“It’s Part Of The Role”

Balance, balance, balance, am I right, darlings? A girl can’t read William Willimon and pray all day — she’s got to get some pop culture in her life so that she can stay in touch with the trashy fun of our times, and also because the Church doesn’t need one more minister who thinks that “Dancing With the Stars” is BENEATH her. Please. Spare me your pieties. Pastors who think it’s a virtue that they don’t know who the Kardashian sisters are and who pride themselves on not having a Facebook account aren’t holier-than-anyone. They’re snotty and out of touch. I am serving up some PeaceBang Realness, now. *hip hop hand gesture*

I have been absolutely loving every little minute of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and since that’s so good for my heart and soul, I thought I’d check in to “Dancing With the Stars” because the commercial made it look like loads of fun! Miss Gladys Knight? Melissa Gilbert, formerly “Half-Pint” (I never like the “Little House” series because I worshiped the books, and also they made everyone look like hippies. I’d love to see Masterpiece Classics do a real, period treatment of Ingalls’ books, but I digress)? Hot football players and former “General Hospital” stars? Tennis great MARTINA NAVRATILOVA? So I DVR’d the first episode and watched it the other night (sans commercials, obviously, because enough already with the breaks every 30 seconds).

The dancing was fantastic and inspiring and it was super entertaining and happy. But I knew I’d have to write here about Martina Navratilova, who I remember as a fierce, awesome butch tennis player:

Yes, I said butch. She was, and it is meant as a compliment. I admired the hell out of her.

Now, that’s a great face, right? An expressive close-up of a famous woman.

However, if you put that woman in a public role as a speaker, at a distance (without a camera lens highlighting her fiery eyes), she looks worn out and washed out. Her features are all blended together because of her ruddy skin tone, and also because that’s just what age does, no matter what your skin tone. The vibrancy is gone.

Here, with a fantastic hair cut, color and a bit of make-up, the vibrancy is back. THIS is what I mean when I talk about looking polished. THIS.

An actual hair style, not just chopped off any old way. Skin tone evened out. A bit of make-up to play up the features. The face is alive. The image is public, ready to be seen, leadership-oriented.

Another fabulous look. The hair is shorter, but styled beautifully. She looks amazing: confident, put -together, ready to be seen, energized, stylish, and groomed. This is what older feminists need to understand: using cosmetics does not disempower you. What disempowers you is looking like you don’t have a clue what you look like, and have no control over your own image.

There is also this really serious theological issue: if you think it’s beneath your holy self to be concerned with issues like hair color and lipstick, you’re communicating to your whole community that their own attention to issues of self-presentation and grooming are frivolous. That has to end. We’ve had enough centuries of religious leadership judging and condemning all things relating to incarnational reality and it’s time to stop. It’s all part of a continuum: the pastor who thinks that concerns about appearance are shallow and vain is saying that the body doesn’t matter, that it is somehow inferior to the soul. While this seems theologically astute, it not only calls into question — or denigrates — the whole incarnational miracle we received through Christ, it assumes that one can minister to people’s souls without their bodies coming along. Stupid. Also shallow. Also outmoded, fuddy-duddy and sexist.

If adornment didn’t matter, the Pope would wear jeans and a baseball cap during public appearances.

Do you know what Martina — the fierce athletic superstar — said on “Dancing With the Stars” when asked about her glammed up appearance? “It’s great — you have to do it. It’s part of the role.”

You are not just a clothes hanger for dignified vestments. You are a vessel of a soul, and your face is the most public, relatable and communicative aspect of that vessel. All of you should be paying close attention to your face, to its grooming and appearance. Women, if you’re still strenuously avoiding cosmetic assistance, I can only say that if MARTINA NAVRATILOVA CAN BUST OUT THE LIP GLOSS, BY GOD, SO CAN YOU.

