What's black and white and objectified all over?

There's going to be a beauty pageant for nuns. Seriously.

Published August 25, 2008 6:15PM (EDT)

I'm often torn about beauty pageants that purport to "celebrate" a category of women traditionally marginalized by the Western beauty standard: Women of color, older women, larger women, women with disabilities. On the one hand, these contests still promote the judging of women on the basis of appearance, and they frequently reward the ones who come closest to said Western beauty standard, despite being somehow excluded from it. On the other hand, they do challenge that standard at least a little bit, and they can sometimes raise awareness of important issues. So they don't usually rank all that high on my Feminist Outrage Meter.

But the needle on the old FOM went boi-oi-oing! when I read about the first-ever beauty pageant for nuns this morning. Not just because it's, you know, a beauty pageant for nuns, but because Antonio Rungi, an Italian priest who will conduct the virtual pageant on his blog, gave the Associated Press this justification for it: "Nuns are a bit excluded, they are a bit marginalized in ecclesiastical life. This will be an occasion to make their contribution more visible." Seriously. See how highly we think of you, gals? You're not just beautiful in the eyes of God -- you're beautiful in the eyes of visitors to Rungi's blog! (Some of you more than others.) Now will you shut up about that whole ordination thing?

Rungi told the Guardian that he values "inner beauty" most of all -- and also that Sophia Loren is his feminine ideal, nuns are not "all wizened, funereal old ladies," and some of the younger "foreign girls" with vocations are “really very, very pretty." Hey, thanks for clearing that up, Father. I'm sure the sisters who have given decades of service to the church but aren't prime candidates for your objectification and exoticization are overjoyed. 'Cause nothing says "We take your contributions seriously" like a tiara that fits over a wimple.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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