My mother probably has both undiagnosed bipolar and borderline, but her symptoms then were not as bad as they have gotten to be. She also is extremely intelligent and manipulative. Unless you know her, it’s very hard to see.
Appearance was huge in the church. They harped on gluttony as a major sin. Almost all of the girls in my family growing up were rail thin. My sister, who we later found out had a food allergy and intolerances, was not overweight by any means but just slightly heavier than all of us. My mother, who had been slightly overweight growing up, saw this as one of her greatest disappointments — a visible sin for all the church to see. She would get my sister up early in the morning to run on the treadmill, watch and restrict her diet, and spank her if she didn’t lose weight. My best friend, who also went through the loss of one of her closest friends and was big-boned but not overweight, would also be harped on her by her family for what they saw as sin.
The year before puberty — when fluctuating hormones cause bloating — was the worse for all of the girls at church. We would be sat down by parents and told that they were afraid we were gaining weight and that we needed to exercise more and watch our diet so that we weren’t sinning.
Almost all the girls in my family or in my best friend’s family have struggled with anorexia or bulimia at some point in time.
My mother would tell my sister that no one would want to be around her if she was fat and that people wouldn’t find her attractive. My sister became very reclusive — hiding in her rooms behind books or playing with animals, not people. When in public she would almost look down on others before they had a chance to tell her anything my mother said they would. My sister also hated all the ditzy little girls her age who played stupid to get attention, she hated attention and could not understand why they would want to attract it.
When I was 16, my best friend’s older sister (who I was close with) invited me to a birthday party she was having and didn’t invite my little sister. My mom believed in almost complete inclusivity and anytime our friends came over, we had to allow anyone who wanted to be with us in the room all the way down to the babies.
My mom took this exclusion personally and took all her anger at the other family out on me. She would get mad at me if I saw my best friend without taking my sister, even though my sister didn’t really want to go. She would tell me how I was in sin for not confronting my friend and her family for excluding my sister and then tell me I couldn’t tell anyone in the church about it because it might “embarrass” my sister. I was told that if I had a problem with her I could get “help” from my great-aunt who got offended and hurt for my mother if I said anything assertive or had any problem with my mother. After two or three years of this, I finally caved and told my best friend’s mom who ended up becoming a second mother to me. My mother left the church at this time and I kept going alone because my best friend went to this church. I didn’t have any other friends (as children we were told to tell people about 1 Cor 14 church and, if they didn’t immediately convert, it was sin to be spending time with them).
During this period of time, I started struggling with depression.
To deal with my father I had to turn off all emotion and feelings or he would sense it and use it against me. I couldn’t ever talk to him in any way unless I was challenging his actions toward my mom or my mom would become hurt and guilt us. My mother would become offended if I had any personal feelings and preferred me as her emotional caretaker than as her daughter. The church taught us that any negative feelings were a sin and it was our job to “take them captive.” Depression was viewed as a sin and medication the epitome of not trusting God – that it stemmed from some unknown root of bitterness that we were supposed to work out.
My mother’s swings became worse and worse and I started seeking an escape from that house. I was taught in church that we are under our family’s authority and if there wasn’t a bible verse contradicting what they were telling us to do, than we were supposed to do it. My mother didn’t want me to leave, so I felt chained down.
One thing that I am glad about is that all the fighting led my mother to both hate men and fantasize about them. She believed all of her girls needed to have a stable career as soon as possible so that they didn’t have to rely on men. She also believed that the school system repeated the last 2 years of high-school in college. So, when I was 15, I CLEP 5 college classes and, when I was 16 began prerequisites for nursing school. I finished at the age of 21 with a BSN in nursing and to this day, at the age of 26, I have had 8 years of hospital experience, 6 as an ER/ICU nurse. I am a hard worker and I can have a steady, self-supporting job anywhere I want at any time.
I met a boy through one of the extracurricular activities and we became close. He was a good, homeschooled, Christian boy who was very outspoken. He didn’t live in the area and, therefore, didn’t go to my church he just went to a regular church. He was very opinionated on what sin was and what it wasn’t and, after church, his whole family would stand around and talk about how the other members in the church were hypocrites and in sin. I had saved all of myself, first kiss and everything. We began “courting” or hanging out with each other’s family. But one thing led to another and he leaned in and kissed me one night despite my trying to wiggle free. I was 21 at the time and felt so guilty for kissing him, for tempting him and not staying strong enough, for being alone with him.
I didn’t tell anyone because I knew it would be my fault and I wouldn’t be allowed with him again.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Pearl” is a pseudonym.
I’ve been loosely following Clare’s viral blog post about getting kicked out of her homeschool prom. The story resonated with me because it was similar to things I’ve experienced growing up in conservative homeschool/purity culture. Unfortunately, some homeschool parents gave a really ugly response to her story. They felt that, since she had used bad language, and put purity culture in a bad light, that it would be OK to publicly share unsubstantiated claims about her behavior the night of prom. They didn’t like her individual narrative, so they replaced it with another individual narrative they did like, because, well, any girl who would use curse words must also be a liar and a slut.
I thought they were supposed to be adults, but all bets are off when you step out of line in their eyes.
Fine, if they won’t believe Clare’s story I’ll share my own.
Growing up, my mom put a lot of importance in how I appeared to others. We had a lot of conflicts about her wanting me to dress in a way that would look good to her friends. For example, wearing a dress to Thanksgiving dinner at a friends house even though I knew I’d be playing outside all day. When I started wearing bras she bought me a really uncomfortable bra that she would make me wear on Sunday. I hated it because, besides being uncomfortable, it had thick seams through the cups that showed through every top and made me very self-conscious.
