Updated: Jan 21, 2022
I hope this helps you put words to feelings and experiences that have been sitting in your mind and heart rent free.
After watching Lauren and Kyle’s video on Purity Culture, I was triggered to say the least. My thoughts were racing as I was flooded with painful memories that were coated in shame. I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak on some of the ways purity culture has impacted me so that we can all grow.
A few disclaimers:
I am not a kingdom kid
I am married with two kids
I am multicultural; African American and Puerto-Rican
I am curvy and plus size
Purity Culture can be marginalizing
My introduction to purity culture was in 2007 when I became a Christian. I was 19 years old. I didn’t know at the time that purity culture was a thing, being new to Christianity I was just all-in for the lifestyle changes because I was enjoying my newfound intimacy with God and the church. Assimilation to church culture is to be expected. There are components of assimilating to purity culture however that are worth re-evaluating. I’d like to share some of my experiences with you.
In my culture we move our bodies through dance a LOT! I have loved to dance my entire life… at family gatherings, during hang outs with girlfriends, at parties and social events. My first party as a Christian I was snatched off the dance floor because I was dancing inappropriately. Message: The way I dance is unacceptable.
I took African dance classes in college. I invited a friend with me. She came once but didn’t want to return because she felt the movements were too sensual. Message: My mentor stopped; she was righteous… so I should too.
My style changed. I felt the gentle guiding hand to slowly change my attire from neo-soul/afro-centric vibes to an appearance that was a bit more digestible and pleasing to “the brothers”. Message: your style isn’t desirable here.
Bathing suits and t-shirts. Just writing this makes my stomach hurt. As a shapely well busted woman, it was a hot mess looking for a bathing suit that felt pure enough. Unless it included a turtleneck like feature, all bathing suits would include exposure. Conversations on modesty and bathing suits were always anxiety provoking for me during my campus ministry days. Message: How you dress is about protecting the men.
For my wedding I was addressed to make sure my cleavage wasn’t showing nor my bridesmaids. I was shocked at the conversation because I don’t wear clothes that show cleavage, I was low key offended although I knew the woman addressing me was just trying to be a good shepherd. Message: My character and commitment to modesty is questionable.
One other experience that shaped me was regarding modesty and motherhood. I was nursing my daughter during a church service without a cover. I was spoken to about modesty, breasts being sexual, and encouraged to nurse in the bathroom. A few Sundays later there was a nursing area for mothers. Message: breasts are sexual even when they are doing the most natural and essential (for survival) functions.
As Lauren mentioned in the video, I do not blame one individual for perpetuating a systemic belief of purity culture. I think modesty and purity are held to a standard of thin white women and are often overgeneralized in such a way that leaves little space for variety of culture (movement, language, music, fashion) and body shape. I do not believe that we can all experience modesty in the same way, although modesty is a value I cherish.
Subliminal comparison perpetuates hurtful narratives.
I believe that women of color, more specifically Black women, have a deep and complex history in this country concerning comparison to white women. I know that I carry a book filled with narratives that have pitted me against the image of white women. From my youth I was taught that I have to work twice as hard to get half as far. Even as a light skinned person, concepts of beauty are measured against how straight our hair is, how clear and articulate our vernacular is. Speaking in slang is not viewed as a trait that is modest nor feminine. Nor is being loud, speaking up, being opinionated and having a strong personality esteemed in purity culture. Our society measures women of color to that of white women, purity culture is the same. The subliminal messages are experienced in secret and manifest in how we feel about ourselves, how we treat ourselves, how we carry ourselves.
I think it’s important that we verbalize when we feel demeaned, belittled, or minimized by those around us who want to help us grow in modesty, purity, and in being a Godly woman. There is space for women to be who God created AND be modest, pure, considerate, and Godly. It takes intention, exploration, and work.
Internalized messages that built walls:
It’s taken me years to wrestle with my identity and esteem through therapy, grief recovery, and prayer. I was able to unravel some things that I can now express to you. I have carried the thoughts that the spectrum of blackness isn’t acknowledged as beautiful, pure, and modest within the standards of purity culture. Our accessories, hair variety, and versatility in style can be perceived or assumed to lay just outside of the frame. The narrative that has been internalized is that being who I am isn’t good enough.
As a therapist, I have seen the damage of such a narrative.
Suppression of honesty
Underachieving and lack of motivation
A lot of unhealthy living comes out of the narrative of not feeling good enough. Operating in this narrative isn’t sustainable, especially not how God calls us to live our lives. I have had to work hard to address, challenge, and shift the narratives that have permeated my life by purity culture. I welcome you to do the same.
The process is beautiful and painful but most importantly it’s empowering and freeing. I encourage you dear brothers and sisters to ask yourself how has purity culture impacted you? Are there thoughts or feelings that are lingering unresolved? Are you carrying the weight of shame or not feeling like you will ever measure up to purity standards? We are fortunate to have a growing number of mediums of support. Here are some you might find helpful:
Journal: write out your truth. Journaling is a great method for mental and emotional dumping. You don’t have to worry about how raw your writing is, being real is a part of the journey to healing.
Talk with a trusted friend or mentor: There is so much power in feeling safe and feeling heard.
Contact a professional: I’m 100% biased here, but I do believe in the help and healing that happens in therapy.
I look back on the impact of purity culture and I wish I had someone to protect the naive 19-year-old that was so willing to follow the lead of others around her while silencing the intuition God gave her. For any of you who carry hurt, pain, and/or shame please know there is hope and healing just around the corner.
I’m going to leave you with a few affirmations that I hold on to at this point in my journey:
Sensual and sexual are different things; both are vital traits of femininity and womanhood.
I embrace them.
My body is beautiful and does not need to be hidden nor exposed.
This is the body that God gave me, I embrace me.
I am not responsible for all men.
I am thoughtful, I am considerate, I am caring, AND I am responsible and accountable for me.
I can only control my actions.
To my shapely sisters and to my beloved bipoc women who have been harmed by purity culture. You do not need to remain unseen, unknown, and alone. I see you. I hope these words have sparked something within you that will lead you toward spiritual, mental, and emotional healing.
More about the author: Simara Blair is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of Strength & Serenity Counseling, LLC. She specializes in couples therapy and perinatal mental health. Simara sees clients in Florida, Georgia, and Missouri via telehealth. Simara has been a Christian for 14 years, a wife for 10, and is a mom of 2. You can connect with Simara at: