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Why the church failed Jessica Simpson

Ten years ago the Mickey Mouse Club crew of the early 90s came of age by all getting record deals.  Britney, Christina, Justin and Jessica.  Jessica was the odd one out because, if I remember the E! True Hollywood story correctly, she tried out but didn’t make the cut. The Texan youth pastor’s daughter had a gift: the girl could sing! Different people would stop by the church to see her and possibly sign her, and her family “shopped” her around chasing after this dream.   As the story later surfaced, it turned out that she wanted to be a Christian recording artist but no one would take her.  

One label after another turned her down.  Why?  Her boobs.  They were too big for the world of Christian music.  Her life then took the trajectory we all saw plastered over the tabloids and MTV.
  It would seem she’s come full circle now, finding a home in the Bible Belt’s country genre – a place where Christians will still listen and you can keep your boobs.  (Welcome to my frankness.)

I spent this past weekend with 30 “Jessica’s” – women who didn’t fit into a mold the church had created and they either contorted themselves to fit that mold or they just left feeling alone and unloved.  The one thing they all had in common was the perfectionism that this abandonment caused.  I co-led a retreat and dived into why we were all deeply broken, tired, and unique.  

All of these women (as all are) were born gifted and along their journeys someone told them they were not good enough; that they shouldn’t do what they were doing.  So they all tried harder and harder.  Most of the women were in their 20s and 30s and one extraordinary woman came with her twentysomething daughter as they were both in the “recovery” process.  

It was remarkable to see that there is a generation of women coming of age that feel the need to perform, hide, try harder, do more in order to feel loved, accepted, wanted and worthy.  They are carrying around their baggage all by themselves because the church either told them they didn’t fit in or they gave them so many more bags to carry because they were “the mold,” and it appeared they could handle that much more. They continued to carry it around and it got heavier and heavier.

I wanted to hold this retreat because just like Jessica got her record deal finally at a non-Christian label, so are these women finding places of belonging outside the church.  The church has not become a safe place so women go dancing and make out with men to feel something.  They join new age book clubs to dialogue about life.  They marry an abusive person so they can climb the “you’re supposed to” ladder at church.  They eat too much or nothing at all or puke it up to hide their pain.  Their boobs are too big – their dreams too large – their intuition too right on and the patriarchal church didn’t know what to to.  

There are no models for this.  No one has done this before with Jesus.  You hear of women going so far over that they are now Buddhists or New Age or interfaith.  One woman’s husband said, “Oh so this is a one of those man bashing retreats.” But in actuality those who were married talked all weekend about how much they loved their husbands, but their perfection held them back because they didn’t know how to love fully.  So then women historically have turned to non-Christian sources for healing and restoration and more and more women find comfort outside the church.  Those resources are not always bad or evil but my point is why is there not more room for them at the inn?  In a lot of ways it is the story of so many women in the Bible and Jesus himself – they didn’t fit.

So we lit candles, walked a labyrinth, smashed plates, played Red Rover, tore apart magazines, painted, drummed, and danced to reclaim ourselves and to meet Jesus again.  It was one of the most courageous and beautiful weekends of my life.  What was most apparent to me and my co-leader is how needed this weekend was, so stay tuned because this is only the beginning.  We’re bringing our boobs and ourselves – our whole selves --  back to the church.  Because now we know that that is just how Jesus loves us.  

Comments

Kristin, you rock. I appreciate your frankness and your courage to ask these questions. Her boobs are too big for Christian music though. I mean, if Jessica Simpson was on a poster in my youth group, I wouldn't have learned a thing.

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Totally disagree. Jessica Simpson can always dress modestly if it's going to be a big deal. Let those who want to embrace the Christian lifestyle embrace it without other Christians looking down on them.

I listen to Christian music occasionally during CPR training in the Dallas area and would love Jessica's take on this genre.

Kristin,

Thank you for sharing a bit about your weekend... wish I had been able to join you all.

I think you hit on some very interesting things in this blog.. many things that I think about and talk through with students (female students in particular) on a regular basis. You stated: "They eat too much or nothing at all or puke it up to hide their pain. Their boobs are too big – their dreams too large – their intuition too right on and the patriarchal church didn’t know what to to. " ... I want to focus on this last phrase for a minute.

Many of my students talk about the "feminization" of the church. Though I disagree with attributing gender characteristics to particular actions/attitudes/responses, I think they are beginning to dive into this notion of perfection. "The Church" has certain ideas/understandings of what it means to be a good man or a good woman. (i.e. a good man does these things... or a good woman has these attributes). These ideas are furthered in literature, music, and subcultures -- and we end up with a generation of Christians in a fervent struggle, either seeking this un-Biblical perfection, or in their Biblical imperfection being pushed out of the church. In this understanding, the patriarchal church is destroying itself from the inside out, because it is placing constraints on both men and women (ex: women to be subservient and men to be hyper-masculine). What happens to those who simply don't fit?

I often wonder if these struggles will persist until we, as a universal Church body are able, willing, and wanting to fundamentally change the definitions (or at least broaden them), and thereby give space for us (big boobs, barely an A, single, married, divorced, stay-at-home mom, working woman... with all our baggage, gifts, intuitions, and dreams ) to come to Christ's table. It is a big challenge.

