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.


Blessed are the ironic

October 5, 2008

Fresh theology from Blue Q

Today’s charm school break is sponsored by faux holy soap.

While scrubbing is not a recommended technique for soul-care, irony is. In my quest to un-do my religious programming and find an authentic way of being on the planet, I’ve read dozens and dozens and probably hundreds of ponderous books, many of which were quite brilliant and helpful.

I’ve read books by scholarly heavyweights and quirky revolutionaries, by theologians and atheists, by mystics and poets, by priests and psychologists. But as it turns out, a tube of lip balm can also speak volumes.

My cheeky “Looking Good for Jesus” balm is “virtuous vanilla” flavor and promises to help me “be worthy” and “be noticed.” Turns out all of that effort in churchy charm school could have been replaced by judicious beauty purchases.

Guilt, begone!

Lots of Blue Q products offer the same sense of whimsical detachment, in fact. Nothing makes me feel better about personal germ dispersal than my “Wash Away Your Sins” towelettes, scented with heavenly Easter lilies and guaranteed to help me “go forth purified and moisturized.”

Sure, it’s hard work to keep digging until you hit spiritual pay dirt, but a bit of wit along the way propels you with pure charm-i-ness. Besides, you know you could use an extra lip balm (it’s SPF 18, for goodness sake!) and anti-bacterial towelettes to keep in your car. It’s just plain good sense.

And it’s exactly what the Charm Marm wouldn’t order.

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.

How I turned up in charm school with Jesus

September 19, 2008

I was born the year we landed on the moon, but I went to school on another planet entirely.

Growing up sheltered in a city nestled among Midwestern cornfields, I thought drinking wine was sinful (how could I anticipate the flawlessness of a pinot noir?) and listening to rock ‘n’ roll was a fast track to Hades (the Beatles had satanic backwards messages! I heard the proof!). I’ll just say it: I was groomed to be one of those conservative, evangelical fundamentalists.

Growing up in this world meant I thought I was on the only path to a heaven, and other people were going to a very hot hell. I was naive, confident and, frankly, rude. I wasn’t trying to be rude, but I was on my way to heaven, see, so things were pretty much just between me and God – my fellow human race be damned if they disagreed.  And besides, I was very busy looking pretty for Jesus.*

My book, my bane, my muse.

As I learned early, when one is on such a path to heaven, it is imperative that one walks quietly and sits properly. Jesus likes that kind of thing.

In the Christian school I attended, the boys went outside for P.E. while the girls stayed inside for charm class, under the implied tutelage of Jesus himself. My appropriately pink “Christian Charm Manual” brims with illustrations that obligingly show how a smile and well-coiffed hair work in tandem with a pure heart.

Now that I’ve had a proper education, lived all around the country, traveled all around the world and enjoyed a spectacularly fascinating (to me, anyway) career, I can look back and be amused by the quirky education that defined my early days.

Pulled out of public school after Kindergarten, I attended a small, Baptist, conspiracy-theory school run by a member of the John Birch society. He was a man devoted not only to instilling girlish charm but also to fighting the communists. During one fateful year, we learned all about the secret communist plot to take over America through the United Nations. Our principal based his curriculum on books that would never become classics – we read J. Edgar Hoover instead of Dickens, and especially instead of Dickinson.

I suppose literature seemed irrelevant when only Jesus could save us from the secular humanists and communists who would steal our souls and throw us in concentration camps. (Only the communists wanted us arrested, not the secular humanists, as far as we knew. Not that we’d have put it past ’em.) The indoctrination worked: I was an earnest evangelical.

So that’s my story, but I didn’t stick to it. More about that in my charmifesto. For me, the way to a new, shimmering metaphorical place meant several years of gradual shifts – after I knew what I didn’t believe, I wanted a full intellectual and emotional grasp of what I did believe. I rewired my brain. I found a new way of being in the world (which hasn’t happened to involve anything resembling church for many years). And I think it’s downright charming.

Now I’m blogging – about the old charm school and my newfound charm-i-ness. Those of us who’ve found a peaceful way in the world need to talk about it. So please enjoy. Just don’t slouch when reading – turns out Jesus doesn’t like that kind of thing. Just kidding, Jesus.