Friday, August 11, 2006

Barbie Is Not Beautiful (and Not Happy)

So today I was out doing the one productive thing I got accomplished all day (I'm supposed to be on study leave, but there was someone I really wanted to visit) and I stopped at the Stop & Shop where I saw this

with long, long skinny legs and no body fat whatsoever and all kinds of bone structure and long, champagne blonde hair.
She had two kids and she looked just like she stepped out of a porn movie, except that I haven't seen a porn movie in several decades, so maybe they don't look so much like blow-up dolls anymore.

Anyway, heads were turning everywhere to look at her, and I thought to myself, "Is that what we think is beautiful? Look at all the attention she's getting. And yet, broken down element by element, this woman looks like a miserable, starved, over-peroxided Gucci bag." People, she was tanned like a bag.

I figured someone thinks she should keep maintaining that look. I hope it's herself and not some dude who snapped her up as a trophy wife and who tells her on a regular basis that she's getting a little "hippy."

Poor living Barbie. She really did look harried and deeply unhappy, even though she had two cute little squirts with her. All that blonde couldn't hide the lines in her face and all that tan couldn't hide the lacklustre ashiness of her skin. That girl needs some nutrition, and stat. Even her hair looked hungry.

Anyway, I wound up thinking that, although we look like two different species entirely, I was not missing anything by not trying to fit into that brand of beauty.

Meanwhile, please pray for me, as I am currently birthing a cow out of my butt.
Thank you. I mean it.

PeaceBang Accepts PayPal (And Credit Cards!)

Darling Powder Pigeons,

As you may have intuited, being PeaceBang can be an expensive proposition.
While I have never been a big bargain shopper for products, in the past four months or so I have spent far beyond my usual budget looking for solutions to all our skin, hair and fashion questions.

I am a knight in search of the Holy Grail of Beauty! I spare no expense! I am PeaceBang, dreaming the impossible dream that all clergy will have a polished, lovely and elegant persona befitting their calling! I heedlessly subscribe to beauty magazines and wear out my shoe leather at the outlet mall, scrutinizing today's offerings for their wearability on your bodies and for your life!

My financial advisor, seeing my annual expenses for beauty and "personal," said, "I'm sure you can cut this number way back." I said, "Well, I could, but it's become a kind of a side business." Quoth she, "If you're not getting paid for it, it's not a business. It's a liability." Me: "Well, um, what if I say it's a MINISTRY?" She: "I see you have some financial goals here. I'm just trying to help you meet them." Me: ::gulp::

Thank you for supporting PeaceBang's Beauty Tips For Ministers!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

On Puppies

I wrote in the last post that when shopping for white blouses, we should check the rear view for "puppies."

"Puppies" is the endearing term that MotherBang uses for those little unruly rolls of fat that bulge out of the bra straps and that ruin the elegant line of our clothing. They are the bane of the roly-poly, and we do have to be mindful of them. The expression "sloppy fat" should be one we assiduously try to avoid being appropriately applied to us.

I see a lot of sloppy fat out there, and have certainly been less vigilant myself than I should be in wearing constraining undergarments at all times. As I have said before, I am a veritable meatball of a gal and have pretty much given up trying to achieve a smooth silhouette. However, I do try to avoid wearing outfits that egregiously highlight my roly-poly attributes. It's a challenge.

That said, I believe it is still better to wear body-conscious clothes with some SHAPE to them than to try to camoflauge everything in enormous tentage. Hanes Her Way makes some marvelous undies that are cotton and spandex, and PeaceBang wears the industrial strength version every day herself, and the version that comes way up over the tummy when wearing more fitted blouses that could be all about a blobby midsection if I wasn't careful. I buy them at the Hanes outlet, as they don't seem to be widely available anywhere else, and I am devoted to the cotton-spandex combo. I buy them five or six at a time and they are indestructible, darlings. At almost $20 apiece, they should be.

These look pretty good, as I can't seem to find my exact product anywhere on the Net:

This is an awesome item:

Every chunky minister should have a few key body smoothing items in her closet. Do lay in some Spanx and control top hose and a body smoother. And remember that good posture takes off ten pounds! Which is beauty magazine nonsense, but PeaceBang WANTS TO BELIEVE IT!
Watch my wishful thinking at work!


Hello darlings!

I want you to take a deep breath with me and have faith that you will be your most beautiful, polished, gorgeous self as soon as it cools off a bit and you're not simply trying to avoid becoming one big ball of perspiration by noon!

You CAN!