28 Replies to ““It’s Part Of The Role””

  1. Great post, but I must ask — WHAT DO YOU THINK HAPPENED WITH WILLEM TO GET HIM KICKED OFF RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE?!?!?!? I was quite shocked, and have read many theories, but I would love to hear yours! And I am in full agreement with what you have written in past posts about Latrice Royale. What a great queen! [I DON’T KNOW! IT’s KILLING ME! I assume that Willam was contacting people on the outside, or that he was promoting designers and getting a kick-back for it. I doubt that it’s anything particularly shattering. I think he got what he needed out of the season, which is lots and lots of fame. I’ll miss his hilarious one-liners but I will never forgive him for making us tolerate PhiPhi for one more episode — she has GOT TO GO. Talk about nasty attitude and insecurity destroying one’s beauty! I can’t even see her prettiness any more, she is such a vicious, miserable human being. – PB]

  2. This is a brillian post! I love it!

    I have been a fan of Dancing with the Stars for years. I just love it. I love the fun, the glitter, the depth of feeling. I love the spiritual transformation that you see in the contestants through the season. HELLO KELLY OSMOND, it was inspiring to see her change through the season. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

    As for your connections of incarnation, ministry and the body, I say AMEN.

    But your suggestion that Masterpiece theater do a version of Little House on the Prairie…that made me gasp at it’s brilliance!

  3. I’d take this radiant and glowing image sans make-up any day over some clergy-version of wearing stage make-up for playing a role…

    ahref=”http://www.biography.com/imported/images/Biography/Images/Profiles/T/Mother-Teresa-9504160-1-402.jpg”>Mother Teresa smiling

    If I’m speaking on a stage where stage-make-up is required, so be it. But in my normal life where I look at my face and smile because I’m happy with my god-given skin that I keep clean and moisturized? I don’t need any lip gloss to be a better pastor. My smile will be seen just fine at the bedside when I make my hospital visits. [ I know about the Sans Make-Up movement — what’s that web site? I can’t remember, but I think you know what I’m talking about — and I think it’s admirable in many ways, although very naive when it comes to public image. It isn’t about what “you’ll take,” it’s about how people perceive you. And while you may believe that you radiate awesome Mother Teresa-ness without a stitch of make-up, or if you prefer her visage to one of a gal with cosmetics on her face, that’s also naive. Women without a stitch of make-up on project a certain image, and it’s not one that serves the contemporary church. It serves, I dunno, maybe the 1860’s church. Of course lip gloss doesn’t make anyone a better pastor, who said it did? Both of your points seem unconvincing and irrational to me: the first, that you or any of us bring Mother Theresa to mind when people look at us without make-up (when they’re more likely to think that we look frumpy, or unrested or unsophisticated), the second that I’ve even suggested that wearing cosmetics makes one a better minister. – PB]

  4. Well, I’LL suggest it then: wearing cosmetics CAN make one a better minister. If wearing cosmetics makes a minister appear more polished, put-together, vibrant, and culturally relevant (as outlined by PB above), then is absolutely has improved her ability to minister effectively to the contemporary church and to be taken seriously by the world in which we live. Understanding how to improve one’s self-presentation (which for most of us, involves cosmetics) is a valuable ministerial skill, just like understanding how to modulate one’s affect for various pastoral situations, or the volume of one’s speaking voice for different settings, or anything else.

  5. It’s not just ministers, and to me, the issue isn’t cosmetics (which I struggle with, especially in the morning, when touching my sensitive skin with anything isn’t comfortable. It takes a few hours before I feel like touching my face. This is a problem on Sunday mornings), but what’s appropriate for a role.

    A friend just posted on her Facebook page about a few young college girls getting ready to make an academic presentation at a conference. They had a see-through gauzy top, a v-neck tshirt, and a peasant blouse, and were trying to decide which one was “appropriate” as the papers said “appropriate business dress”.

    All young things need to learn appropriate, because the fashion industry does not teach appropriate.