I still don’t understand how breasts can have a Sunday-appropriate look.
There was such fuss about bras and how they made my breasts look that I started slouching badly to try and hide my breasts entirely. At 17, she bought me a hideous dress that didn’t fit for a special occasion at church. I didn’t have a choice, I had to wear it because it made me look “nice”.
The emphasis on modesty really began around 11 or 12 when I began puberty. Whenever we went shopping my mom would examine clothes on me in the dressing room to make sure they were modest enough before purchasing. (Or have me come out and model for pre-approval in the case of hand-me-downs.) I would see clothes other girls were wearing, and naturally wanted to dress in a way that made me feel cute and like I fit in with other girls my age. Around age 13 I would try choosing clothes at the store, but when mom gave them the once over in the dressing room they rarely passed the modesty test. Shorts had to go pretty much to my knees, shirts had to be loose enough to create a straight line down my sides. If clothes I chose didn’t pass the test I had to stand in front of the mirror and look at myself while my mom pointed out all of my undesirable body parts the clothes were supposedly drawing attention to.
It was so humiliating I eventually took the easy route and started dressing like a boy.
The grunge era was only about 5 years past, so you could still buy flannel shirts and baggy jeans for girls. I stopped wearing shorts entirely around age 14.
My mom would always tell me that I just couldn’t understand because I didn’t understand how boys think. Boys, she said, think about sex all the time, and I could cause them to stumble (lust after me) by dressing immodestly. I couldn’t possibly understand, she said, because girls don’t care that much about sex, they really only want love. I became very ashamed of my body and for the most part tried to hide it. If I ever felt a burst of confidence and wanted to wear something cute and feminine I would usually have it pointed out to me that someone would see the shape of my breasts, or the curve of my waist, or that my bra was showing, or that these shorts or skirt were too short and any thing more than an inch or so above the knee was too tempting.
By the time I was 19 years old I had a job and had saved up some money and started going shopping for my own clothes for the first time. The clothes I chose were kind of tacky, because I didn’t have any practice dressing myself. But by nearly anyone’s standards they were very modest. I didn’t even wear shorts, I was still too ashamed of my legs, but I did wear skirts to church. The skirts I chose always went below my knees. I didn’t wear tank tops, most of my shirts actually had collars. The shirts were fitted, and except for one not tight.
The first fitted, collared T-shirt that I brought home made my mom cry.
She said she could see the curves of my waste and the shape of my breasts. I felt cute and feminine for the first time in my life, so I didn’t allow myself to be guilted into giving it up. I started standing up straight. I also bought bras for myself, and chose some with some amount of padding because I felt more covered in case of cold weather. My mom saw one out drying after I did laundry, and brought it to me to show me how the padding made my breasts look bigger, and that was immodest. I had a pair of shoes I’d wear to church that had one and half inch heels. My parents expressed concerns that they were too sexy.
A few months after buying my own wardrobe, my parents came to me to tell me that an elder in our church had approached my dad to tell him the way I was dressing was causing his sons to stumble.
My parents made me show them each piece of the clothing I had bought so they could decide whether it was modest enough. Very few pieces passed their test. The rest they ordered me to put up in my closet until I was married and it was my husband’s job to decide how I dressed. (Fortunately my wedding was only a few months after that.) In the meantime, I bought a few baggy T-shirts to get by on; it would’ve been too humiliating to go back to the flour sacks I had to wear before.
Modesty/purity doctrines and body shaming are an unfortunate realty of conservative Christian culture. They may or may not be directly related to homeschooling, but I have yet to find anyone who believed these things that wasn’t a homeschooling parent. There is nothing girls in these situations can do. Once someone has told you you are causing them to stumble you have to change your clothes, no matter how humiliating or unreasonable it may be. To do otherwise would be tempting someone on purpose, because now you know that you’re causing them to sin.
Growing up hearing these things made me very ashamed of my body. It took years after getting married before I was even comfortable wearing shorts. Making a girl ashamed of her body is a horribly cruel thing to do. It’s not like there isn’t enough pressure to look and dress certain ways from mainstream culture.
So that’s my story. It won’t be a viral success, but if enough girls tell their stories there is no way that homeschool parents can say they are exaggerating, or that they have some kind of malicious vendetta, or that they deserve to have their reputations damaged.
So here’s to girls who have been made ashamed of their bodies.
You are a person, body and soul, your body is you. And you don’t have to be ashamed of having a female body. It is beautiful, don’t hide it.
These are but a number of phrases used on HSLDA’s Facebook page in reference to Teresa Scanlan, a former homeschooler attending Patrick Henry College. These are not phrases used by HSLDA; in fact, HSLDA has championed Teresa as a homeschool success story. But these phrases are also not coming from anti-homeschoolers or liberal secularists.
They are coming from fans (or at least previous fans) of HSLDA.
Yesterday, HSLDA shared about Teresa’s life and homeschooling experience in light of her being crowned Miss America in 2011. It was obviously about marketing to some extent — “the secret behind the crown was homeschooling!,” HSLDA says. But it also was about celebrating a young woman with passion and drive.
But things got ugly.
Some of HSLDA’s fans were livid. In fact, if you were looking for evidence that the modesty and purity culture that exists within Christian homeschooling can lead to some truly dehumanizing and dangerous thoughts, look no further than what unfolded.
The comments that some people are leaving on HSLDA’s post about Teresa are frankly alarming. They are misogynistic and dripping with body-shaming. They even are scarily reminiscent of rape culture — that women are responsible for men’s lust and are “asking for it.”
