Archive for the ‘Charm School Rules’ Category

Pulling out all the stops on walking

October 27, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to walk again …

The Charm Marm gives the sweet girlies in her charge another walking tutorial on page 20 of the Christian Charm Manual. The lesson titled “As I Walk Through Life” includes several thoughts to bear in mind while putting one foot in front of the other, including the following warning:

A girl will never be charming – no matter how harmoniously her muscles are coordinated – if she is out of harmony with her Creator, out of harmony with family and friends, demanding her way above theirs.

We then see a list of scripture verses to support various walking imperatives: ” God wants me … to walk circumspectly, to walk in the Spirit, to walk worthy of the Lord” – and then my favorite – “to walk in the fear of the Lord.”

Yes, chickadees – that’s how the Charm Marm does it. The simple act of walking becomes a quagmire of literal and metaphorical spiritual missteps. (And what is fundamentalism if not a mishmash of literal and metaphorical?)

The upshot: Again, we mustn’t assert our will above the wishes others. Again, the slightest stumble may mean we aren’t worthy. And again, we must live, walk, breathe and brush our hair in fear.

Part of the problem here of instructing young girls to make no demands and to live in fear – often, the fear of not being worthy – is that they develop no sense at their core of their right to fully occupy their space, to have a personality, to have desires, to have a say in what happens to them. We’re instructed in countless sermons and Bible lessons to “die to self” and to not “let the world squeeze us into its mold” (renegade, non-King James translation on that last one). But how can we give away a self that doesn’t even exist? How can we tamp down something that has no shape? The sweet girlies in Christian charm school are subtly persuaded that we have nothing to offer at all – to ourselves or to the world – that is truly our own.

Undo the Charm Marm

You can’t swing your arms properly while walking if you don’t have a backbone. The ultimate trickery is that we’re taught that the backbone itself is the act of giving ourselves away – we’re taught that we’re nothing on our own, that only with help from outside ourselves can we muster a loving attitude to “walk in the Spirit.”

It’s time for sweet girlies everywhere to know that their backbone is their very own inimitable self, complete with desires and talents. Sometimes demanding your own way is the best possible action you can take. Your way is valuable. For that matter, you’re serving others most effectively when you know what you have to offer and what your metaphorical fingerprint looks like. (Hint: It may look like a fingerprint, but it feels like a backbone.)

Consider these your walking papers.


The perils of walking in church

September 14, 2009

Today’s Christian Charm School lesson brings us to the crucial spiritual principle of posture. Evidently, saints know not to swing their arms and hips too wildly while walking.


Don't walk like an Egyptian.

Maybe the Pope and the Dalai Lama will be covering this soon as well, but for now, the Charm Marm is the only guide we have who points out the scriptural importance of walking properly.

On page 18 of the Christian Charm Manual, the sweet girlies in class are shown the above illustration with instructions to “glide smoothly” and “keep stride moderate” and to not “swish knees noisily,” “drop heels with a thud” or “sway hips unnecessarily” when walking.

One the opposite page, the metaphor of “walking after the flesh” is presented with scriptures such as, “Let me not forget I am not my own” (I Corinthians) and “May I not grieve Thy Holy Spirit in the slightest way today—not once!” (The Charm Marm actually combined two verses from Ephesians and Ecclesiastes for that last one.)

So here we are again, chickadees, learning that the slightest thing we do incorrectly may grieve the Holy Spirit. Even the gods of ancient Greece weren’t this easily offended. It’s hard to imagine taking this line of thinking seriously:

  • Walk gracefully. Jesus likes it that way! (Hmm, was he gliding smoothly under the weight of that cross?)
  • Don’t swish your knees when you walk. Jesus doesn’t like it that way! (Did he walk quietly into the temple before throwing out the money changers?)

This level of detail seems silly, as always. But it gets at the fundamentalist need for control. Those of us immersed in that way of thinking as youngsters absorb all kinds of subconscious patterns that make us feel a very strange thing indeed: the need to control and be controlled simultaneously.

We learn that we aren’t masters of our own fate, but rather should be content with whatever rolls our way. We call this “God’s will” and use it as a reason for not making our own decisions or taking responsibility for what we really want.

Yet we also want to control others. We want everyone else to believe exactly as we do, and we plan to wave goodbye as they’re tossed into a literal, fiery hell if they think they’ve found God another way. We want to control the way others perceive truth, and we want to control the way others perceive us (since we’re taught that we’re only worthy when we’re pleasing others).