First, you have to buy a lot of fashion magazines like Vogue, Elle, and Lucky ("The Magazine About Shopping") and spend some time with them while you sit and get a pedicure.

As soon as you've intently studied the photos, I want you to throw those fashion magazines across the room with all the force you've got in your dominant arm and cry gaily, "What a pile of sheer crap they're showing this year!! I looked like hell in that garbage in the early 1980's when it was the early 1980's! Why on God's earth would I repeat those mistakes, so much older and wiser am I!"

And you are, sweetpeas, you are!! You ARE so much older and wiser!

So PeaceBang is going to tell you what not to even CONSIDER purchasing this coming season.

PeaceBang's Top Ten Incredibly Fashionable Items From the Fall 2006 Season That You Do Not Have To Own:

1. Super cropped jackets that cut you off at the bazoom.
2. Anything even remotely resembling knickers.
3. Leggings to wear under dresses. No. Do not fight me on this. We are religious leaders. We are not elementary school art teachers who can get away with baby doll dresses and leggings and slouchy boots. We can wear them on vacation.
4. Huge, dolman sleeve tops with a waistband around the posterior region.
5. Sleeveless, slope-shoulder sweaters. Let the youngsters try to look cute in that mess.
6. Cuffed jeans. Very chic. Not for you. Weekends only, and even then only with an insouciant air and cute shoes.
7. Socks with heels. My god, I get the heebie jeebies just saying it.
8. Extremely tapered "skinny jeans" or pants. Unless you're incredibly tall and leggy and incredibly slim and chic. If not, no tapered trousers.
9. Anything a sickly canary yellow or bloody dead mahogany that gives you the complexion of a zombie and highlights every wrinkle and jowl.
10. Bulky knit turtlenecks. Unless you have the neck of a swan and the torso of a ballerina. If not, you're just going to look like an upright mud turtle with no discernible bosom.
11. (Bonus!) White pumps.

PeaceBang's Ten Incredibly Fashionable and Classic Items You SHOULD Have For the Fall:

1. A smart, classic bag for papers and your computer. Note that faux leather bags can be cleaned with Mr. Clean Erasers. Clean them. Toss old, raggedy items that aren't leather. Dirty totes are OUT. Give them away. Knapsacks are OUT. Get a shoulder bag already. You're not a student anymore. People shouldn't want to pet you on the head and feed you a bologna sandwich when they see you.

2. One fabulous suit that has been purchased within the past decade and tailored to the body you're in today, not twenty pounds ago. This is your "ret-to-go" suit for weddings, funerals, ordinations, special appearances, etc.
PeaceBang likes to pair hers with a big silk flower and a triple strand of pearls or, if she's funking it up, a triple strand of turquoise.

3. A few accessories purchased with an eye to the latest fashion. Ex: delicious beads that you've tried on in the store to assure that they look good together (find a great looking young salesclerk and ask her to help you get "the look"), or for guys, an updated watch or cufflinks. Look in magazines for ideas. You should not be wearing accessories from thirty years ago. This is one certain way to date yourself and appear frumpy and out of it. Classic cameos from grandma don't count, of course, as they're always in fashion. Funk up the cameo with something more current, though, or risk looking too schoolmarmish.

4. Women, if you have nice legs, consider adding a pair of elegantly patterned hose to your wardrobe. Nothing too snazzy, but something beautiful to go under a tailored knee-length skirt. They are all the rage right now and one fun way to add a bit of high fashion to your look without making a big investment.

5. A good trench that we discussed earlier. No anoraks or pullover fleece at professional appearances!

6. A delicious scarf in a color that looks great on you. Long enough to wrap around your throat and tuck into the trench. If you live in a warmer climate, it can be silk, and warmer clime guys, you don't need one.

7. A fantastic haircut, received after a serious consultation with a good stylist and a serious consideration of the pros and cons of your current 'do. Men, this goes for you, too. Prepare to own a few hair products to maintain the 'do, and don't tell me you can't manage it. You can. Tell the stylist what your life is like and he or she will style you according to the time you have to mess with it in the morning.

8. Women: a pair of beautiful pumps. Even a 1" heel if you can possibly manage it. If you do nothing else this season to polish your professional image than to get yourself out of the permanent Bierkenstock look, do this. That goes for you, too, gents. Toss the Crocs! They're hideous and inappropriate!

