During a 2009 NPR interview with Mary Mary I addressed criticism about their sexy fashion sense. Tina Campbell defended the group’s image, saying "I would like to think that I'm sexy. It is not my endeavor [to] entice, to cause anyone to lust."
Recently Erica Campbell, the second half of the group, has been the focus of social media hoopla after she released a new photo on Instagram to announce her Grammy nomination. She’s wearing a figure flattering fitted dress, a pair of hot stilettos and hip-length hair extensions. This new look triggered condemnation and debate about what qualifies as acceptable attire for Christian women.
Instead of quarreling about the dress she wore, we should be giving Mrs. Campbell kudos for being a married mother of three who is fit and fabulous, and over 40. Campbell still has a body that could silence Kimye. Her vibrant, healthy appearance and brick house figure are a welcome juxtaposition to the obesity that is common in our churches and the gospel industry.
On the flip side, if Campbell walked into my church wearing the dress in question I too would squirm in the pew. But she is dressed for work (i.e., to market her product and remain current to her existing fan base and attract news one), not for worship. As a Christian I believe a woman of God can be saved and tastefully sexy. We should neither have to downplay nor hide our God-given beauty and dress like a nun to operate in God’s will.
Scripture supports my stance.
Both inward and outward expressions of beauty are celebrated throughout the Bible in such passages as Proverbs 31 (“The Virtuous Woman”), in reference to Queen Esther, and in Solomon’s Song of Songs in which lovers are clearly depicted as sexual beings attracted to each other’s physical features.
In the lexicon of traditional religious thought many people have not grasped the idea that a saintly woman can simultaneously be a fantasy woman, a woman of every man’s dreams and desires or a sex symbol. The same could apply to men. Ask any man who their Hollywood crush is and he’s 1000 percent more likely to say Halle Berry rather than the absolutely gorgeous gospel singer Dorinda Clark Cole. Ask any woman and she’s just as likely to say Idris Elba in a heartbeat, not pastor/gospel artist Marvin Winans with his broad shoulders and heart-melting smile.
Perhaps more women will embrace the freedom the Bible grants to enhance one's beauty when the connotation of being sexy is not associated with temptation. To think of people in roles we deem as sacred is taboo mind trash that is perceived as sinful. But, from the First Lady of the U.S. to First Ladies of churches it is time to accept that it is not a sin to be beautiful and desirable. (Sidebar: The idea that a woman revealing her figure is a distraction or the reason men lust is archaically warped thinking that some use to rationalize rape and as an excuse to degrade women. That is a disturbing argument.)
Somewhere on the spectrum of suitable clothing, between two extremes—one being prudish and the other Jezebel level—we must draw the line. While the line won't be the same for everyone, every woman can find styles to express her virtue, femininity, personal taste and sexiness decently.
Mona Austin is a multimedia journalist and founder of the Sisterhood Confidential professional women's empowerment organization and event of the same name.