    BTW, in the cosmetic side of things, stage makeup is that really heavy stuff used on the stage. I only ever wore it for dance performances. For services, I tend to use very light stuff just to make sure I look moisturized and awake without puffy eyes. PB probably uses a lot more than me, and that’s where personal preference comes in.

  6. Thank you for this…for something I’ve been struggling with since my seminary days, which were not all that long ago, as a third career priest.

    I have gone from no makeup at all to mark the penitential seasons and then enduring “Wow, you okay? You look so pale and sick”.

    So now I wear makeup to suit the occasion and the season and yes, I’m even wearing lipstick during worship. I used to kiss the gospels book when I had finished proclaiming it, and that was my reason for not wearing lipstick.

    Through prayer and thought, I’ve decided I can elevate the book without kissing it and all is well. (very oversimplified, but you get my drift…I hope)

    The point is, it was only recently that I realised the impact my appearance has on the congregation. If I’m rockin’ it on a Sunday morning, full of energy and enthusiasm, so are they. If I’m standing still, delivering a blistering homily on social justice, and feel moved…so are they.

    An 80 year old lady who attends Bible Study and was born into the church commented that she was ready to break out her spring sandals, because she had seen me wearing mine and if i can do it and look dignified, why can’t she?

    I was gobsmacked. I know folks look at me, but I didn’t realise they LOOKED at me. And now I take my appearance that little bit more seriously, while still taking into account the season, how I feel, what’s happening in the parish and community etc.

    And I thank all of your for this fabulous forum to talk about lipstick and Jesus in the same breath. Because both are important and both belong to the whole people of God.

    Rock it sister!

  7. Interesting thoughts, Andrea. On the ‘I didn’t realise they looked at me’ thing, I realised that as a high school teacher when a student commented that I had three holes in one ear like her. I’d only ever worn earrings one in each ear, the other two holes had closed up and were partly covered by my hair so it really made me realise how they scruntise every aspect! (That and other similarly detailed comments).

  8. “Women without a stitch of make-up on project a certain image, and it’s not one that serves the contemporary church.”

    Image is culturally created. Where I live and serve, many, many professional women wear no makeup. They run Fortune 500 companies, appear on television, run for friggin’ governor, without anything on their faces but their own skin. Occasionally you see a little lipstick on women who otherwise don’t wear makeup. Plenty wear it, but plenty don’t.

    I don’t put anything on my skin except moisturizer (I do take care of my skin–I just don’t adorn it) because if I do say so myself, I have beautiful skin, and foundation is not in any way an improvement. (For some women it is, but not for nearly as many as think it is.) If I wore anything it would be lipstick, but I really dislike putting anything on my lips because I want to give people for-real (not air) kisses and not leave makeup on their skins. I feel no pressure to put anything on my eyes or lips for the same reason my male colleagues don’t: they are fine as is and there is not even a social expectation to alter them.

    Again, if the social expectation dictated that women without makeup could not be taken seriously, then I might have to wear it. You have to know your local language and make sure you aren’t unintentionally saying something you don’t intend to say. I swear to you there is no need or social expectation for such a thing.

  9. I don’t think I actually have a problem with ministers wearing well-applied, discrete make-up, hair styling and a fashionable, professional wardrobe.

    Equally, I don’t like to wear make-up for a variety of reasons and I dispute the idea that there is some kind of theological imperative to do so or to be fashionable in order to be all that God created me to be.

    Whilst I believe that ministers need to dress with a certain sense of professionalism and propriety, I’m not convinced that either extreme is (you must wear make-up/be fashionable vs. you must not) actually all that helpful.

  10. I don’t understand the suggestion that there are edicts being set forth here–“ministers must do this”, etc.

    What I believe is that understanding how to create one’s image and presentation–whether through cosmetics, clothing, hairstyle, voice, demeanor, or whatever else–is an important skill. In life, and certainly in ministry. Does God require us to be fashionable? No. Does understanding how to communicate through our own image, of which fashion is a part, help many of us be more effective in the work that God has called us to undertake? Yes. A thousand times, yes.