Undo the Charm Marm:

These patterns run deep. Even if you didn’t grow up thinking Jesus might actually care whether you “drop your heels with a thud” when you walk, the desire for control is transmitted implicitly through more traditional church teachings. It’s easy enough to realize you want to relinquish control of others and take control for yourself, but actually doing it can be tough.

Find some specific point of control you feel and undo it. T.S. Eliot famously asked in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” Let your answer to that be “yes,” even if it means swishing your knees noisily when you walk. Notice that the universe does not unravel when you do so.

Notice, too, that the universe does not implode when you let go of the desire to control others’ perceptions. Nor do you smell brimstone when you state clearly what you want instead standing by passively. And while you’re thinking that over, be sure to swing your hips a little.

Spiritual girth, bust size and two inches of holiness

February 28, 2009

Measured appeal?

The students at my particular right-wing school were measured in all sorts of ways on a regular basis. The principal or his wife (beehive hairdo!) would walk into class for a dress code check, for example, and everyone would stand. For boys, hair had to be a half-inch above their shirt collars, or something like that. For girls, skirt hemlines had to fall at least two inches below the knees. Then the wardrobe & hair check would be over, and we returned to studying our conspiracy-theory curriculum about how the United Nations was a plot to spread communism to the United States. All in a day’s education.

When the hour for Christian Charm Class rolled around, though, the Charm Marm really kicked the measuring stick up a notch. One page of my workbook includes instructions about how to accurately measure your bust, waist, hips and so on, with a chart to fill in the numbers. A handy note advises that “Bust and hips should be equal, with waist ten inches smaller. A variation of two inches is allowable.”

So … Jesus wants us to be pin-up girls?

The next page asks how we measure up spiritually, with checklists to report on our use of “spiritual vitamins” and our “healthy appetite for God’s word.” (I guess one could get a little overly voracious and end up spiritually chunky?)

The real stroke of madness comes on the page about “spiritual proportions.” Another checklist awaits the maidens under the heading, “Am I in perfect form?”

  • Is your head of moderate size? Or do you act as though you know more than others?
  • Are your shoulders broad enough to bear others’ burdens? Do you cheerfully lighten the load of those around you?
  • Are your knees limber, ready to kneel in submission?

Yes, it really says that. I swear on my holy measuring tape that I’m not making this up. We’re evidently to believe that God wants us to take our spiritual vitamins, so that our bust, waist and hips are in proper proportion. Then we’re to be sure the rest of our body is performing admirably as well: Our head mustn’t be big enough to reveal that we know more than others, our shoulders must serve the sole purpose of bearing other people’s burdens and our knees must be limber enough to show submission on a dime.

In other words, we’re supposed to look voluptuous but only speak or move when we’re humbling ourselves or helping others. It’s this kind of thinking that led the early church fathers to invent the story about Mary Magdalene being a prostitute. We’re to be as meek as Mary the mother of Jesus and as alluring as Mary the mythical hooker. Can you say “hooker with a heart of gold”? I think I need another spiritual vitamin.

Undo the Charm Marm: Whatever body you have, it’s none of the Charm Marm’s business. Besides, I’ve been told that you’re shockingly beautiful.

That aside, wouldn’t the Charm Marm also have to admit, according to her beliefs, that God seems to make bodies in quite a few shapes and sizes? And if we’re following the Bible here, didn’t Jesus say to love not only others but also yourself? Oh, and wasn’t there something about not judging? That seemed important at the time.

So let’s rethink the list about heads, shoulders and knees.

  • I’ll tell you what’s important about your head: Pay attention to your ideas, and share them. Act on them.
  • As for your shoulders, take on the responsibility of your own happiness, which will include avoiding situations with harsh measuring sticks.
  • I’m not sure what to say about your knees. Symbolism should only be taken so far. Go ahead and keep them limber, I guess, so you can keep walking after you turn 100. Take your calcium and vitamin D, too.

Instead of worrying about having proportions that will make you the next Pin-Up for Jesus, give yourself a good proportion of care. Leave the criticism, um, behind. Because believe me, two inches never mattered so little.

Hair: It’s not just what’s on your head anymore

February 5, 2009

The next lesson in the Christian Charm Manual reveals the answer to one of the great spiritual mysteries pondered by mystics and theologians through the ages: Which hairstyles are God-approved? And does God have one favorite hairstyle?

