In reading Rudolph M. Bell’s “How to Do It”, perhaps the most interesting aspect for me was discovering how similar the Renaissance views on chastity and modesty were to those I was surrounded with, and in some cases taught growing up in the protestant/Christian culture.
Bell writes of the Renaissance views concerning chastity that, “Chastity is just like a dress, and any little mark stains it. No one would want to wear a soiled dress for all to see, no matter how elegant the fabric and design.”
The comparison of chastity to a beautiful thing, that once soiled, is ruined forever is still dominant within the protestant ideology. An example is the purity movement, in which girls wear rings as a promise to their parents to remain chaste, and attend dances in order to pledge their virginity to their fathers.
I attended school with Colton Wilson, son of the founder of the purity ball movement, Randy Wilson. In a documentary about this movement, Khrystian Wilson, Randy’s daughter discusses how her choice to live according to a “higher standard” stems out of a close relationship to her dad. When I heard Khrystian speak alongside her sisters Lauren and Jordyn, they, among other things, spoke about the inherent beauty of women. Of how every women just wants to be told and feel she is beautiful. Passing a rose around the room, they let each student touch it, before it made its way to the front of the room, in which they told us “See, now this white rose is soiled. It will never regain its beauty”.
In this abstinence culture, which is espoused in the Renaissance, beauty and chastity are intrinsically linked. One’s beauty is derived from being chaste, and once one has broken such vows to remain a virgin, this beauty is lost forever.
Perhaps what I don’t understand, is why in this chastity philosophy of the Renaissance and the modern era, beauty is the standard. Why does this movement assume girls want to strive only for beauty. I think in a lot of ways, the concern for “being beautiful” holds us back from being truthful. For we are so concerned with how we look, how we appear – that how we are is lost under a cover of foundation and lip gloss. When the Wilson sister’s spoke, though they spoke of inherent natural beauty in all women, they did so with elaborately curled hair, and sheets of makeup on.
The Wilson sister’s argue that girls seek sex because they are not told by the men in their lives (their fathers, brothers) that they are beautiful. Yet chastity, as we see from Bell’s research, was from the beginning held up as a conditional state based on an “if”. If you are not chaste, you have lost your beauty.
Why, purity movement, do you teach girls to aspire to this conditional “if”. That “if” you are this, then you may be beautiful. It seems like a shaky standard to hold up.