    For me, this is all about communication. Just as we don’t get to control how others interpret what we say, and we don’t get to control how others interpret the way we look. If I decide to stop putting effort into my appearance because doing so is shallow and vain, I might WISH that others would read my unadorned appearance as a rebuke of our culture. But how they will actually interpret my appearance has nothing to do with my wishes and everything to do with their own cultural associations. And the simple fact is that in our culture, looking polished and put-together carries associations of vitality, energy, and relevance. If you can look polish and put-together without the benefit of cosmetics, how wonderful! I congratulate you. But I myself cannot. And thus, cosmetics help me in my ministry.

  11. I don’t understand the suggestion that there are edicts being set forth here–”ministers must do this”, etc.

    Maybe that’s not the case. The tone sounds pretty unequivocal to me.

    If I decide to stop putting effort into my appearance because doing so is shallow and vain, I might WISH that others would read my unadorned appearance as a rebuke of our culture. But how they will actually interpret my appearance has nothing to do with my wishes and everything to do with their own cultural associations.

    Implied in that statement is a judgement that you’re making about “me” (not as an individual but as an archetype) that I’m not trying to make. I’m not trying to rebuke others as shallow and vain. I just don’t like wearing make-up. And I find it difficult and exhausting to try to be subtly and professionally fashion-forward.

    I came back to the US after 20 years living in the UK. It’s not a standard thing in the UK for women to wear make-up, but nor is it considered odd to wear it. No one would assume that not wearing make-up is either trying to make a statement nor would they assume it’s not caring about themselves.

    If you can look polish and put-together without the benefit of cosmetics, how wonderful! I congratulate you.

    Thank you. I think I can.

    But I myself cannot. And thus, cosmetics help me in my ministry.

    And I have no problem with that. Zero problem.

  12. Hi PamBG, when I wrote “If I decide to stop putting effort into my appearance because doing so is shallow and vain,” I wasn’t trying to imply that this is THE reason why you as a particular woman, or non makeup wearing women in general, would give for not wearing makeup. It was a hypothetical example, and I just chose one of the infinite reasons a woman might have for not wearing makeup. My point is that regardless of my rationale for choosing not to wear makeup, that rationale wouldn’t affect how others interpret that choice. How they interpret it will depend on their own cultural associations–as your observation about the cultural differences between the US and the UK perfectly illustrates.

  13. This post reminds me of a personal experience I had recently. I am a pastor and as a regular practice I do wear minimal makeup, very minimal. Not as a statement, I’m just lazy and rushed most Sunday mornings.

    One Sunday morning I got comments from several church members about how nice I looked. I was perplexed because the outfit I was wearing was something I have worn many times before. My hair was styled the same way I always style it. So what was different?


    I had decided for the first time in a long time to slick on a subtle mauve shade of lipstick I had purchased on a whim. But the interesting thing was that people weren’t commenting on the color of my lips. They were commenting on my overall appearance… just because of a little extra color.

  14. I was inspired by this post to write something up for my blog (it started life as a comment but grew too big). I really appreciate all the different voices on this topic.

  15. I’m with Pam and Amy – in a hippie-crunchy college town in northern New England, makeup is by no means expected. I think I already startle people by being put-together and professional in my dress (and wearing stylin’ Dansko boots to preach in 🙂 ) and wearing a collar, even on weekdays.

    Among my reasons for not wearing makeup are: (1) I touch my face/rub my eyes a lot and don’t want to have to break that habit; (2) putting on makeup would force me to get up earlier, thus losing precious sleep and possibly canceling out any enlivening effect; (3) I’m a generation younger than most of my congregation, and looking a bit older than I am is not necessarily a bad thing; (4) I have chronically, seriously chapped lips and have yet to figure out how to regularly wear lipstick without making a horrendous mess of it.

    It occurs to me that I might be able to find some of my beloved Burt’s Bees chapstick that has some subtle color, though.

  16. Whenever I forget to wear mascara, blush, or lipstick, sunday morning becomes “about me”–people asking if I’m tired, did I not sleep well, etc. I think that wearing makeup for me is just like wearing a robe for presiding–it does help me become transparent to the larger thing I’m representing. However image is “created”, understanding what is culturally expected and working with it consciously is a mark of both adulthood and professionalism. If my physician showed up for regular office hours in sweats or shorts and flip flops, I would have a hard time taking them seriously. I would wonder what was “up” with them personally and distrust their professional judgement.

    As a chaplain and as a social worker, I know people on every place on this spectrum (highly made up to no make up, very stylish to very intentionally not stylish) and the people on either end are taken less seriously, seen as more agenda driven, more focused on themselves, and as less “professional”. They may have every reason to dress as they do but I don’t know those reasons and honestly, may not give them a chance to tell me (I’m thinking of a grade school teacher I know who dresses–I’m not kidding–like batman’s girlfriend in the classroom, platforms and big hair and all. Her disconnect with her image and her context makes me distrust her judgement). I don’t like using “professional” as a term to describe ministry, but I think it is a helpful if imperfect paradigm for managing the expectations placed on our appearance.

  17. Madgebaby, would it help if you define “professional” as the word for “trained, skilled, experienced, and taking this work seriously”?

  18. I have appreciated the way you have called attention to these issues over the years and it has had an impact on the way I dress and my attitude towards makeup. Part of this is an “update”. The ethos around these things has changed more than I had. It is true, as some writers say that the ethos as to what is professional and polished differs in different places and different subcultures — I grew up in an area of the country where almost everyone dressed down and used little makeup — most of us who go into ministry are not as alert to the difference social and cultural customs around us as we need to be. Your call to us to pay attention to how we are seen as a piece of how we communicate, is much needed by most of us. The particulars of your suggestions are sometimes not applicable to others’ situations, but the general idea behind it is very helpful. The specifics are helpful, too, for those of us inexperienced or a bit tone deaf when it comes to this music. We just have to adapt them to our own situations, regions, physiques, and personalities. I like the specifics.

  19. That’s exactly what I mean by “professional” paganbuddy. From the social work code of ethics id also add a modicum of being able to step back, observe objectively and assess without putting my own needs and felt desires in a primary position.

  20. My point is that regardless of my rationale for choosing not to wear makeup, that rationale wouldn’t affect how others interpret that choice. How they interpret it will depend on their own cultural associations

    I agree with that. Absent being able to speak to each other face to face, I’m not sure I have much to say other than that I heard and I agree.

  21. Context is important too. Not everyone lives and works in large cosmopolitan cities.

    I work in a Midwestern rust-belt town (the steel mill finally shut down in 2008, eliminating 700 jobs at the time) where most women wear jeans and a tee shirt or track suits. Trying to look both “professional” and approachable at the same time can be tricky.

    I used to live in London. Clothes that looked modest there would look over-the-top formal where I work now.

  22. I have been pondering this post for several days now, and it is still poking me, so I will comment.

    I am called to be in ministry. I have been a pastor, I have been a director of a national non profit, and now I direct a church run non-profit in my city.

    I have never seriously worn makeup. When I do, I feel like a fake. Seriously a fake. During a recent sabbatical, I decided that I should try as a hospital chaplain for the time of my sabbatical to do the make up and when I started reading this blog daily. I found on days that I did put on makeup, I felt like not really me.

    My mother taught me how to wear makrup when I was growing up, as she rarely goes out without her face tastefully done. So it isn’t that I don’t know how, I just literally feel like I am telling a lie. This isn’t who I really am.

    Yes, I can wear makeup for the stage and have done so also for pictures – but when I get those pictures back – I hate them, because its not who I really am.

    My daughter wears makeup and I don’t have a problem with it, it feels right to her – but I would rather give people the real me and feel confident than put on make up and feel like I am lying to the very people I try to care for.

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