In the tried and true method of Cosmo, the Charm Marm gives the girlies a multiple choice quiz on this page. The questions:

  • Should I be overly concerned with my hair?
  • What should be my motive in striving for lovely hair?
  • Should I choose an extreme or elaborate hairdo?
  • Should I change the basic color of my hair?

With the right answers, we can get to chopping and curling immediately! Holy approval is only a visit to a beautician away! Forget a nunnery – get thee to a beauty salon!

The wrong answers – and there are decidedly wrong answers – are as interesting as the right ones. The upshot of the quiz is that since “if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her” (have I thanked you lately for that one, Apostle Paul?), some time should be spent to keep hair “clean, well-groomed and attractive.” A girl should be careful, though, that her motive is not “to outdo the other girls” or “to attract attention” but rather to be admired so that her “influence will count for Christ.” Naturally, this leads to “modest, simplistic” styles.

I think we know where this is going – a girl’s hair should be mostly straight but not overly straightened. One doesn’t want the eye to linger. It should have enough wave to hint of a smile and to suggest an upbeat demeanor. But beware of unchecked curls that may appear untamed.


Fourth & final holy hair mystery revealed!

Finally, the quiz reveals that God is the only qualified expert to determine your proper hair color. The fourth question discloses that in coloring your hair, you gain nothing and lose your “unaffected naturalness.” In addition, the false color might make you appear to be unsure of your personal worth. Ah, there’s the catch. Whether you really feel worthy (enough to attract attention, perhaps?) isn’t the point; it’s whether you appear to feel worthy that matters.

In other words:
Appearing to have confidence: Good!
Actually having enough confidence to make bold choices: Bad!

Attracting attention: Bad!
Being admired in order to attract attention for God: Good!
Blending in: Also good!

Appearing to care about appearance: Bad!
Caring about appearance: Good!

In addition to the skewed version of beauty and why it may or may not matter, this approach encourages a basic if subtle dishonesty and a disconnection from your true self. And listen, kitty cats, even if you’ve long stopped believing obviously absurd notions such as that Jesus prefers your hair a certain way, those underlying beliefs can remain in your subconscious patterns.

Undo the Charm Marm:
However nice it may be for your hairstyle to reflect something about who you are, I’m 100 percent sure that Jesus never had any rules about it. I have no objection to lovely hair. I own more than one comb, and I condition my locks regularly. I expect corporations to encourage me to have an inordinate preoccupation with my hair. I expect them to conduct scientific tests and haul out experts who will try willy-nilly to get me to buy their products in an onslaught of ads. But religious hair instruction is more insidious than media assaults on a girl’s self-esteem.

As Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English point out in For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women, when experts and official figures give advice, they nearly always over the decades have pointed women toward domesticity with “the solemn and intimidating authority of science to back them up.” In Christian Charm Class, science gets replaced by God (just refer to the six-day creation story taught in my school’s science class), and the pressure to appear a certain way gets all muddled together with whether a lake of fire is in your eternal future and whether you’re disappointing your ultimate authority figure with every stroke of your brush.

So here’s a new quiz for you, Charm Marm:

  • Do you have a clear sense of what makes you a unique person?
  • Do you have the confidence to express that part of yourself, even if it involves (gasp!) attracting attention?
  • Does your passion for life come through in all sorts of ways, maybe including your hairdo and maybe not?

Fair enough.

Looking for charm in all the wrong places

January 26, 2009
Vow of perpetual pleasing

Vow of perpetual pleasing

Lesson the next: Steadfast vows of charmed misdirection.

On page 7 of the Christian Charm Manual, the Charm Marm asks the sweet girlies for another commitment:  “I want to be attractive and charming, so that I will please others. I realize that this will not come about through wishful dreaming. I realize that I must work toward that goal diligently and steadfastly.” Later on the page, there’s a checkbox to make it official: “Therefore, I will practice the rules of health and beauty presented during this Charm Course, insofar as I am able to do so.”

Oh, check that!

A second commitment about spending time in God’s presence each day goes alongside that one, which is perfectly lovely, of course – I have no objection to communing with the divine. But the dastardly Charm Marm equates loving God with pleasing others in the most superficial way … as if Jesus wants nothing more from us than to please the pants off of everyone we encounter. (Not literally, sweet girlies – please!)

