The internet has officially declared this season as “Christian Girl Autumn,” a seismic shift from rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s more popularly known “Hot Girl Summer,” which preached a warm message of sexual and personal empowerment for women everywhere.
Hot Girl Summer is coming to an end, get ready for Christian Girl Autumn ?? pic.twitter.com/yuqyt6YTex— gio (@lasagnabby) August 9, 2019
The popular meme is a comedic ode to the trendy yet modest attire adopted by self-identified Christian girls on social media. The look usually consists of these essential items: oversized cowl-neck sweaters, plaid fringe infinity scarves, skinny jeans, booties, wide brim hats, and large Céline handbags. This style is most commonly associated with white women specifically who have conformed to this very contradictory medium of femininity. If you’re reading this and wondering, “Hey! What’s so wrong with a girl who likes her PSLs as hot as fire and brimstone? She isn’t hurting anyone…” Well, perhaps this generalization is just that-- a generalization. But to take a closer look, let’s examine the dark and smiley world of Christian Girl Youtube.
For a couple years now, I have been hate-watching two young women online who go by the name GirlDefined Ministries on YouTube. Kristen and Bethany are sisters hailing from the state of Texas. They’re both very white, very blonde, and very in love with Jesus Christ—or at least the chiseled European depiction of Christ and not the radical Palestinian Jewish refugee he most probably was. My friend Kaylee introduced me to their channel one drunken night in our dorm during our Sophomore year. We were both raised Christian (she protestant and I pseudo-Catholic), and now that we both ended up in our liberal bubble of Manhattan, studying film with wealthy art kids, we could look back at the Christian girl culture we successfully dodged with a sense of humor. What she showed me, however, was like nothing I had ever seen before.
Kristen and Bethany were an enigma to me. Their channel was so disturbingly sterile it was laughable. They adopted this airy beauty guru aesthetic with fresh pastel colors, flower decals, and fairy lights, but everything they preached contradicted the faux-divine feminist tone they were taking to assert their unachievable ideas of sexuality and gender. Imagine all the same messaging of the 700 Club but from the perspective of the popular British YouTuber Zoella. Sounds contradictory? It is. We watched in horror as the women discussed cringe-worthy topics like “Why Christian Girls Should Be Beautiful But Not Seductive” and “Why Modern Girls Should Embrace The Lost Art of Hospitality,” just to name a couple (seriously, I do recommend reading through the titles for these videos; I cannot make these up).
At first, we couldn’t get enough of it. It felt like we had discovered a quirky cult sponsored by Anthropologie. I even suggested that their entire channel was some hoax or an ironic performance art project they had cooked up to gain notoriety. I would’ve respected them much more if that were the case. It became clear that these two women were completely brainwashed into this white patriarchal culture of shame and repression they had labeled as God’s design for womanhood. I felt bad for them until I remembered they had become the vehicles for the same message that had compromised their power, and they were now spreading it to thousands of confused young women across the internet.
The first problem with the sisters’ mantra for femininity is that they believe there is only one single definition for it—hence the name GirlDefined. Many of Kristen and Bethany’s videos and blog posts surround questions of intimacy, sexuality, lust, and modesty. The sisters are incredibly focused on marriage and building the nuclear family structure. They will go on and on about what to look for in a potential husband and how to prepare for marriage while being single, and then later make a video explaining why neither of them were fulfilled by marriage once they both achieved it because their true goal all along was to become one with their omniscient God. They will laugh and exclaim how women were designed to be sexual beings and should embrace this desire, but will quickly pause this thought to reiterate that they can only explore this erotic energy within them through the covenant of marriage (which, of course, can only be between a man and a woman). The only thing that is made clear in all this mixed messaging is that there is no possible way to win in life if you are a woman. In their God’s design for humanity, women are constantly battling each other and themselves for things they admit will never bring them pleasure or joy. They must surrender their own desires for life to God without any expectation of being rewarded in their current lives on Earth. I hope and pray there is an afterlife, because if there isn’t, they would have wasted all this time internalizing all this sexism for nothing.