There is direct, no-holds-barred slut-shaming going on right on HSLDA’s Facebook page.
Check it out:
Yes, you read that right. Someone is pulling their support from HSLDA because of HSLDA’s link — which was merely a link to their original radio series about Teresa. Because old men and young men might “fix their eyes” upon Teresa dressed in a rather conservative red dress (you can’t even see her shoulders!).
Now you might wonder: how is that picture immodest? Well, it isn’t. But fear not. People encouraged other people to google her in a bikini. (Does that sound a bit hypocritical? Because it is hypocritical, and also slightly creepy.)
Not everyone on HSLDA’s page, however, was attacking Teresa. Some people tried to defend her – and then got promptly slut-shamed, too.
Yes, if you participate in a pageant, you have caused men to commit adultery and you will be “held accountable of Judgement Day.”
The comments continue:
Another defender, who is attacked:
By the way, Teresa is a Christian.
Not just “a” Christian, but a conservative Christian. In fact, she points out in her radio interview with HSLDA that many of the young women that participate in pageants are actually conservative Christians:
Actually, the majority of contestants, believe it or not, are Christian conservatives, I found, in the competition. And then the judges, in my interview, they have my resume in front of them, and they saw a lot of church activities and things on there, so during my interviews, several of them actually asked me questions about my faith.
But that does not stop people from judging her relationship with God:
It really is a train wreck. They call her a “homeschool dropout,” and attack her for wanting a career:
They compare her to a “rat turd”:
They do not hesitate to link to her Facebook profile (which, as we all know, will probably lead to further online bullying, harassment, and slut-shaming):
This is not to even mention the likely hypocrisy and double standard of some people in the homeschooling community when they only think of modesty and purity in terms of women. What about men?
Were all these people up in arms when Tim Tebow went shirtless for magazines?
Or were they parading Tebow around as a homeschool superhero? Kathryn brilliantly pointed out (not on HSLDA’s page) this double standard about equally harmless actions:
Credit must be given to those people who are defending Teresa on HSLDA’s page. This goes to show that not all homeschoolers — in fact, not all Christian homeschoolers — believe in the toxic ideas behind modesty and purity culture ideology.
I commend those people for standing up against those ideas and the people that would use those ideas to shame a young woman.
We need to push back like this. We need more homeschoolers to speak up against these ideas (and not just against the modesty and purity culture ideas). Teresa’s own experience has demonstrated that this shaming is (very sadly) nothing new to her:
When I first won, I thought, of course, that I would get criticism from the public in general about being a Christian, but it was kind of surprising to me that probably the most criticism I received was actually from conservative Christians that competing in the competition like Miss America did not line up with their morals and values.
No one deserves to be abused and harassed in this manner, regardless of their way of dress, their gender, their political or religious beliefs, or anything else. In fact, I commend HSLDA for being willing to champion a conservative Christian woman who is — through her actions — bravely overturning some of the deeply held assumptions in some conservative Christian circles. She is celebrating her beauty and her body, she is going to college, and she has high career aspirations — in fact, as HSLDA mentions in their bio of her, “her highest career goals are to run for president in 2028 or to be nominated to the Supreme Court.”
She also hopes to educate people about eating disorders.
She has expressed a desire to “educate children and adults alike as to the signs and risks of eating disorders, as well as how and where to get help for themselves or a loved one.”
HA note: The following post was originally published by the author on February 8, 2013. It is reprinted with her permission.
About the author: Emily Maynard is an outgoing introvert from Portland, Oregon. She likes Twitter, vegetables, fashion, Harry Potter, mentoring college students, and new information on anything. Emily is passionate about questioning, exploring, and growing alongside great friends. Her work has been featured on Prodigal Magazine, A Deeper Story, and Crosswalk, and she enjoys speaking to diverse audiences. She is not the Emily Maynard from The Bachelorette. Follow Emily at EmilyIsSpeakingUp.com.
Last week I had three precious girls in my home.
They lounged on my couch and chairs, eating snacks and drinking warm cider, talking about their days at school and work and home.
And then we started talking about modesty rules and sexuality and shame. They asked if they could come to my house and talk about those things. I said yes. They showed up.
We told our stories.
And every single one of us, in our own ways, had negatively experienced our bodies, relationships, and sexuality. We all had painful experiences because of the ideas well-intended parents or or pastors or youth leaders taught us. We are all broken because of the subtle, harmful ways we learned to relate to God, ourselves, and others. We all grew up in fairly normal American Evangelical churches, with good families, at average Christian summer camps.
We are all struggling against shame. We are all seeking healing.
There was a lot of talk about The Modesty Rules on the internet recently. And then The Purity Rules. And I love all of it, this opening up and fighting shame and telling stories. But this isn’t something that happens on the internet, in comment sections that we forget in a few days.
These harmful ideas are hurting real people. Real women. Sitting on my real couch. Unraveling real lives.
This isn’t a problem just found in “legalism” or particularly heavy-handed churches. It’s not an “out there” or “just find another church” situation. This is everywhere. Based on the way it’s defended and excused by “church leaders,” it appears to be a central tenant of our faith culture.
And I can’t change that. I can’t control anyone. I’m not in charge.
So go ahead.
You can keep trying enforce The Modesty Rules or The Purity Rules. You can continue the body shaming for girls and giving us impossible standards and responsibilities. You can talk about how lust is only a problem for boys and shame every bit of sexual attraction they naturally experience. You can talk about “godly” living in a way that destroys the Image of God in real humans. You can leave out people who experience gender or sexual attraction in a way that doesn’t exactly line up with yours. You can refuse to see a correlation between your shaming ideas and so many of your children leaving the church. You can accuse me of not following scripture or of overreacting or being bitter. You can keep saying that bodies are a temptation, like alcohol. You can keep shouting that there isn’t a problem, with your hands covering your ears.
I can’t stop you.
But I will listen to your sons and daughters.
I will open up my home and my couch and my fridge and and my email inbox and my story to them.
I will try to make a safe space in my life for their voices.
I will protect their individual, precious stories because they are precious individuals.
I will let my heart hurt with theirs. I will celebrate redemption with them.
I will commit to listening, to the best of my ability, not because I can save anyone, but because I want to lean in and watch Jesus save us all.
I will be a safe person for your children hurt by your church, by your rules, by your shame. I will watch them learn to sing of grace and freedom in their own way. I will promote communities that allow healing to be messy. I will announce that we are not alone and that Hope has come. I will watch for sacred births in dirty straw and signs in the heavens.
I will see the imago dei in each of your children.
I will keep speaking up against The Modesty Rules and sexism and silencing and shame. I will keep speaking up for listening and letting the love of God overwhelm us and asking questions and taking healthy responsibility for our actions and walking out healing.
My teammates and I were about to go onstage and deliver our introductions. We had two main types of memorized introductions for each other: short and long. Our long ones were set in stone, but the short ones changed. Sometimes we said our city and state, sometimes just city, sometimes first and last name, sometimes just first. Without fail, there were always a couple of us who did it one way, and a few who did it another. I wasn’t quite sure the right way to do it, so before we went on I raised my hand and said, “Since this is something we tend to get confused on, I just wanted to double check exactly what we’re supposed to say.” Next thing I knew Mrs. Moon was towering over me, harshly lecturing me about how I was the cause of all of my team’s problems, I’d destroyed all of the hard work they’d done, etc… I could feel my stomach drop, my spine went cold, and my eyes started burning with months of suppressed tears. This time, though, I wasn’t going to cry because I felt guilty or worthless, this time I was mad. As Mrs. Moon gradually ran out of ammunition it was the first time I think I saw clearly that she was actually… wrong… and when she asked me to explain myself the only thing I could choke out was an angry “What did I do wrong, I said ‘we,’ didn’t I?”
You see, on tour we weren’t allowed to say you or I. If you missed a class you were supposed to teach, we missed the class. If you did something particularly well, we all got the recognition. This was supposed to be team building, frankly it was confusing. But, let me back track, because this particular incident occurred in the last week in a half of a nationwide conference tour, and it had taken me several years to get there…
Telling people about my Institute for Cultural Communicators Experience (ICC) is something that I have a lot of practice doing. I was a member of the 2008 ICC touring team, and prior to that I had spent several years working my way through the alumni program, and serving in every possible student leadership role that they offered. I was completely supportive of ICC’s mission, the Moon family, and the organization’s structure and leadership. I fiercely defended ICC and the Moons against anyone who criticized them, and my mother and I supported them to our best ability, by organizing the facility and managing the advertising for their annual conference in Colorado. I firmly believe that without my mother’s efforts there wouldn’t have been an annual Colorado conference, nor would it have been as well attended as it was (my mother frequently paid student’s tuition out of her own pocket, calling it “scholarships” because she believed so strongly in Teresa Moon’s work).
There were few things I wanted more in high school than to be an intern, and I used this goal as my motivation to create the best possible resume I could to serve as student instructor. I volunteered hundreds of hours, won a national debate championship (so that I would have more credibility as a teacher), and started my own debate club so that I could practice teaching. I wanted to be the best intern I could be, because when Mrs. Moon said that Christians need to be good communicators, I believed her. To Mrs. Moon being a good communicator also meant being authentic and transparent, without hypocrisy. So, when Mrs. Moon banned me from spending any substantial time around my boyfriend who was also involved with her organization (even though both sets of parents were aware of and consenting to the relationship), I tried to obey as best as I could. When she told me that I needed longer skirts, I had my mom take my hems down. When she told me that in order to be modest I couldn’t gain weight as an intern, I obsessed over only eating salad. When she told me I was prideful, I spent countless hours self-destructing by contemplating my worthlessness.
I used to think that any negative feelings I had about my ICC experience were my own fault, for my bad, prideful attitude, and for not being mature enough to understand that what went on was for the greater good of ICC. Now, as a 22 year old, not a 17 year old, I’m ready to talk about the negative experience I had as an ICC intern. Having now worked in government and with other non-profit organizations, all with powerful missions, I’ve learned that a good mission doesn’t mean you can treat people however you want. Having now had a string of kind, gracious, consistent bosses, I can also say that people with large amounts of authority and stress are capable of controlling their emotions towards their employees and treating all employees fairly. The treatment I received as an “employee” for Mrs. Moon was not normal or acceptable. If you have been involved with ICC, and you were treated wonderfully, good for you. That doesn’t negate poor treatment that I received. If you are an ardent supporter of ICC, like I once was, being a true supporter doesn’t mean that criticism isn’t allowed, and that anyone complains has turned into a rebellious or ungodly person.
When I speak of the leadership problems I encountered, mainly from Teresa Moon, the best way that I can summarize them is a lack of consistency. Students who participated in ICC were held to an array of different standards, and it was hard to tell what standard you were being held to, or what it meant to be held to a particular standard. Some of my fellow interns could get away with almost anything, and some of us were constant scapegoats. It was nearly impossible to navigate what could be done, when, and by whom. I could go on writing in generalities about inconsistent treatment, however, there are few things that I find more frustrating than people who criticize, but can’t provide a single example to support their complaints.