I am thankful for your work in this area. Blessings friend!

Thanks so much for your responses! I am thrilled to hear from you.

CJ - I appreciate you saying that and I think what I'm getting at is that when Jessica went "secular" she was marketed then with "her boobs" and not her whole self... I have to think that if a label had signed her, the posters would not have been the same as if you google her now and see her drenched in water.... obviously we will never know... The point remains though, I would have loved to have seen what would have happened if these conversations would have ensued in your youth group rather than saying because "her boobs are too big for Christian music so don't put her poster up," but how to love women and respect them for their whole selves. I think we'd have more men who could look women in the eyes and not at their chests. :) Just some thoughts, but yeah you couldn't put the current posters up...

Kristin - miss you friend! Thanks so much for bringing this up - I wrestle with that with my students as well. You have wisdom my dear. I agree the labeling is ridiculous - good this, bad that. I hate when we make issues black and white - there is so much more color in life... your comment about "what about those who don't fit" I just wanted to say that those are the ones Jesus welcomes to the table most often... the poor, the sick, the outcast... not the rich young ruler (which a lot of people I know are trying to become). We all have a feminine and a masculine side, but our culture is so far over (church included) into the masculine we have forgotten the feminine... I think of the feminist movement and I see lots of shoulder pads - women tried to make themselves more like men - a lot of good that did us! There were great strides, but we're starting to see the setbacks now too. I think until more women are given a space in the church to be authentic the problems will remain, but I have hope friend... those spaces are starting to be created! Thanks so much!

haha I was majorly kidding about the poster. I'm with you. Really stoked you're blogging for us.

Thanks CJ - I love doing it! I appreciate the support :) The conversant team is great.

i would have accepted Jessica Simpson at my youth group, that's for sure.

Thank you. It is such a relief to finally see another person voice the same concerns and opinions I have silently held for years...until now. I too am in the recovery process of realizing that I truly love Jesus, not the religious followers who label their opinions as facts.

This blog is a breath of fresh air and an encouragement.

I am a slim girl with a DD chest and while I don't dress immodestly there's only so much you can do to hide these things. I feel like an object of temptation that is loathed. Sometimes I get looks at church that make me feel pretty worthless. Sometimes I feel like I should just hide my body under a big sack so that I won't see the looks of condemnation -and lust. Maybe I should just put on a burqa... is that really what Christ wants from me or thinks of me? Didn't He make me this way? No matter how hard I work out or how little I eat I cannot lose weight in my chest. I was just telling someone yesterday that it was my ultimate dream to lose enough weight to fit into a C -or better, a B. I thought it was because there were a lot of cute clothes I wanted to wear that I can't wear without looking scandalous. Maybe there's more to my desire to alter my body. Maybe I used to be a passionate, intelligent, talented girl who wanted to be deeply involved in ministry, to serve my church and to go out and advance God's Kingdom and maybe my recent withdrawal, disillusionment, disappointment and waning passion have something to do with not feeling much love at church. Something to do with waiting until I have a smaller chest because then, I might be welcome and less of a 'threat.' I used to dream of even working on the church staff as a youth pastor (a dream that God has placed in my heart and thoroughly equipped me for), but I just feel like there's no room for a beautiful blonde on any church staff because I would be the stumbling block, the temptation, the one that everyone would assume would be the seductress, the one to bring about the dreaded scandal of an affair. Must I never have the respect of men, must I always feel the wrath of jealous and petty women? Christ loves me as I am, and would probably slug the pharisees who've stung me. No, He wouldn't but there's a few I would like to slug.

Thank you both for your honesty and openness. I hope you know that you are loved by God. Some churches' god (little g) have left out a lot of people which the THE GOD who created you would NEVER do. There is great healing to be done and sometimes the hardest part is finding our voice in that. I will keep you both in my thoughts as you find your voices and go after your God - given passions.

DD Guest,

I'm sorry you feel that way. My mother is a DD as well and has gone out of her way to find alternatives for younger girls. She recommends retailers like these that make stylish modesty a priority.

http://www.jenclothing.com/modest-swimwear.html . (These models can still inspire lust, but remember that’s the viewer’s problem :) )

Funny how religiuos leaders judge but tell everyone else not to. I agree with your opinion that sometimespeople in power in a church or group tell everyone what they believe is a fact. cd rates web hosting domain name

What a great post, Kristin. A strong tonic for trying times.
How important to create space for these
emerging voices. Thanks for making room (and a ruckus) now,
so they'll be a place for my daughter in another decade.

Thanks so much Craig! I really appreciate it. Your words are very encouraging.

Personally I think people tend to put too much emphasis on the church, when the reality is that, your relationship with God is most important. The church is just there to offer you a place to worship, otherwise you can worship at home, amongst friends, any sort of gathering is classified as the church. Computer Q & A

really? The church failed Jessica Simpson? I was once a huge fan of ms. Simpson but I am no longer.

I would NOT believe a word out of miss Simpson or her family. Jessica has said in Interviews that she is a liar.

(Teen People, October 2000: "I'm a Good Liar")
(Cosmopolitan, December 2008:"I'm so transparent, I'm the worst liar of all time")

This is what Jessica posed on her official message board back in 2000 when she first appeared in the magazine Maxim, which caused a LOT of controversy between Jessica and her fans.

" Ironically, i got out of christian music because i felt judged about my character based on what i wore and now i am in the secular world standing for that which is good and still being judged on my clothing by the same judgmental christians. So i guess there is no escaping the judging of some! One thing i have learned in these short 20 years of my life, is that the ones who judge the hardest are usually the ones with secret personal issues ".

also, Back in an interview in 2001, Jessica mentioned that she has always worn short shorts, short skirts and bikinis.

I'm not sure I follow you. My point is that because of the Christians judging her so harshly she wasn't "accepted" as she was even if she wore a short skirt. That doesn't make a person evil. She is one person and because of what she wears people choose to put her in a category, like she said her character was judged. She then went "secular" and when people in the industry do that there is immense pressure to conform even more to a sexual stereotype. A person can wear short skirts and shorts, but Maxim magazine doesn't put artists from Christian labels on their cover. This culture molds celebrities, the celebrities become interpretations of what we want... hence the celebrity culture that we have.

I agree with the guest above if his portrayal of Simpson is accurate.

I'd like to respectfully remind you that you are misinterpreting the "judge not" aspect of scripture: http://provocativechristian.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/provocative-bible-v... . The verse doesn't discourage judging; it discourages hypocrisy. Inevitably, a "good" Christian will find himself or herself hypocritical at some point because humans are fallible; thus, a Christian should be prepared to be judged by the same standards he or she applies and repent or forgive when necessary. However, this does NOT mean such standards shouldn’t be espoused! The idea is aiming high, knowing you’re going to fall short, and recognizing when something is pulling you down. Reasonable judgment (and forgiveness) is part of this process.

Jessica Simpson claimed she was prevented from singing church solos because she was “too sexy” ONLY after she rightly received criticism for her behavior in “These Boots are made for Walking.” The reality often is that these “downtrodden people” wear inappropriate outfits to church that accentuate their sexual attractiveness. If these individuals “believe” their sacred scriptures, they should make an effort to find modest, but stylish (one shouldn’t have to dress “old”) fashion alternatives like these: http://www.jenclothing.com/modest-swimwear.html . (These models can still inspire lust, but that’s the viewer’s problem :) ). Notice miss “double D” Simpson could go for a red “Audrey” next time she wants to sing a church solo instead of a lower cut alternative. Several similarly striking girls sing in my church choir and modest dress code requirements are enforced for all choir members despite attractiveness level. Every once and awhile, we’ll have a new comer who tries to blatantly “buck the system”; they’re always given an opportunity to find alternative, age appropriate outfits and a biblically based explanation of the dress requirement. We also make it perfectly clear they’re not sinners for being naturally attractive should they raise the issue. Many of these girls simply leave, citing feelings similar to Simpsons. Fortunately, this has nothing to do with our intolerance or lack of cooperation.

I randomly came across this page and really agree with you. Jessica Simpson at one time, was a genuine believer but unfortunately has now decided that she "isn't like that anymore" after moving to CA. Said so herself in an interview.

I believe this issue is just an example of one of the problems with modern Christians today and the ambivalence towards women's bodies and who we think can or can't be Christians. I've come across many a Christian who can't stand the sight of seeing a woman breastfeeding in church, therefore she must leave the pews and go elsewhere to feed her child, lest she tempt someone. I've heard many comments from women with larger busts (including myself) about how there's a tendency to feel "dirty", "sinful", and even ashamed because of one's body type.

I take some pride in my appearance but I don't show off. I'm also married so I know that I have a husband to honor and respect, but I'm not going to waltz around looking like a dowdy potato sack. For some reason however, dressing modestly and feminine still elicits issues from others.

Jesus said he came "not for the righteous, but for the sinners" and it's a shame that we in our churches can't follow that leadership. Jesus sure doesn't care if you're bigger busted or smaller busted, tall, thin, overweight, shapely, petite, whatever! We're all prone to the same sins and we do sin, and quite frankly that's the only "mold" we all fit into.

In church in the last couple weeks there was a reading on the woman at the well and her adultery. Jesus gave her a chance to repent and change, and be accepted. Why can't we do that?

I am glad you stumbled across it. Thank you for sharing so openly. I appreciate you saying what you did and I agree with you that the church has not made it as easy as Christ has with things like grace, love, and acceptance. I long for a day when we can journey towards reconciliation in peace with ourselves, Christ, the church and our communities. There are glimpses that it is happening, so thanks be to God for that! Peace be with you and keep doing what you're doing --- being yourself!! :)

I agree with you. While justin timberlake and britney spears did everything they could to get away from family values like disney Jessica simpson seemed to stay true to her values. The church to look down or not like woman like her is wrong. God made her so she should be a great person to showcase her talent.

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A recovering perfectionist that asks questions about life, art, the Spirit and this imperfect culture we live in, I help women tap into their true self in Jesus through creative means and spiritual direction.


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