The Charm Marm doesn’t consider that perhaps we eager beavers in her charge are here on earth to fulfill our own missions, that we need to develop our own skills, and that we deserve a chance to shine in our own way instead of running around getting steadfast about becoming attractive to others.

Nor does the Charm Marm warn that sometimes “others” don’t want the right things, that they have their own problems to work out, that they might not have our best interests in mind, that they might not have pure intentions themselves, or that they might have absolutely no business expecting us to please them.

Every which way but pleased
What she does do is give us a fill-in-the-blanks list of things to improve so that we’ll appear more charming – an action plan for the charm-impaired. I do find my list amusing. I decided to improve “my face,” for one thing. I’m not sure what I planned to do about that, really, since I rarely suffered breakouts. Did I want to switch from a heart-shaped face to the more enviable oval shape? Perhaps that would stand out less or be a little closer to godly perfection. Perhaps I felt pointy chins were akin to the devil’s pitchfork.


Please unto others?

As for my “get organized” vow, maybe I was cheating. It just so happened that I was a whirlwind of tidiness as a wee lass. On more than one occasion, I asked my mother for permission to organize her kitchen cupboards. Even before my life became busy with kindergarten, I asked my big brother if didn’t he pretty please want to put me in charge of keeping his dresser drawers neat. (He politely declined.) I was already pretty steadfast about improving other peoples’ lives with the most demure attitude, you see.

Charm school was extreme submissiveness training. We sweet things were taught to be perpetually pleasing to others by having no boundaries or will of our own. Think of the energy we were instructed to apply simply to making ourselves mild, minor characters in other people’s stories.

Undo the Charm Marm: It’s time for submissiveness de-programming. Maybe it is time to get steadfast and diligent, but not about pleasing others … how about developing a backbone, discovering our talents, and expressing ourselves?

Someone should have taught us to speak up for ourselves, chickadees. Here’s a shocking revelation: expressing emotions and original thoughts isn’t being surly. So it’s time to make up for lost time. Assert your own will at will, if you will.

Let’s all just assume we’re on earth to do something that only we can do. There. Next step: Realize that you’re wasting time by wantonly pleasing every Tom, Dick, Harry, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Yes, of course, it’s good to help others; however, unconsciously filling other people’s needs while remaining unaware of your own is a cop-out. Flittering around from need to need means you’re frittering away your very particular energy. So here’s a new vow: Yes to fritters, no to frittering.

How many calories are in that Bible verse?

December 17, 2008

Counting calories and checking off Bible chapters … it’s like chocolate and peanut butter … no, make that oil and vinegar. Yep, it’s an emulsion of fear. A sad salad of limitations.  And it’s awfully hard to undress a salad.

While other lessons in the Christian Charm Manual can be vague about what exactly the sweet girlies should do to deserve their salvation, this two-page spread stuns with its specificity: holiness through calorie counting. This pairing manages to turn spirituality into both a simplistic process and an unpleasant one. Now that’s what I call empty calories, chickadees.


Mmm, donuts and Revelation.

Although the charts open onto the same page, it’s unclear whether they work in tandem. For example, will the Charm Marm excuse an extra soda cracker (25 calories!) if we throw in an extra Bible chapter? Or maybe just a verse or two will do for such a slim indulgence.

It’s as if the Powers That Were sat around their dour conference room table and said, “Hmm, let’s give these sweet girlies the sense of an impending,  omnipresent measuring stick to inspect their dull duties at every turn. Yes, that sounds about right. Let’s drain the goodness out of every last activity, shall we? Let’s give them a sense of trepidation related to the very food they need to survive. Oh, let’s do.”

Let’s go to the source on this one. I’m sure all Christian Charm School drop-outs remember the story about Jesus and the hungry crowd. You’d think the Charm Marm would have noticed that that the miracle didn’t provide just enough bread & fish so that the women attending wouldn’t be tempted to take in more calories than they should. The story says at least a dozen baskets were left over after everyone was full. In fact, doesn’t the very idea of a miracle (which occurred, as I recall, right after the Beatitudes) seem at odds with restrictions?

Undo the Charm Marm: Counting is for math class. You deserve to be fully nourished. Just because I call you “chickadees,” don’t eat like one. A little seed here and there does not a charmed life make. Your soul is your long-distance power source, and it doesn’t count calories. While I’m at it, self-deprivation is more perilous than any number of calories, counted or otherwise.

