faith · sex series and stuff · womens issues

Sex Series pt 2: Can you be a Christian AND love bettie page?

Note: I told a friend I was going to post this awhile ago, and he didn’t even know who Bettie Page is.  I guess there are a few of you out there who aren’t hip to the rockabilly world and vintage pinup girls and roller derby revivals and such. So I thought I would take a moment to educate a little bit. Please be advised that this blog will not hold back on certain kinds of information and that if I had to give it a rating, it would be a solid R for strong sexual content and references to all kinds of crap. Read at your own risk.

As some people reading this may have heard by now, Bettie Page, the pinup girl of the 50s, passed away last month. What you may not know is that she claimed to be a Christian, and had a “religious epiphany”  in her late 30s and turned from her modelling career. But even with her association with Billy Graham and missionary organizations, she licensed her name and image to bring new life to the classic pinup models in more recent years, and is probably more popular today throughout the world than she ever was in her prime, thanks to the internet and all the retro craze that seems to be all hip with the kids. if you see a girl with heavy bangs and black hair, you can thank bettie page for the style.

what interests me most about her is that she has been quoted as saying she saw nothing wrong with what she did (posing nude and suggestively, including whips and gasp! corsets!) she was unashamed of her body and didn’t really see the connection between it and (whisper) sex. as I said,… interesting.

without falling into r-rated territory, i will say that as a christian single woman in my mid 30s, I have struggled with sex issues for a very long time. When the show Sex and the City came out, I alternated between laughing at every single episode and crying my eyes out over the guilt and torture of my soul for the life I had been leading. there aren’t a lot of books or people out there who can really speak in any significant way to Christian single 30-somethings who are not virgins and can’t really forgive themselves for it.  (although in some ways, it’s not a matter of forgiving yourself. As a friend of mine put it, it’s more about claiming the grace of God in your life and moving on from it. to leave the past as the past, to walk on.)  I know I am supposed to write that book, but it will have to wait until I finish the “other” book as my mom said, hopefully sometime in her lifetime.

In the meantime, I read stories like Ms. Page’s and I think about how there is so much more to a woman than what you can fit on a poster. Her story is one not without struggles and insecurities. She was married and divorced a few times and had no children.  She had been gang raped as a young adult, and survived the terrible experience only to find herself succumbing througout her life to depression and schizophrenia. She also dove headfirst into darker territory, including pornography and hardcore S&M. Years later she would distance herself from this somewhat and even tried to become a missionary. You know what stopped her? She was rejected by the board because she was DIVORCED!!! that’s just kinda crazy really, but whatever. (I had promised a loyal reader that I would not bash Christians any more for awhile, but now that it’s 2009, all bets are off, baby!)

Toward the end of her life, Ms. Page had become a recluse and had nervous breakdowns multiple times.  By the end of her days, she was camera shy and paranoid. The “official” biography is set to come out in 2009 so I’d imagine that some more information on her will be released in that and in the near future. She was a fascinating woman to say the least.

Anyway, I truly believe that God welcomed Bettie with open arms with all the Grace and Mercy He showers on us all. may she rest in peace.

The question of female sexuality makes me ponderous. There are some who would like to draw straight lines from trauma (such as molestation, rape, incest, etc) to rebellion (for example, sleeping around or giving sexual favors to get attention) to exhibitionism or outright deviance (stripping, prostitution, pornography). There have been studies done to show that there is a distinct correlation between women in the industry in any form and such traumatic incidents, but can that alone identify potential future “deviant” behaviors?  There are plenty of women who have such things happen to them who never travel down that path, and there are those who do all those things good girls don’t do who weren’t molested or raped or otherwise sexually attacked. Aren’t there???