Fortunately, my memory of my ICC experience is still quite vivid, so let me summarize what bad leadership looks like with a few examples:
Putting individuals on the team who had severe mental and emotional health problems, with no safety net or plan to give them the treatment that they needed to thrive: One of my fellow teammates, Krysi, wrote about her experience as an intern. You can read her story here, where she discusses a string of mental and emotional struggles she had experience prior or tour, which came to a head in the middle of her time as an intern. While I believe that Krysi should not be blamed for what happened, I have a question to ask of Mrs. Moon: who in there right mind puts young people with documented instances of depression, suicide attempts, and eating disorders in a high pressure environment with no access to therapists, no understanding of their medication, and no training in how to deal with and monitor destructive behaviors? Mrs. Moon knew many of the struggles Krysi was facing, and never thought to prepare a safety net. Instead, she put a vulnerable girl in a high pressure environment, and when Krysi began to struggle, she initially rushed to provide support and promised to help Krysi. However, she was not capable of providing the support she promised, and ended up letting down a girl who had been let down too many times before. You don’t promise to take care of someone, and then decide, with 2 weeks of a tour left, that all of the months of promises you made were just too much work after all. If someone was in too fragile and precarious a state to intern, and you weren’t prepared to help them, they shouldn’t have interned. If you thought that they could intern, you should have come prepared, and not quit at the last moment.
Jeopardizing team cohesion by giving interns secret assignments and unclear authority: I’m a natural workaholic, so on tour whenever I finished an assignment, I would go to Mrs. Moon and ask if there was anything else that I could do to help. She gradually increased my responsibilities on tour, without telling my teammates what was going on. She would give me secret jobs, such as corresponding with a Christian camp, Doe River Gorge, where we were going to be doing a brief in-service training. I was instructed not to tell anyone, as I gathered information and made a conference plan. Two days before the conference, Mrs. Moon’s son, Wendell, who was acting as tour manager told me to begin a staff meeting by telling my teammates about our conference at the camp. I began telling them what Wendell had instructed, when Mrs. Moon walked into the room and gave me her iciest glare. She pulled me into her office and harshly lectured me about how I was acting inappropriately and my pride was becoming a huge issue. I tried to explain that I hadn’t meant to act improperly, I was just following Wendell’s instructions. She ignored me, and Wendell refused to back my story up. Variations on this happened too frequently to count, and caused me to constantly be under an undue amount of stress.
Disrespecting labor laws, disregarding health: Before I interned I assisted at various conferences where my job was basically to act as a janitor and kitchen assistant. It was normal at these events to stay up until 1:00 and then get back up at 6:30. A person can keep such a schedule for a week or two, though it is not pleasant. The straining schedule I experienced as an assistant to ICC staff became almost unbearable when I served as a touring intern. I was frequently up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, finishing extra assignments that Mrs. Moon gave me, then back up at 6:30-6:45 to do full hair and makeup for the conference. I would teach classes almost all day long, with little to no break, and any break I did have was spent working on another list of assignments. Once the conference ended it was seemingly endless meetings and more work. In addition to this, since there were no real provisions to assist my struggling teammates, such as Krysi, I began trying to serve as a monitor, making sure that she was eating, that she wasn’t hurting herself. When we shared a room I would wake up multiple times throughout the night to make sure she was alright. When adults don’t take care of kids, kids have to take care of each other, even if they don’t have the emotional stamina or knowledge to fill the role. By the end of tour I was consumed with work and with trying to help Krysi, in addition, I was part of an inner circle that was informed of all that had happened in her family, and sworn to secrecy. Keeping that secret from my teammates and parents, was completely draining. By the end of tour I was physically and emotionally spent. When I got home I was constantly sick, and began having digestive problems, and minor panic attacks that lasted for months. When I had to leave home to go back and complete the last conference, called Masters (A two week long end of tour convention occurs after a month long break for the interns), I struggled with uncontrollable vomiting and what felt like fever sweats. I was terrified of getting on the plane to go back to the Moons home, of seeing my teammates, of having to teach again… I could barely keep food down the entire Masters conference, and all I wanted to do was leave. I can’t help but think that some of this was due to being completely and totally over worked. The schedule I kept, and the responsibility placed on me were too much for my age. I know that homeschooled kids are supposed to be more mature, but there are limits, and I don’t think ICC respects them.
Tying physical looks to appropriate conduct… but, only for the girls: I’ll never forget the girls only meeting that Mrs. Moon called together a month into tour. She gave us her most winning smile, and explained that some of us had put on some weight, and if we wanted our clothing to be appropriately modest, then weight gain was just not something that could happen. We were encouraged to keep each other accountable about our weight, either by telling our fellow teammates that they were looking heavier, so that they would be more cautious, or if they were too far gone, we were supposed to tell them to wear spanx. Mrs. Moon meant it, too, if she saw any bulge, any panty lines, she would take action. One of my teammates had gained a slight amount of weight (she was still incredibly tiny) that caused a very minor panty line to be visible in her evening gown. Mrs. Moon pulled her to the side when she stepped backstage in the middle of a performance, and made her take off her underwear. In addition to humiliating events like that, Mrs. Moon’s talk caused a general panic amongst many of the girls, which shouldn’t be a big surprise since Teresa gave this talk to a group of girls, knowing full well that at least 3 of them had struggled with eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Tying weight gain to modesty and morality only made many of these girl’s weight struggles worse.
