Like many women with naturally curly hair, I’ve always hated mine. Or, almost always hated it. There are times now when I’ve developed an uneasy truce with my hair, especially on those mornings when I don’t have to dry, curl, or even use a comb. Which, truth be told, is every morning.
But when I was younger, and especially in high school, I hated my curls. I hated it when old ladies told me they paid a lot of money for their hairdos, as if I wanted my hair to also look like blue cotton candy. I hated it when other girls feathered their hair, and I could not; I hated it when my friends were all getting Annie Lenox cuts, and I knew any attempt I made would be just another puff on my head. Not cool.
When I heard that hair was a woman’s crowning glory, I couldn’t relate. I also wondered what would have happened had I been born into a much more conservative Mennonite family, where long hair was essential to godliness, as was keeping one’s hair in a bun and topping it with a covering. I can only imagine my hair growing out rather than down, and a covering pinned to my giant fluff, creating a Bozo the Clown look.
I probably wouldn’t have been the first Mennonite bozo, at least.
Turns out, there’s still time for me to figure out what happens when I grow out my crowning glory and put a covering on, if I’m to follow the new Head Covering Movement. The movement, according to its website, seeks to unify Christians around their understanding of God and the Bible. The way they express this unity? Around the belief that women need to keep their hair long and their heads covered up.
These head-coverers are no Luddites; unlike their Mennonite brethren (and sistern), they do not fear technology. Instead, they are taking their message of head coverings for all women to the internet, with a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a website, Youtube videos, and even a Pinterest page, where you can find “lovely head coverings for ladies” and testimonies from others who have turned to the head covering movement to do that which God has told them to do.
The movement is based on 1 Corinthians 11, which—according to their promotion video—contains no less than 15 mentions of the need for women to cover their heads. These include an assertion that there is a clear created order, and that men are not to have their heads covered, though women are, because women are the glory of men.
Also, women should wear coverings because nature itself teaches us that women need to cover their heads, differentiating men from women. This is scientific fact! That many men lose their hair as they age shows that for men, hair isn’t as important as it is for women. And women also need to grow their hair long because this is, indeed, their crowning glory, something only they can do. Apparently the writer of Corinthians had never seen a naturally curly-haired woman trying to grow her hair long, nor the image of a man vainly trying to stretch his thinning strands across a balding head.
The Head Covering Movement site also argues for its rightness because: angels. The passage “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor 11:10) might seem inexplicable, the site claims. No matter, we are to accept this without knowing what it means. Though, the site says, the passage could mean that because angels are always in the presence of God up in heaven, we will be too—if we cover our heads.
Crystal clear, don’t you see?
This weekend, I finished Shirley Showalter’s excellent new memoir, Blush (published this September by Herald Press). Shirley writes thoughtfully about her upbringing as a conservative Mennonite in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the covering she wore a marker separating her from the glittering world she admired and longed to enter.
At one point, she narrates an experience in her church, when the Mennonite bishop would not offer the communion cup to one of Shirley’s peers, “clutching” the cup to his chest when she stood at the altar because of how she looked; Shirley surmises that her skirt might have been too short, or her hair not long enough to “fit underneath a full covering.” Whatever the reason, the bishop decided, based on outward appearance, that the teenage girl was not worthy enough to sit at Christ’s table, an act of patriarchal power I imagine Jesus himself would soundly denounce.
I thought about the contemporary head covering movement when I read Shirley’s story. I suppose if women make the choice to cover their heads during corporate worship, we should rejoice: this is what feminism is about, after all, letting women make the choices they want for their own lives.
But I can’t help but consider the other things a head covering movement might symbolize: making women subservient, for example; or deciding one passage in the Bible, potentially interpreted outside its cultural context, must dictate whether a woman might be considered godly enough. And often, because being godly enough means being worthy enough—to receive communion, to be part of a community, to be loved by God—I can only believe the Head Covering Movement is one more way to keep women in their place, even if a Pinterest board tries to convince us that place is really, really cool.