So where ARE the numbers indicating either conclusion? I’ll tell you where. In the same place that explains the reason for the Big Bang, the origin of the Abominable Snowman, and the reason people eat cotton candy – namely, Conjecture Land. There will never be any solid numbers because such traumas go largely unreported and denied altogether. A conclusion you could logically draw is that those women who become strippers and prostitutes and such are the ones most likely to admit to their past demons and closet skeletons, and have reached a resting place, of sorts, with them. Or at least they are using their current occupations (and preoccupations) to work out these issues for themselves.  A stepping stone to empowerment and “wholeness” if you will.

One of the main reasons I embarked on writing this series of blogs was to help those who have lived fairly sheltered lives begin to glimpse a true picture of those of us who have been on the other side.  For many of the religious right, the lines of sexuality and promiscuity are clear as the nose on their faces (usually in the stuck up positions) and there is no room for error in their calculations of purity.

But where does that leave the rest of us? Where does that leave the Bettie Page’s of the world who were so obviously crying out for appreciation and compassion?

I cannot help but think of Jesus Christ Himself. Of all the stories that could have been told through His lifetime (and there had to be a zillion at least) the Gospels are clear on at least one encounter with a woman of ill repute. So why her? Was it so we Christians centuries later can again, stick our noses up and say, what a despicable woman! Look, how great Jesus is that He cared for even one like her?

Well, yes. In some ways, sure. That’s exactly the point. But more than that, I believe, He puts her sins on the same level and makes clear she is no worse of a sinner than all the self-righteous “god-fearing” men surrounding her with stones in their hands. We are forced again and again to look within, to see the depth any of us can fall.  Only to realize it is not so deep for Him to see us clearly and love us all the same.

So there is comfort for people like me in Bettie Page. Not that I’ll run out and buy all her paraphernalia, of which there is plenty, mind you. But I do come across her image now and then and smile wide. I can imagine Jesus having dinner with her right now, and maybe she is wiping His feet with her gorgeous black hair.

And there is salvation for people like me in Bettie Page, in the here and now. A constant reminder of places I’ve been and actions I’ve taken. I look back now and could weep, and have done so, in the reality of it all. But I look at someone like her and what she’s been through, and I thank God that I am farther along, that I have faced my demons and continue to do so, in a healing way. And I know deep in my soul that everything I have experienced so far in this life completes the whole puzzle of me and I embrace it fully. I have to. It is me, and makes me the woman I am right now typing this blog. Grammatical errors and all.

Here is the least “offensive” picture I could find… you can do a google image search if you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. She got fairly hardcore for the times.

bettie-page-in-the-sand

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11 thoughts on “Sex Series pt 2: Can you be a Christian AND love bettie page?

  1. Recovery from anything takes time and some of us never really “get over it” like others. On the other hand, I believe many people over state reality when it comes to trauma. Like you said they use the worst examples and forget (or pointedly ignore) the majority of others who go on to live better.

    I read small articles on Betty Page, I just don’t think anyone can know her heart nor can they understand her experience until they have walked for a while in her shoes. Telling a story from an observer’s position is easy. It’s kinda’ like watching a football game and wondering why the quarterback is dodging around so much, not realizing the linebacker for the other team is gunning for him.

    Good thoughts, Robin.

  2. I think a better question would be “Can you be Christian and NOT love Bettie Page?” I’ll admit that I had never heard of this person before reading your post, however after reading this and doing some of my own research I believe that she had a great heart for God. That she was passed up for missionary work because of things she had done in her past was wrong on so many levels, but I will have to leave that rant for another time. I feel that most Christians (and I count myself at times, as well) forget that we have all sinned and that He looks upon all sin as one thing: imperfection.

    Thanks for your post, Robin. You really got me thinking tonight.

  3. thanks for the comment, Alex, and I am glad you are thinking!!! That was a large part of my purpose for writing in the first place 🙂

    and Jonny, thanks too for the football analogy. a little testerone thrown in for good measure! lol! (ps. stay tuned, i’m sure i will be posting some football analyses after sunday for the playoffs!)

  4. aka, asa, ala, whatever it takes. Figure it out!