Putting children in emotionally damaging situations: The Moons decided that my team had unity problems, and that any and all difficulties we faced were because we had not bonded enough. In retrospect, I think claiming that every thing that goes wrong is a result of a poor team dynamic, may just be an easy excuse to avoid having to examine leadership. However, the worst part of this judgment on my team was that Wendell, Mrs. Moon’s eldest son decided that he was going to institute some team building exercises. I don’t know where he came up with them, but the one I remember best was called the “hot seat.” Each of us had to sit in a chair in front of everyone, and each teammate took a turn telling the person in the chair a Criticism, a Confession, or a Compliment. Neither Wendell nor Mrs. Moon seemed to have anticipated that what they were really doing was giving interns a chance to be flat out mean to one another. I remember sitting in the chair while teammate after teammate described my personality and character in broad, crushing, negative terms. I was trying so hard not to cry, because I knew that the terrible things they were saying must be true, and that I needed to be mature about it, but another part of me was screaming that this wasn’t how people should treat each other. A few of my teammates were genuinely kind in their remarks, but it’s a lot easier to remember the negatives. After the Moons watched interns tear each other down, there was no rebuilding, no demands for apologies, no assistance in sorting out how to treat people who had basically just said that they hated you. After the hot seat activity I withdrew from my teammates for the rest of tour, finding any excuse I could to be alone. I figured this was what was best for the team, since I was so terrible to be around, and so deeply hated. Now, I know this isn’t true, but the fact that I was made to feel that way under the leadership of the Moons is not right.
Valuing anything to save face, rather than caring about other’s well being: This was perhaps the thing that was most difficult for me to deal with as an intern. Appearance really was treated as everything, which meant a lot of lying and a lot of coverups. However, there were some things too big to gloss over, like Krysi disappearing from tour, and then not showing up to the Masters conference, while all of her family did. Mrs. Moon was visibly stressed about how to explain Krysi’s absence at Masters, when right before the conference she got the perfect explanation. Krysi was hospitalized for viral meningitis. When we found out about it I overheard Mrs. Moon audibly sigh with relief, and turn to whoever was near her and say something along the lines of “thank God.” Wendell led a little prayer for Krysi at the conference and talked about how much they wished she could have come. I was so angry when I sat there watching him put on his most concerned face for the audience. Krysi wasn’t there because she had been kicked off, Krysi had been kicked off because she had been set up to fail, and her being in the hospital was not “convenient” it was frightening and sad. Appearances don’t matter more than people, and putting on public displays of concern as a cover for bad leadership is not authentic communication.
My last real interaction with ICC was June of 2009, when Mrs. Moon asked me to run a Flood the Five conference (a shortened version of the normal conference structure) in Colorado Springs. Both of my parents had undergone surgery that summer, so in addition to a full time job, I was also taking care of the house, and tending to their post-surgery needs. Despite how busy I was, I managed to create an entire conference plan, writing brand new classes and planning activities for the two day event. I showed up with barely a greeting from Teresa, and found out that I had basically no one to assist me, and that I would be teaching every class on my own. I stayed up until 3:00 in the morning preparing for the first day, and got up at 6:30 to arrive on time. I taught the entire day, and when I finally returned back to the place I was staying Teresa asked me to come and have a chat with her. She asked me what my tour experience was like, and I tried to explain to her how hard it had been to believe so firmly in an organization, and then have that slowly destroyed by watching hypocrisy every day. I told her my frustration that her son, and the other teammate involved in the drinking episode that Krysi mentioned did not receive any where near the same amount of punishment as Krysi. I tried to tell her how hurt I was by the months of “criticism” about my character, and how I’d never tried to be prideful, in fact, I had felt completely worthless all of tour, and had struggled with horrible depression in the months since tour ended.
She responded by telling me that my pride was the biggest problem that they encountered on tour, and that ICC wanted student leaders with “Competence and character, not just competence.” There was no understanding, no thank you for the years of dedication, the thousands of dollars my family had spent, the months of secrets I kept for her, and the sincere love and affection I had for her. I left her room and looked out the window at my car in the driveway. I though about just driving back home, and letting her handle the second day of the conference on her own, because I honestly didn’t know if I could get up on a stage and be a perfect intern again. Part of me wishes I had just driven away, but I didn’t. The next day I showed up with a big smile and taught each class as well as I could. I gave the closing speech about the wonders of ICC, and never lost face until I was in my car. Some would call that showing character, but to ICC, that’s just competence.
As this project has continued, I have challenged myself to analyze many of the institutions and cultures of my youth. (I wrote about an overview of my experiences and contemporary observations here.) I look very fondly on my time in NCFCA and CFC, but my female peers from high school (overwhelmingly) had a lot of criticism due to their experiences.
All of us believe in the mission of teaching kids to express themselves, think critically, and hone their verbal skills. But many of us have now realized that some of the toxic teachings of religious fundamentalism have negatively impacted many of the children in the league and Christian homeschool debate culture. This is not to say that NCFCA must abandon its Christian motivation and purpose. There are, however, simple steps that could be taken to lessen the negative impact of purity teachings and modesty doctrines.
I speak these words of criticism with a heavy heart because I know the tales of the suffering of many of my peers will be dismissed as atypical experiences or dramatic whining. Each and every one of us approaches this task of speaking about and criticizing Christian homeschooling debate with love, deep respect, and admiration for many of our dear friends from the league. Our criticisms are not a condemnation of NCFCA, CFC, STOA, et al (see here for an overview of the differences in these acronyms). Rather, consider our criticisms a call to “be holy for I [Christ] am holy.” I know perfection is impossible, but Christian homeschool debate taught me to fight for the impossible if I believed it was right.