Of course, it’s good to be healthy. I’m friendly with certain fruits and vegetables. I walk a lot and sometimes run, but only while listening to super fun music. I regularly eat ice cream and chocolate. I try to eat animal products of the hormone-free, antibiotic-free and free-to-roam varieties … but I can occasionally be seen eating fast food. In sum, I recommend the following plan: Be healthy most of the time. The rest of the time, don’t worry about it.

If you happen to be fond of lists (as I indeed am) just make sure they’re more helpful than bossy. And, you know, don’t let anyone suggest that you might burn in hell for all eternity if you veer off-spreadsheet. Replace the mean charts with the idea that nothing less than a feast will do, metaphorical and otherwise. What if instead of going at life with a checklist in hand, we did everything with a sense of abundance? To the feasting tables, chickadees!

Brush your way to glory

November 11, 2008

No Christian Charm Manual-style how-to on hair styling would be complete without a reminder that girls are “the weaker vessel.” The lesson entitled “Femininity – My ‘Crowning Glory'” includes this picture of a gleaming but docile visage above these four instructions “to be truly feminine.”

Brush your way to glory.

Calling all weaker vessels ...

1.    See that you look like a girl – not a boy.
2.    Don’t usurp the role of the male.
3.    Cultivate a quiet, gentle spirit.
4.    Value your chastity.

Here, the Charm Marm teaches the quiet glory of styling one’s hair in an attractively submissive fashion. This particular hairstyling niche seems overlooked by fashion magazines these days. How is a girl to know which products will train her to coif stay perfectly obedient all the day long? One’s bangs must be compliant, one’s length must be meek, one’s ponytails must be modest but not faint-hearted. And one’s hairstyle must not pose a threat to nearby males.

The verses the Charm Marm includes on this workbook page include, “I suffer not a woman … to usurp authority over the man,” a reference to “the weaker vessel” and a reminder that a woman is a mere “help meet.” I confess that I generally find hair-care instructions to be confusing, but never quite this demoralizing.

I won’t attempt to go at the whole gender-religion thing in one blog entry. Suffice it to say that Jesus was  revolutionary about the role of women in society, treating them as equally important vessels of divinity. The men who followed him simply didn’t get it, and the men who determined what went into the Bible had their patriarchal political agendas to boot.

So why, a couple of thousand years later, are sweet little girlies being instructed about their limited importance? Because we’re only charming if we know our place? We’re only charming if we sit quietly and act pleased just to be allowed in the building? We’re only charming if we acknowledge that our very existence starts us off in the minus column – and that we’re supposed to stay there? And it’s so important that we understand our inadequacies that even our hair must convey the proper tone?

Usurpers, grab your brushes!

This workbook page reminds me of a church service I once attended in Knoxville, Tennessee. On that spring day, the pastor behind his pulpit found his way to the topic of women. I believe Eve was mentioned. He seemed anxious to give her a good scolding. He allowed – perhaps fancying himself magnanimous – that women could occasionally speak in church, especially if teaching children. “We can trust you dangerous hussies to give directions to little kids now and then,” the preacher didn’t really say but surely implied, “but don’t you temptresses ever tell me or others of male persuasion what to do.”

Oh, and did I mention that it was Mother’s Day? I think most of the women were downstairs preparing the potluck anyway, so I guess they’d already gotten the message.

Undo the Charm Marm: This ludicrousness of this lesson on hair grooming and gender politics is a little easier to see than the more subtle misogyny that pervades many church gatherings. The bottom line is that if anyone tries to make you feel powerless or fearful, it’s your divine right – yea, verily, your sacred duty – to ignore them. Give the culprit a decidedly un-demure look if you have to. Nobody, whether male, female, extra terrestrial, preacher, pitcher or belly itcher, has the right to diminish you. It’s not your responsibility to sport a submissive hairdo, chickadees – it’s your responsibility to stand up and be the full extent of who you are. And seriously, aren’t gender stereotypes so boring at this point? Charm school students who are bored, raise your hands. These cheap shots are tedious, destructive nonsense and have no more actual heft than a pretty, little hair on your head.

Maybe if the apostle Paul had ever actually met Jesus, he would have understood that a woman’s glory is being fully and completely who she is, instead of telling the Corinthians that “if a women have long hair it is a glory to her.”

