Are You a Secret Keeper Girl?

Last week, before heading back to the west coast from Indianapolis, I spent a few days with my sister in St. Louis. I got to see that my nephew has grown into a handsome teenager (what happened to that kid who used to suck his thumb?). My nieces, at almost 17 and almost 12, were at Mennonite church camp, which probably meant they were learning just a little about Jesus, making plastic lanyards, singing tearful rounds of Pass It On, and spending most of their time watching the cute Mennonite boys—if their camp experience was anything like mine. So I missed seeing them, and was really sad about that, although I did get to stay in my elder niece’s bedroom, and look at her many pictures and doodads, and feel a little bit protective about her: she’s almost in college, for goodness sake, and in a few years might be marrying some Mennonite boy, her camp lanyard gathering dust in a box stashed in her parents’ garage. Not that I know anything about that.
Thank goodness a dear reader passed on a website that I can pass on to my nieces. It’s called Secret Keeper Girl, a pink and sparkly site that promises to help tweens and teens work on their modesty, become godly women, and keep “the deepest secrets of her beauty for just one man.” Until that man comes around—uh, presumably when the Secret Keeper Girl is out of high school—the girls are encouraged to share “all of her heart secrets with her mom at any time.” To that end, the site offers stuff for moms and girls (separate tabs, though written in the same sparkly language), information about Secret Keeper Girl pajama parties, and stores that sell Secret Keeper Girl DVDs, dolls, and a mother/daughter conversation guide, for those moments when you don’t know how to tell your mom your heart secrets. (It strikes me, of course, that a mother/daughter conversation guide might make awkward conversations even more awkward. Had my mom pulled out that guide when I was a teen, I would have busted out laughing, then turned MTV up even louder.)
The best part of the site is the “Truth or Bare” section, which offers girls a bunch of tests to make sure their clothes are modest enough to wear. The tests should be tried on each and every outfit one wears. For example, the first test checks for muffin tops—that is, whether the girl is showing too much belly. She is encouraged to put on her outfit, and hold her hands up “in the air to God,” as if she were praising Jesus. If her belly is showing when she does this, then she—or her clothes—are damned to hell. No, not really: she just needs to find something else to wear, like a ribbed t-shirt from a men’s store, because apparently bellies are “intoxicating,” and should be “saved for our husbands.” Of course! That’s the first thing boys look at when oogling girls. How many times have I heard a guy say “Check out the gut on that woman; the way her belly button curves Just. So. Makes me giddy.”
The second test, called “Grandpa’s Mirror,” is a real head scratcher. Girls are supposed to check whether their shorts are too short by sitting in front of a mirror cross-legged. “Now, what do you see in that mirror,” the site asks. “OK, pretend it is your grandpa. If you see undies, or lots of thigh, your shorts are too short.” Now, maybe I’m not clear about grandpas here; mine was pretty awesome, and we had a great relationship. But I don’t know how pretending he was a mirror, looking up my shorts, would have helped my relationship or my decisions about what to wear. Wouldn’t it be easier to imagine the mirror was some creeper in the sixth grade, trying to get a peek at your goods? Otherwise, I’m left thinking “why the heck is my own grandpa looking up my shorts?” Sounds like grandpa has a problem, not me.
The final three tests track whether a girl’s shirt is too tight, falls too low, or hangs too loose. We are told that these tests may not be necessary yet, depending on whether “God has chosen for you to begin to grow your breasts out or not.” (How much longer, God, until you choose me?) To find out if your shirt is too tight, you can press your closed hand in the valley between your breasts, then remove it. If the shirt springs back “like a trampoline,” then your shirt is too tight! And what if your shirt doesn’t do anything? Just kinda sits there, like mine did? You might want to consider Mark Driscol’s prescription of breast augmentation for hot and happy marriages!  Or, you can comfort yourself with the thought of “future cleavage,” something you discover in doing test number four: “Is My Shirt Too Low?” Who knew that cleavage even had a future.
Although it’s fun to mock an easy target like this, I recognize that girls face extraordinary pressure to dress to a cultural norm, and that parents also struggle to find clothes that don’t make their five-year-old girls into sex symbols.  Sometimes when I’m out shopping, I feel a surge of gratitude that I’m raising sons who enjoy wear baggy shorts and team logo t-shirts, rather than short shorts and provocative t-shirts.[1]
Yet this site’s inordinate focus on a girl’s modesty and purity, at focusing every aspect of her being on “The One,” seems equally problematic to me. Browsing through the site, you see a good deal about a girl’s physical self, and very little about how a girl might develop her mind to think critically; or how she might become a strong leader in her community; or how she might discover independence, strength, a life beyond her service to parents and The One for whom she is waiting. The message—found so startling often in evangelical popular culture—is that a girl’s best, most important asset is her body. More than that, her sexuality. And even more than that, her purity. Because once she’s wearing loose shirts that show future cleavage and short shorts, she is no longer a “masterpiece created by God” but a skank without any secrets.
Many evangelicals complain that our society has become too sexualized, and suggest that previous generations were more moral because sex was kept private, presumably between a man and his wife. I’m not entirely sure what people mean when they say society is “too sexualized,” nor do I think we are any better or worse off than previous generations, when men snuck off to their mistresses and women wore corsets and bustles to accentuate their own assets. Sites like Secret Keeper Girl operate, I presume, as an antidote to a “too sexualized” culture. Yet by focusing so completely on a girl’s sexuality, rather than acknowledging and nurturing all aspects of girl’s being, it seems the Secret Keeper Girl is doing exactly that which it hopes to critique: imagining that females are defined solely by their sexual selves, rather than recognizing that girls—and women—have much to offer the world beyond their bodies, sacrificed to The One.

[1] Even if my youngest insists on wearing his Real Madrid soccer outfit six out of seven days each week. Those locals who question my willingness to let my son wear an outfit so often: yes, I know he has a problem. I’ve taken to planning very intricate laundry-related ploys so that he doesn’t wear the outfit so often.  At least he’s taken more interest in doing the laundry himself.