Empowered Womanhood,  Gender Trauma,  Religious Trauma

A Subversive Photograph

This is a subversive photograph.
Albeit a pretty normal, fun, artsy photograph.

Still, before my deconstruction this picture would have been unacceptable to take or post. Why? It wasn’t a written rule. It was one of those more dangerous under-the-surface ones where you’re never told outright you have to think a certain way but the culture of the community plants it in your head. It’s more dangerous because it’s a form of emotional manipulation, making you feel something without telling you that that’s how you’re supposed to feel. That way it’s easier for them to deny what they’re doing, there’s nothing really solid to place your finger on and its harder to dismantle an idea that you’re not aware you have.

In fundamentalist Christianity it’s frowned upon to celebrate yourself, to focus on your good qualities, or to focus on yourself at all. Women, especially, are kept under a watchful eye. It’s very easy to be accused of being prideful or vain. When I was submersed in conservative church culture, taking selfies or dressing in a “flashy” way was one of the quickest ways to be accused of being vain and generally frowned upon. Mostly for the women. It’s generally unacceptable for women to feel good about themselves at all, or to feel beautiful or smart or powerful. Confidence is for men.

Youth leaders told me as a preteen, when getting ready in the morning if I felt cute I needed to change my outfit. My pastor occasionally made comments in his sermons about “those girls who post selfies on the internet to gain attention and affirmation from the world, instead of looking to God”. He even said “all those selfie girls think they look so great, when the rest of us are thinking ‘what a dog’!” And yes, he ACTUALLY said that, ignoring a few gasps from the audience.

Hearing all this, one might think I was in an extremist, fringe cult. But no, it was a typical mainstream American Evangelical non-denominational church, the most well-attended in the area. It was a pretty easy place to unassumingly end up on a Sunday morning for the casual Christian.

Taking a picture like this one would have not only been looked down upon as drawing unnecessary attention, but this picture celebrates my power and independence, which are two big no-no’s for Christian women. While it’s all very subtle, the stance, the pose, the facial expression – in all of it I am highlighting my willfulness, strength, and sensuality. Looking down at the camera communicates assertiveness and confidence, a more stoic expression versus and sweet tender smile, a fancy outfit with big bangly jewelry… It sends a message; at least in the church. To the rest of the world it’s just a creative photoshoot.

I didn’t take the picture to intentionally emphasize those parts of myself – honestly, it’s a pretty normal photograph. I took it because it snowed and I love the snow; I was feeling good about myself, I enjoy being artistic and creative and so I set up a little photo shoot. The person I am inside came out in the photo naturally. But that’s exactly the problem, according to the church – who I am as a person.

Today I choose to celebrate myself. I continue to subvert patriarchy and fundamentalism by shamelessly declaring I am good. I give a big “F you!” to the church with a simple photograph. They make that last part pretty easy.

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