Culture At Large

Beyonce’s halftime show and wearing nail polish to preach

Erica Schemper

Before our preaching lab in seminary, my classmates and I noticed that each of us had our own little “thing,” a tic we had to enact before we were on. Adjust your tie; pull up your socks; fingers through the hair; chew on a cough drop.

I redid my lipstick. This would not be particularly notable, except that I was one of fewer than 10 women in my graduating M.Div class. My classmates and I laughed about this. One said, “Yeah, I guess it makes sense. You’d have to do something different than us.”

There’s a temptation, as a woman preacher, to downplay your womanliness. When younger female preachers gather, we often talk about clothes and shoes and makeup and nail polish. Not because we are inherently vain, but I think because in any career when male has been the default, you have to figure out how to navigate yourself and your lady parts in your role.

And - true confession - I am more than a little bit vain. I would like to care less about how I look.

But I want to look female when I’m pastoring. It’s who I am. I’ve even come to enjoy the little extra bit of latitude being a woman gives me in appearance.

Yesterday morning, I was guest preaching. And just as much as preparing a sermon well, I wanted to look nice. So, after an early morning run, I took over the bathroom and worked at washing away the stay-at-home mama grunge. I shaved my legs. I painted my toenails a sparkly pinky-red color called - I kid you not - “after sex.” (If you think that’s too racy for a pastor to mention in public, I remind you that I remain proud of my claim to have been the pastor who said “sex” the most from the pulpit during my tenure at an Illinois church.)

Yesterday morning, I was guest preaching. And just as much as preparing a sermon well, I wanted to look nice.

I wore a modest, shorter, flowy black dress, with an empire waist (because not all of us look as good post-partum as Beyonce). But I also wore patterned black hosiery and black patent peep-toe shoes with a white accent to match my stole.

I put on some lipstick and headed to church, where I put on my robe. And I preached. And, sacrilegious as it may be, I hope a few of the little girls and boys sitting with me during the children’s sermon noticed the nail polish.

I didn’t look as fierce as Beyonce did later that afternoon during the half-time show. (That wasn’t quite preaching attire.) But that woman used her body to bring some feminine authority to an event that glorifies the male body and, during both airtime and commercial breaks, only shows women as sex symbols or shrews. And all this with an all-woman band and dance troupe. I so hope that the sound and lighting designers were women, too.

One of my ministry mentors, Dana Ferguson, was famous for wearing fabulous hosiery. Fishnets and bright colors and patterns, all the while looking eminently professional. I wore bright tights before I knew her, and I kept wearing them as an homage to her. I now realize that she didn’t wear them just to be quirky. She had really nice legs. God-given ones. And she made sure her congregation was OK with her nice legs. In fact, I think they were rather proud of Dana’s legs.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go touch up my toenails.

Editor's note: TC contributor Karen Swallow Prior offers a rebuttal to Erica's piece here.

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