We will publishing some pieces this week that are very critical of Communicators for Christ and the Moon family. I have fact-checked them and considered each one with an open mind. It is hard for me to comprehend how it could be so bad for some, when my experience was so positive. I don’t say this to diminish others’ negative experiences because, as I read these stories, it all made sense. Yes, things like the pressure of competition or the Body Shaming/Modesty Police didn’t impact me negatively, but I support and defend all the stories that we publish here.
I wanted to include a letter I wrote to Mrs. Moon a while ago, before Ryan and I began this project. I had a feeling that we would eventually get around to NCFCA and CFC, if only because so many of us share that experience on common.
I was chatting with Devin recently about how beneficial my time on tour was for me. He mentioned that a lot of former interns have written to you about their scarring, possibly traumatizing experiences, they had one tour (no details, just very generally). I was honestly very shocked! Devin said I should pass on the kind words to you. I certainly can’t speak for anyone else, but my experience was fantastic. Yes, I had to memorize a sign-language dance to Mary Did You Know, but it’s a great memory.
My adolescence was very troubled. My family got deep into ATI, which I now consider to be a cult. At the first CFC conference I attended in 2003, Caleb Smith’s charisma opened me up to really express myself. From there, I developed critical thinking skills in the networks fostered at your conferences. I remember one conversation I had with you, I think it may have been in Austin in the downstairs coffee shop (I don’t expect you to remember), and I asked you about why CFC operated for-profit instead of a non-profit. You said you had a vision and you didn’t want it to be lost. This really bothered me for a long time and I thought it was a sort of “pat” answer. In the last few years, I’ve come to appreciate the work you did on an entirely new level. You opened up thousands of sheltered homeschool kids to so many ideas and the ability [to] process new ideas.I can honestly say I probably learned more from CFC [about how to think logically and empirically] than I ever did about all the sciences combined in high school. Without CFC, I never would have found debate, which was my only way to process out all the cultist nonsense. I credit debate 100% with where I am now.
Not only did the conferences change me, but the tour experience itself was life-changing. For the first time, I was out of my parents house and given real responsibilities. Emotionally, I experienced the first few months without a sense of impending doom, constant anxiety, and other home problems. I will also never forget that you made some pretty big exceptions to your rules for alumni participation levels to even let me tour with the team. I remember a conversation we had sometime before I toured after a regional tournament. I waited away from all the people partying to try and talk to you, you made it clear that you thought I had a lot of potential, but I needed to focus and buckle down. You were one of the first people to give me any sort of self confidence and sense of purpose.
I thrived in that environment and I kindled my love for teaching. Never again have I had so much “class room” time simply teaching subjects I’m passionate about. The skills I learned coordinating tournaments, administering things, herding participants prepared me for being dropped into Afghanistan with three weeks to design a curriculum, teach it, practice debates, organize, run, and administer a tournament. I know without CFC there’s no way I would have been prepared for that. And now there’s a thriving debate league in Afghanistan – thanks to the determination of Josh McCormick.
Many of us are where we are in large part because of Christian homeschool debate. Ryan and I have the tools to do this because we were trained to be counter-cultural warriors who fight the power in order to defend truth. It is unfortunate that criticism must be leveled at what many of us hold so dearly. Yet we would betray those life-changing lessons if we did not.
We want younger people in these groups to have a better experience, to have the “life-changingness” without the emotional trauma. I don’t know what that means exactly — but almost ten years ago, Ryan Stollar tried to start that conversation and he was punished for it. So we are going to have this damn conversation, whether it is comfortable or not.
Our Bodies, Our Selves: The Other Other Side of Modesty
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
Last week Brett Harris wrote about “the other side of modesty.”For so long, the conservative Christian conversation about modesty and purity has appeared disturbingly and humorously lopsided. Modesty teachers exhort young women to dress in certain ways so as to not lead young men to lust, and young men are exhorted to help preserve young women’s “emotional purity.” By constructing a purely fictional binary, where men are sexual and women are emotional, modesty and purity teachings have flourished.
Then Brett came along and threw a small wrench into the binary modesty machine, saying,
If I’ve learned anything from the original Modesty Survey it’s that these discussions can be dangerous. For one thing, talking about modesty and lust in the same article can imply that immodesty causes lust, which is a destructive lie.
I commend Brett for this because it is a start. To make any causal relationship between a woman’s outfit and a man’s actions is flat-out dangerous and destructive — end of story. But I also believe that the binary modesty machine, that he just threw a wrench into, is a machine that his own hands helped construct. Brett, and his brother Alex, authored the Modesty Survey themselves 6 years ago in 2007. They were seventeen at the time, and they hoped to do something good for other young men and women, but what they did caused significant harm.
When Brett wrote his latest article for The Rebelution, he began (I hope) the process of owning that harm. Brett said,
By our silence we send the message that modesty is a female issue and lust is a male issue.
There are lots of things I don’t agree with in modesty and purity culture. There are probably lots of things I don’t agree with Brett about. But we do agree on this — that, by their silence, they did indeed miscommunicate.
This miscommunication has caused real damage. It has created so much pain for young women, so much confusion for young men, and perpetuates some of the most ugly and destructive myths that empower rape culture to thrive today.
Admitting there is a problem is the first step.
What the solution is, well, that’s where Brett and I immediately begin to disagree.
Brett’s solution is well-summarized by the following paragraph of his:
The only difference between me and the immodest girls on campus was that I had a male shape and they had a female shape. So what was going on? I felt fit and confident in my body and wanted to show it off. This is exactly what my sisters in Christ have been carefully instructed not to do. So was I doing something wrong? If I’m going to be consistent, yes I was.
Honestly, I admire intellectual consistency. So in a sense I admire that Brett is willing to immediately begin the process of applying the same standards he has long applied to women to himself.