Survival of the prettiest

October 10, 2008
Will Jesus like what he sees?

What would Jesus see?

For a school that didn’t teach evolution, the rules for survival were harsh in charm class.

Early in the Christian Charm Manual, the sweet girlies are instructed to muse: “Does my face reflect the image of Christ’s beauty within me?” This lesson contains a one-two pretty punch: Step one, invite Jesus into your heart … Step two, be sure you’re attractive.

This page spells out the prayer of confession. But the Charm Marm doesn’t settle for mere conversion. Immediately below the prayer is the following pronouncement:

The above prayer of commitment is an important step in the development of inner beauty. When a girl’s heart has found peace with God, harsh tension lines relax; a new softness and gentleness appears; a lovely new radiance and glow – the light of His glory – shines through from within. Yes, a NEW LOOK WITHIN and a NEW LOOK WITHOUT go hand in hand. To be truly attractive, a girl must have both!

Now this is shocking beyond belief. And I do mean “beyond belief” in so many ways. Can you imagine Jesus admonishing Peter, James, John, Mary or Martha about their attractiveness?

  • You must give away your goods to the poor – except for those face creams. You’re going to need those later backstage at our Disciples Who Glow talent contest.
  • Yea verily, all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed … and a whole new look. For I say unto you, you cannot have new life within and wrinkles without.
  • Blessed are those of you who are truly attractive – I’ve got some extra loaves and fishes for you later.

Clearly, it’s ridiculous; nonetheless, somehow many of us are convinced – in more subtle ways, typically – through our religious programming to look outside of ourselves for validation. When we’re persuaded that how we look matters, our psyche assumes we need outside approval for other facets of our lives, too. Many of us who grew up in fundamentalist organizations realize at some point in our lives that we’re always looking externally for approval or for answers. As a result, we’ve given away our own power, bit by bit.

Undo the Charm Marm: Ignore your critics and listen to yourself. Seriously. You can start by simply sitting quietly whenever you can sneak in a few minutes. Ask yourself how you’ve forfeited your authority by looking to others for approval. Nothing that’s external – whether it’s how you look or where you live – matters as much as that quiet space within yourself. This is your inner wisdom becoming your companion again. This is you and your soul getting back in touch. This is something to write home from charm school about.

Shopping list: God’s mouthwash

September 30, 2008

Found in the Christian Charm Manual‘s “My Spiritual Grooming” lesson, God’s mouthwash is pure liquid revelation. At least, it might be. The details are a little unclear. This workbook page begins with this graphic:

God's mouthwash ... found in finer universes everywhere.

The message of this particular page seems strangely vague – you’d think that given the urgent need for thorough & ongoing cleansings, a girl could get her grubby hands on some fine points.

Our dear charm-marm asks insistently:

  • Do I remove the accumulated soil each day with a cleansing “spiritual bath”?
  • Do I sweeten my mouth regularly with “God’s mouthwash”?
  • Do I apply “God’s spot-remover” and “spiritual bleach” to my blemishes?

But wait, there are more. (There are always, always more.)

  • Do I allow the penetrating action of “God’s detergent” to cleanse me all the way through?
  • Is my “spiritual closet” clogged with old “skeletons”?

First: So … God’s mouthwash: found in finer universes everywhere?

Second: Please note that “God’s spot-remover” is not an effective cleaning agent on its own and must be used in conjunction with “spiritual bleach” for maximum effectiveness. One assumes that God accepts no responsibility for residual stains on the heart if the sullied ones don’t use recommended products in combination and as directed.

Third: Penetrating action? I’m not taking that anywhere.

Fourth: Is my potentially clogged “spiritual closet” my colon? I really don’t get that one since this workbook page isn’t about my wardrobe.  Believe me, our Christian Charm Manual covers the wardrobe later. We have lots of advice ahead about how to tie our bows, sweet girlies.

Bible verses and more poems appear on the page, too – lots of references to bad words, filthiness of the flesh, spots and wrinkles – but they’re not particularly directive. It’s the fear of filth that hogs the spotlight here.

Undo the Charm Marm: The thing is, that “out, out damn’d spot” mania just doesn’t work in terms of spirituality. Bring your shadows into the light and show yourself some compassion. Scrubbing things away works better on jeans than souls.

