Beyonce’s halftime show and wearing nail polish to preach

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.)

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.

Comments (10)

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Thank you, Erica!  I would probably have never thought to connect these two experiences, but I think you are right.

I have several young girls at church who come up to me to see what color my nails are each week. I hope the message they get is more than just whimsy. Though whimsy certainly has its place.

“Feminine authority?” Beyonce sure seemed to be playing up the “sex symbol” role to me. We turned the halftime show when she started taking off her clothes. My kids are too young to see that, and it’s not exactly something that’s going to build up men struggling with lust, either.

Erica, this was well-written and - as a fellow pastor - it was fascinating for me to hear the similarities and differences in how we think of ourselves while preaching. Thanks for that. Additionally, as a man I know I can’t fully comprehend what you’re saying/what Beyonce’s performance meant to you.

That being said, since I am a man, I can speak from my perspective. For me, there wasn’t much about Beyonce’s performance that shouted female empowerment. Her choreography and wardrobe basically shouted “imagine having sex with me.” And while I’m neither surprised nor scandalized, I definitely didn’t walk away thinking “what a great day for the non-objectification of women.”

Women preachers wearing polish on their nails (toe or finger)? Not an issue. Women preachers saying “sex” a lot from the pulpit. Not an issue.

Beyoncé wearing polish on her nails (toe or finger)? Not an issue. Did Beyoncé say sex a lot on that stage? She didn’t stop saying it, for crying out loud.

But I question whether her performance was truly an example of bringing feminine authority to a male dominated event, at least whether it was in a good way. It seemed closer to a strip club than to Deborah’s rule as a judge in ancient Israel. Now there’s an example of bringing feminine authority to a male dominated event.

Cheers,
Tim

This is definitely a provocative piece. I applaud you for your candor. Honestly, I’m not so sure how I feel about Beyonce or her performance Sunday. I appreciate and respect her as a worthy female performing artist, among the finest of her peers. That’s enough for me.

What I find more interesting about your comments here is the way you so obviously feel comfortable in your own skin as a woman in pastoral leadership—a woman of legitimate spiritual authority. I don’t applaud vanity, and I don’t condone immodesty, but I do think it’s appropriate and edifying for women to feel comfortable in their own skin as they minister to others. Kudos there.

Beyonce’s performance was hardly something “from a strip club,” as one of these comments claimed. As for another commenter, who said she was “taking off her clothes,” exaggerate much, fellas? This was a singing and dancing performance featuring costumes no more revealing than the average Rockettes show. The Rockettes have been entertaining families for generations. Strong, independent women who entertain without men may be something you are not used to, but maybe you should get used to it, because it is the 21st Century, not Biblical times.

Actually obiwen, no one said it was “something ‘from a strip club.’” What I said was that it was “closer to a strip club than to Deborah’s rule as a judge”. You think it was closer to Deborah? How so?

Erica, it sounds like you might enjoy my blog, http://www.beautytipsforministers.com, where we talk about pastoral nail polish and everything else you’re lifting up here. Cheers.

Ugh… this does not sit quite right with me. I’m all for nail polish and every woman and man being able to live out their masculinity and femininity (because both men and women have both masculine and feminine traits) but I get so frustrated that for women our public presence is still so defined by our bodies. That is sexism. That is sexism. That is sexism. It’s great that your pastor friend wore tights; why the hell is anyone commenting on how nice her legs are? I have NEVER said or thought that about my male pastor friends—and there are lots of good reasons, historical and otherwise, for that privilege they receive.

When I see at least one woman wearing more than booty shorts and brassiere on stage I will celebrate that each woman gets to define and own her sexuality. But I have a hard time saying that and feeling intellectually honest when every man at the Super Bowl was fully clothed and every woman close to naked.

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