This paragraph of his feels unnatural because I believe it supports a completely different solution than his: realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with “feeling fit and confident in one’s body and wanting to show it off.”
Why should Brett feel guilty about working out, taking care of his body, and then being so joyful about his body that he wants to share that joy with others? He put in some hard work. He did hard things (sorry, I had to say that). Be proud of who you are and what you look like. Rejoice in that. Live your life.
If you spent years creating the Sistine Chapel, I’m pretty sure you’d want to share your artwork with the world. I don’t see any difference between human art and the human body. In fact, the similarities are striking, in my opinion. Whether you are Christian or atheist, or whatever you are, you must grant that the human body is a work of art.
What modesty and purity culture has refused to consider, what Brett cannot quite embrace, is the idea that being happy or proud about the beauty of your body, and intentionally accentuating that beauty, is totally ok.
Do you know how insecure some women can be about their bodies? Have you ever thought about the overwhelming and debilitating insecurities that plague them when bikini season rolls around? Even if purity culture was not doubling their guilt with fear tactics about men and lust and hell and salvation, women would have an abundance of worries. Am I too fat? Can you see my cellulite? Why can’t my tummy look like that celebrity? Does my bikini bottom cover the freckles on my ass?
We are so obsessed with how big or small a bikini top can be that we forget that, for so many women, they just want to enjoy their own damn bodies, thank you very much. That woman that wears a bikini, or goes to a nightclub in a mini skirt? It is thoroughly possible that she wore that just to look cute. Not to tempt guys, or get laid. Maybe she just wants to feel good about herself, to feel beautiful. **
Sorry to break it you, but: It’s not all about men, y’all.
And whether you are male or female: there is nothing wrong with being proud of your body.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to show off the body that you have.
If you keep in my mind that we live in a world that is polarized between the extremes of commercialized sexuality, slut-shaming, body-shaming, and purity culture, I think you can see that a healthy acceptance of our bodies is so desperately needed. Our bodies are our selves, in such a fundamental and core way. We do not need more people telling us to hide our bodies, to be afraid of them, or to be ashamed of them. If you are so afraid of human sexuality that you resort to one of those tactics, you are doing something very wrong.
We do not need to hide our bodies. We need to show them.
The solution to our culture’s commercialized sexuality isn’t looking the other way at the mall when you pass Victoria’s Secret. The solution to commercialized sexuality is grounding it in the reality of what bodies actually look like: celebrating our bodies how they truly appear. Celebrating the stretch marks of pregnancy. Accepting the scars of our youth. Embracing our birth marks and our moles, our fat rolls and our baldness.
This is just who we are.
We do not need to be afraid of our bodies. We need to learn to be brave.
We have one shot at this body thing, people. One shot. I do not care whether you are an atheist or a Christian or a Buddhist — you still end up with the same basic principle. Be grateful for life. Be grateful that you are here. Be grateful for the skin and bones and blood and hair that surrounds who you are and makes you you.
Both commercialized sexuality and purity culture create the same problems, the problems of anorexia, bullimia, body-shaming, fat-shaming, and so forth. It really shouldn’t be that controversial, either, to make the triangular connection between commercialized sexuality, purity culture and rape culture. The similarities are striking. Instead of being so afraid of our bodies that we end up mirroring the opposite side of commercializing bodies, we need to re-center ourselves.
We do not need to be ashamed of our bodies. We need to celebrate them.
That woman flaunting her breasts in a low-cut shirt, the one you think should feel ashamed? Maybe her mother died of breast cancer. Have you ever thought of that? Maybe her decision to look good, show cleavage, and be proud of her breasts has absolutely nothing to do with you because you are a man — maybe, in fact, she has no idea you exist, so you thinking her showing her breasts has anything to do with you is just ridiculous and self-centered. Maybe she loves her breasts, because her mom had big breasts, too. And her mom died last year, on this very day. And that woman is celebrating that she is still alive, still has beautiful breasts, because everyday she misses her mother and wishes she was still here with her.
Did you ever think about that?
I never did. Then one day, during Breast Cancer Awareness Week, I heard a friend say what breasts meant to her as a woman. It had nothing to do with men or lust or sexuality. It had everything to do with accepting her body, accepting that cancer ran in her family, and — as she put it — “enjoying the body that God gave me while I still have time.”
And you know what? Even if some woman is just proud of her breasts because her breasts look awesome, more power to her. Your body is yours, and her body is hers. ***
I am sick and tired of how neurotic we make both men and women feel over this issue.
Our bodies are our selves.
Let us love them and love each other.
** A different topic that is extraordinarily relevant, but would be tangential from the central message here of loving your body, is how even our standards of beauty are male-centric. I mention a few examples throughout this post — bikinis, mini skirts, and low-cut blouses — and the fact is, those are often the standards for beauty that our society sets. An equally important aspect of fighting both the commercialization of sexuality as well as purity culture is to empower women to dress how they define beautiful, cute, or sexy, rather than dressing how men define those things. A woman can feel just as beautiful, cute, or sexy in a sun dress or a pantsuit as she would in a cocktail dress. Yet society is going to dictate which outfit to wear, thus warping our standards of beauty. In a very real sense, then, both the commercialization of sexuality and purity culture end up at the same place: telling women what they can or cannot wear, what is or is not beautiful, and all according to male standards. Society needs to learn to give that power to women — giving them the autonomy and freedom over their bodies that is rightfully theirs.
But that is a topic for a different post.
*** Part of owning your body, by the way, is to take ownership of what you do, feel, and think, and not passing any semblance of responsibility of that onto another person or person’s body. But again, that is also a topic for a different post.