And besides, did the actual Jesus ever prescribe elaborately symbolic hygiene rituals for his followers? No, lovely chickadees, he really didn’t. (Oh, I know what you’re thinking, and the foot-washing doesn’t count. He wasn’t being all judge-y on them about their dirty feet as windows into their souls; it was an ancient hospitality custom.)

So by all means, find yourself some of God’s soap and mouthwash if you like, but here are the actual instructions: Use only if you enjoy. Proper application will result in bliss from revealing more of your true self and not scrubbing yourself away into a bleachy blandness.

Not the unchaste, brazen maid!

September 29, 2008

The Christian Charm Manual lesson entitled “Facial Beauty From Within” provides clear answers about acceptable facial expressions and the dire consequences of frowning.

right to the point.

The facial instructions are clear. Yes?

Curriculum at my school may have been devoid of serious literature, but we did read poetry in charm class. This gem from this workbook page gets to the crux of the problem with girls: sometimes they can be a little brazen.

Sometimes little girls lack the rainbow-infused virtue that is required in order to make Jesus* happy. Sometimes, and here’s a major problem, they forget to be afraid. That’s right, sweet little girlies everywhere, my charm book manual warns us about those who are “flaunting, flippant, unafraid.” So go ahead and be afraid … be very afraid … of this excerpt:

Mirror, mirror on the wall…
Who’s the fairest of them all?
Not the girl with sullen eye,
Pouting lips that fret, defy.
Fairest she, whose moods are bright,
Happy rainbows of delight.
Faces wreathed in joy declare
God’s own beauty dwelling there.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…
Who’s the fairest of them all?
Not the unchaste, brazen maid,
Flaunting, flippant, unafraid.
Fairest she, whose heart is pure,
Manner modest, glance demure.
Virtue crowns this girl a queen
For her life shines true and clean.

How insidious is this poem? Girls are either “happy rainbows of delight,” or they’re pouting and defying someone. It’s all rather black and white, despite the colorful imagery. You can either project a perfect beacon of uninterrupted joy so that God will want to dwell with you, or you can be flippant, which is somehow an opposite of joy. In the most bizarre twist, you must also remain afraid. This seems vibrationally impossible, not to mention a generally outrageous thing to teach. But there it is in my official curriculum: fear is a virtue.

My glorious, full-skirted squad in almost-action

Skirts, yes. Bonnets, no.

Naturally, there were no sports for girls at my school – how could a girl stay both clean and demure in such a precarious situation? Today’s sporty lasses must look positively fiendish to Emily Hunter, charm book writer extraordinaire. I have to admit something, though: the school allowed cheerleaders. (And, um, I was one.) I guess the activity seemed acceptable since we were really just there to support the boys. We positively beamed with humility that way.

We bounced around pretty forcefully and waved our arms with verve, but we knew to be careful of kicks. Any revealing high kicks could have brought our squad down faster than a trumpet blow could have whisked us up for the rapture. Cartwheels and back flips were out of the question (too “flippant” and “unafraid”-looking, no doubt), even though our skirts extended below our knees.

Yes, go ahead and soak that in: it was the year of our lord 1985, and our cheerleading skirts extended below our knees. Not far below our knees, mind you – just two inches. I mean, we weren’t wearing bonnets with our pom-poms or anything. Because that would have us made us look nuts, you know?

Undo the Charm Marm: What I like to call “my quirky education” gave me more than an immoderate desire for perfection, a skewed vision of virtue and an absolute refusal to ever wear a skirt longer than knee-length again.  It also led me to discover the charm-school-cheerleading continuum … my very own mathematical model. Now clearly, I’m no physicist. But we know that space is curved and time is relative. So after years of frenzied scribbling on my mind’s blackboard, I bypassed my indoctrination. As it turns out, it really is that simple. Not always easy, but simple.

Instilling fear is the oldest trick in the book. We’re susceptible when we’re young, and some of us believe what we’re told. The good news is that we’re all grown up now. We can detach from those ingrained patterns of fear – first, by recognizing them. Truth is always peaceful and loving. Fear drains our energy and fills us with doubt and anger. Truth leads to constructive action and compassion.

More on that re-programming later, kitty cats. In the meantime, remember that you’re rainbow-y delightful, just as you are. These days, I flaunt my happy self about quite brazenly. So score one for the girls.

*No offense to the actual Jesus intended. Jesus is not a registered trademark of organized religion and was quite the divinely brilliant rebel.