Sunday, April 12, 2015

Baptism is Not Wedding Prep for Little Girls

Okay, first things first, my disclaimer:

Beware, all ye who read this. I would like you to read this because I believe it is important, but please consider what you read for a few minutes before responding, and definitely read the entire post, especially if it makes you angry, because this is my feminist rant about LDS baptismal traditions.

Before I am accused of being apostate: I do think that 8 year olds are capable of making the decision to be baptized, I do think they shouldn't feel pressure to choose it, and I definitely think that it is an important step to make in one's religious journey.

I do not, however, think that little girls who are only just becoming capable of making their own decisions should be led to believe in any way that baptism is the last big step before marriage. (Read on, angry reader. Read on.)

I remember sitting in Young Women's when I was 13 or 14 being taught that a good LDS girl wears only three white dresses in her life. This is a common lesson that I heard more than once, complete with handouts that stayed pressed between the pages of my journal for far too long. The three white dresses are her baby blessing dress, her baptismal dress, and her wedding dress (for the record, this teaching also kept me from buying more than one gorgeous casual dress because I understood that I wasn't allowed to wear other white dresses).

And these are the most boring three white dresses the artist could find.
There is a poem to accompany one handout, which states (in part):
Now I've reached the age to judge
The wrong road from the right,
And I am here to be baptized
In this dress of white...
And if I try my very best,
Then richly blessed I'll be,
Wearing inside God's holy house
White dress number three,
So today I make this pledge:
I'll strive to choose the right,
Through this sacred baptism ordinance
In my second dress of white. (Linda Gay Perry Nelson, 1993)
Okay, the sentiment is sweet and I in no way mean to lessen the value of wearing white at your baptism or anything along those lines, but the lesson was clear as day to me, even as a young teen: The only important things you do in your life are get blessed, baptized, and married.

This is a lie.

I promise I look nothing like Umbridge.

There are plenty of important things a young woman does in her life that matter. She can do charity work, serve family members and friends in need, help out at home, stand up for a friend or group that is being bullied, vote, teach ethics to friends and others who do not yet understand social contracts, become entrepreneurs, lawyers, activists, community figures, and so much more that is beyond the scope of our imagination. There are entire websites devoted to the accomplishments of intelligent and fierce young girls who know this. I didn't know this for a long time.

A frightening trend I have noticed lately completely highlights this false gap between 8 and 18 when a girl can legally marry (and hopefully she waits a bit longer because few girls are ready at 18). The trend I'm seeing is baptismal dresses designed specifically to get 8 year old girls thinking about marriage.

Exhibit A:

This dress, sold at White Elegance, looks to me like a wedding dress for a child bride. The only thing that sets it off as being for a little girl instead of a full-grown woman is the large flower on the waist. The skirt is one seen fairly often in wedding dresses, and I have seen several of my friends wear such similar dresses.

Exhibit B:

This dress looks like the top from Exhibit A plastered onto a full taffeta skirt. It is another design borrowed directly from bridal looks popular in the last few years and again features a large flower to make it appear more child-like than the rest of the dress suggests.

Exhibit C (for the unconvinced):

Do I have to say anything? They sell veils. For little girls. Getting baptized. A veil. I understand that perhaps there are other religions who use these, but this one is sold on an LDS site that advertises temple dresses, and the veil widely used as a general symbol of the wedding day.

Finally, I present to you Exhibit D: The results of an image search for "lds baptism dresses":

Yes, some are appropriate choices for a little girl. But frankly, the amount of tiny wedding dresses shown is nothing short of disturbing to me (just look at the third one on the top row).

Honestly, I get that the white represents purity, and what 8 year old girl doesn't want a nice new dress to show off? I don't blame the little girls for picking out the overdone dresses, because so many little girls want to look like adults. I don't blame parents for buying them because I know how hard it can be to say no to a kid who has her heart set on something special. I blame the designers, manufacturers, and other rungs of corporate ladders for creating the market for tiny wedding dresses. There are plenty of white dresses out there that actually look like dresses made for little girls.

I give you Exhibit E:

This dress is far more simple and still special. It doesn't look like it was made to be form-fitting at the top, and it's not made to echo popular wedding dress styles. It's a simple, white dress made for a lucky little girl. It's also no longer sold online or in stores.

I know I was very pleased with my the lovely white dress I got to wear after my baptism, but I would have been happy in any dress. It's not like I wore the nice dress for my actual baptism--I wore a huge jumper that I kept thinking could fall off me at a moment's notice.

Point is, the clothes shouldn't matter that much. The very first transfer on my mission, a group of four young girls got baptized together. They all brought their favorite clothes to wear for after they were baptized, and no one cared that they wore bright, fun, little girl colors after they were baptized in white.

Stop teaching little girls that their biggest achievement in life will be their wedding. Stop setting them up to believe that baptism and wedding will be the only two important choices they make in life. Definitely stop dressing 8 year olds like brides. Yes, they'll feel beautiful and special, but baptism makes you feel beautiful and special no matter what you wear.

I don't have kids yet, but if I have an 8 year old little girl, and if she decides she wants to get baptized, I'll probably buy her a special dress in her favorite color. One that was made with a little girl in mind. One that was made to run and jump in after the pictures are taken. One she can be proud of but that doesn't have to hang in a special closet in a special room until she wants to look at it. One she can wear over and over again and think about how special she felt the first time she got to wear it.