One blog post written by Kristen demonstrates this dangerous propaganda most clearly. In her homophobic manifesto “Same-Sex Attraction and the Christian Girl,” Kristen targets young women who are experiencing their first sexual desires towards other women and calls this feeling a struggle that can be overcome through intense prayer and resistance to so-called temptations.
“No matter how long you’ve struggled with same-sex attraction, it does not have to define you. Your battle is ultimately a battle of sin and the flesh just like mine. It’s a battle of faith. It’s a battle of surrender. It’s a battle of trusting in Christ so deeply and fully that His transforming grace becomes sufficient for your struggle. It’s relying on Jesus each day and looking to Him for strength to say no to the flesh, and yes to righteousness.”
The condescending language Kristen uses here is deliberate in its false empathetic voice to trick young women who are coming into their own sexuality into believing they are somehow betraying God by following their sexual desires over purity. In their image of womanhood, we are all condemned to a life in constant fear of the almighty white male God’s wrath for exploring our sexual desires. This is a constant theme in everything Kristen and Bethany produce—purity, purity, purity. But what is considered pure? Or better yet, who can achieve purity, and who is incapable of doing so? I had a hunch that I, a Black woman, was not included in their God’s divine plan for womankind. Honestly, I felt all the better for being excluded from it.
Here’s the thing: I am not discounting these women’s beliefs simply because they are Christian. I know plenty of Christian women who do not subscribe to these same kinds of oppressive beliefs. I am not a radical atheist who is mocking them for believing in some higher power either. I do believe in God. I used to be a Christian before I learned everything I could about the history of the religion and realized the church had stolen many of their cultural practices from the spiritual rituals of my own African and Indigenous ancestors. For that reason, I do not believe in organized religion. I have no idea whether Jesus was holy or not. I tend to think he wasn’t. He was most likely just a normal human man with an extraordinary will to revolutionize his community with love as the guiding principle. This is not exclusive to Christianity. Nearly every famed religious prophet in recorded human history believed this too: Buddha, Muhammad, Moses, Abraham, Confucius, Ramakrishna, the list goes on and on.
I, too, believe every person deserves to be treated with kindness and respect. I don’t believe God is one single man sitting up in the sky judging all of us from a golden throne as we all run around in circles like malfunctioning Sims. "God" is just a name us humans have assigned to this all-encompassing phenomenon of goodness. I believe God is love. God is light. God is joy and laughter. God is beauty. God is pleasure. God is growth and wisdom. God is not fear. God is not hatred. God is not suffering. Kristen and Bethany, however, would like you to believe otherwise. If it is true that sexuality was an intended part of the human design as they believe, then wouldn’t the rejection of this natural part of us be a rejection of God itself?
I cannot imagine any other act more pure than connecting with another person by sharing your body with them. To give another person pleasure, and to receive it from them in this physical bond is truly beautiful. It is the fundamental human act of life. To suppress this power we are given and debase it as a sinister sin is to deny ourselves of our humanity, which can only lead to deep psychological and emotional problems within us. It is when people begin to manipulate sex into a tool for ulterior motives that it delineates from God. Strangely enough, the sisters have hardly ever mentioned the role men have played historically in this systematic separation between sex and empathy. They put all the responsibility on women’s shoulders alone. We’ve already seen the catastrophic effects of this violent speech of homophobia and misogyny being forced upon communities across the globe since the middle ages. All it did was cause more unnecessary pain and suffering.
I think it’s clear Kristen and Bethany’s ideas of a perfect world are exclusive to women and men who look and act just like them and no one else. That is not a world worth living in. That is not a world a God of love would ever want to exist. Perhaps if we all learned to love ourselves first, we will find that our divinity comes from the erotic power we all already possess. Clarity will come when we all, no matter our gender or sexual identity, learn to balance the feminine and masculine energies within us. I hope for their sakes, Kristen and Bethany will one day discover this power and use it for the greater good.
Header photo courtesy of Milada Vigerova on Unsplash
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Stephanie Tinsley is a Brooklyn based writer and filmmaker originally from Chicago, Illinois. She currently studies Film & TV at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. She spends her free time watching The Real Housewives and fighting with film boys on the internet.
@madamebruja on Twitter