far more hotly desired as they become older, more sophisticated and begin to control the ropes. Never be a wall flower. It appeals to many evangelical men. I know a few in their 60s that desire underage girls. Heavy imprinting from childhood I guess. Since a lot of women marry way too young, once married, evangelicals put heavy constraints on their appearances …. for that reason … they’re married. As you age, U have a great deal more to look forward to. Forget the “little boys”. I speak as a Man !!

    Give them hell!

  3. Avatar
    Trenton

    Honestly one of the best halftime shows put on by the nfl. That being said the main people complaining about it being too sexualized are conservative christians who only wish they could look as good as Shakira and J. Lo. No one is fooled by their childish views on sexuality. Plus, if they don’t want to watch it, they can turn off the TV. What is more harmful to children, J Lo and Shakira killing it on stage, or not teaching your kids about sex and consent. Frankly there are plenty of examples of the latter being way more harmful in reality, within their own tribe even, than anything those artists put up on stage.

    Lastly, “coach” dave needs to get a life, if he doesn’t like what is on tv, turn it off. No one forced him to watch the halftime and the NFL, J Lo and Shakira had every right to put on whatever they wanted. You don’t get to sue the network, league and artists because you believe their performance will send you to hell just from watching it.

  4. Avatar
    dale M

    I lambasted this idiot on his own site. The comments R really 4 him. I challenged him to say in print that he would follow Jesus the Jew into a synagogue to pray. Nope. No can do. So don’t worry about him. He’s a follower of “Fake News”.

  5. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Coach Dave is the worst. I doubt if his complaint that seeing the halftime show will cause him to go to hell will stand up in court. Coach Dave just wants attention and to shame women.

    In my family we joke that I can’t join anything that dictates how or what I should eat or wear. That just doesn’t work for me.

  6. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    How often do the loudest, most virulent homophobes turn out to be closet queens?

    And how often does someone (like a certain Chief Executive) accuse others of crimes of which he himself is guilty?

    Likewise, how many of fuddy-duddy-mentalists get hot and bothered about J Lo’s or Shakira’s dress, or lack thereof, because, well, they’re hot for J. Lo or Shakira because, well, they’re hot?

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