    I think I’ve probably at least mentioned this before. I think people get involved with the way rightedness of religion because it is soooo much easier to have all these very specifice neat and tidy rules. Even though no one ever keeps to them… I mean… hell… you sinned when you broke them… why not lie about it and say you didn’t while your in church spending one whole hour per week trying to focus on Christ and what he wants you to do. Then go home and forget about it and never do anything.

    Seriously, c’mon. Do any of those people REALLY think we believe they’re all that incredibly pure?! I’m sure there are a few – but very.

    Did that come out sounding angry?

    Anymore I have some trouble staying in small groups at my church. I love the people, but, exactly how long are you going to ‘learn’ before you begin to ‘do’?

    A person like Bettie Page strikes me as a stronger Christian than most.

  5. Robin this piece is a real blessing to those of us who love Jesus and all of his creation. I tell this story on a consistent basis where I reference Christ as a painter and all of creation a masterpiece which he has created. (Genesis 1:28 John 1:1) As Christ looks at his masterpiece he sees a blemish in it (Genesis 6:5, 6) the only that he could get rid of the spot was that he had to put him in the picture. (Matthew 1:18-25) Once this was accomplished the spot rejected Him and killed Him.(Matthew 27:45-50) So the painter new the power of his strokes , painted over the spot that was trying to keep Him and climbed out (Revelation 1:18) Once he climbed out He started applying the strokes that will balance and harmonize the painting (Acts 1:8)
    The gist of this story is framed by two of the most powerful ingredients to usher in God’s Kingdom which is at hand. (Matthew 3:2) These two ingredients form the center of the Kingdom’s power which is Love. Faith and Repentance are the two ingredients. In Matthew 12:28 Christ makes a statement to the disciples. He says; “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” In this statement He provides us with the two central ingredients. Faith, because in order to defeat the devil’s , He had to believe in the power of Him who created the Kingdom and Repentance in order to transform his thoughts to accept that the Kingdom is present to remove the devil’s.
    The painter created a place in all of our hearts to allow His brush strokes to cover the darkness or ugliness which we struggle with on a daily and consistent basis. After awhile the paint from the creator will remove the spot (1 Corinthians 4: 5) and the painting will please the creator. That is why he had to climb out after the spot remove him.
    The love we need to help others in the damaged world comes from Jesus Christ by way of the Holy Spirit. It is the power that allows us to forgive ourselves and others. Without it we don’t have a chance. I hope that this is a blessing. God Bless

  6. Just to answer the question: I hope so – LOL. I mean God loves her, right?

    As someone who has struggled with pornography (can I publicly admit that in mixed company? guess i just did), I have a lot of experience in trying to move on. One thing that really helped me was in the The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. The lesson the elder demon was teaching the younger was that once someone becomes a Christian the aim of the devil becomes to render them utterly powerless and ineffective as Christians. One of the the devils most powerful tools in this area is guilt. Conviction is pre-repentence – it is from God. Guilt in its purest sense is from the devil and is post-repentence. It’s intended to depress you, paralyze you, and make you useless (or even detrimental) to the kingdom of God. Reject it and claim the forgiveness that was bought at a great price.

    Glad you are still so cool after all these years, and i look forward to reading the rest of the blogs, hopefully tonight.

    Dave

  7. Oh, here comes a theology correction! 😉

    You wrote: “I believe, He puts her sins on the same level and makes clear she is no worse of a sinner than all the self-righteous “god-fearing” men surrounding her with stones in their hands.”

    Actually, I’d say this understates what he does. I would say that Jesus makes it clear that she is in a far better place as a sinner than the self-righteous “god-fearing” men around her, simply because her sin is exposed and she is in a place where the only thing she can do is beg for mercy … something Jesus loves to give.

    As for the men around her, it would appear that they need a bit of a reality check when it comes to their sinfulness, and their denial of their condition has them, at least at the moment, in a place where they have no realization of their need for the gift that Jesus longs to give.

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