9. A perfect white blouse in some material that has shape and style to it. Men, you should have one or two pristine dress shirts in your closet, ironed and ready to go with a tie and slacks when you need them. Women, you should have at least one absolutely perfect, fitted white blouse (with a WAIST) to wear with elegant black trousers and interesting accessories. This outfit will save you again and again. Make sure it fits you well, that you can sit comfortably in it and not spill out anywhere, and that you check the rear view for "puppies."
Have the sleeves altered if they're too long, or find a 3/4 length sleeve.

10. Fabulous boots, if you can afford them. Or shine and re-sole the ones you have.
(For a fun, rubber-sole classic boot, I like the "Roby" style at, $99. Bennetton is showing a lovely leather boot at $179, and Anne Klein has a gorgeous brown boot called "Culhane" with gold hardware detail for $189. For fans of Aerosole, they've got a really neat looking rubber soled black boot, "Ride Line" for $160. Boots are a major investment. If you obtain a classic pair and take care of them, you'll have them for years.) Ladies, if you must wear flats, try to make it a boot. The flats they're showing lately strike me as far too girlish and twee.

11. (Bonus!) A pair of totally flattering, perfectly tailored black trousers with a bit of stretch to them to help keep shape.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

He Wore Shorts To Work

The point of this article, I think, is that powerful men in business know that if they dress the same for business as for leisure, something has been lost.

Ministers, who are powerful in different and counter-cultural ways, should take heed:

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Note From a Frustrated Conferee

I just received a rant from probably my best-dressed female colleague. She's on the road, having just attended a professional conference for Unitarian Universalists.

Here she is, verbatim. Most of what she says, I've already written about. I have bolded her comments that had me pumping the air in a power salute or laughing out loud in appreciation:

My colleague writes,

1. Bra straps showing. I dont' care if it is a young girl's fashion statement--it looks smutty on young women and sloppy on older women. And girls--if you wear a white dress--don't wear a black bra underneath. Hullo??!!!!

2. T-shirts. Never stand up in front of a congregation or lead worship in a t-shirt. I do not care if you got the t-shirt from last year's conference. Fugetaboudit...

3. Baseball caps. Noted by my colleague in fashion as someone one should only wear at a BASEBALL game and maybe while running on an isolated running path through the woods where no one will see you.

4. Tennis shoes with skirts. Get comfortable shoes (see note 14 below) but for God's sake, do not think you can get away with wearing tennis shoes with skirts. It just looks dumb. Are you planning on going running or are mopping the floor?

5. Elastic waistbands. Again--noted by my esteemed colleague in her blog, but no one looks good in elastic waistbands. Get it to fit.

6. Flip flops and Crocs. Just stop it, unless you are going from the garden to the garage, or the shower to the pool. I can't see Crocs on people's feet without seeing Jason's Hocky mask in Friday the 13th.

7. Keane shoes. Yes, they may be comfortable, but they do look like rubber tires strapped on your feet. They make even the most petite feet look like water skis. Don't succumb. [P.B. is busted on this one, but never wears here Keane's in a ministerial setting.]

8. Tevas. They have their place--on the beach, or hiking. Not at a conference or on the streets of any city. [Amen, sister!! - P.B.]

9. Suspenders and the female equivalent, Overalls. Men--you can get away with wearing suspenders if you are William Jennings Bryan. Women--you can NEVER get away with wearing overalls. NEVER. Overalls are for farmers not for the feminine sex. And if you EVER wear them to a professional conference, you should be redirected to the Wheat and Corn Growers Conference in Iowa.

10. Aviator sunglasses. they may be coming back in style, but when combined with a comb-over (see below) they make you look like an extra from "Boogie Nights." [P.B. notes that she refuses to date men who wear wrap-around sunglasses, and most especially the kind with the mirrored lenses. They are SO 80's skeevy!]

11. Comb-overs and long grey hair on middle-aged men. This is the counterpart to PeaceBang's admonition to "snip that pony tail!" Men, embrace your baldness. Take a tip from gay men and cut it hair short. You really aren't fooling anyone because we see the back of your head, even if you can't or don't.

12. White knee socks. Usually worn with funky tennis shoes, this makes most men look like Humpty-Dumpty (especially when combined with a middle age belly).

13. Mullets. You would think this hairstyle has received enough bad press that it would be forever banished, but I saw the worlds longest mullet on a woman recently--short up front, long (to the waist) down the back. Why? what's the point of that? Please--"cut that mullet!"

14. Sensible shoes. Why do women think there are no "sensible shoes" other than orthopedic shoes from "foot smart?" And then, to add insult to injury, coupling them with skirts, as if no one can see those shoes? There are amazingly cute, comfortable shoes, with no heels that actually work--check out the Skeechers website for example--troll through Zappos online, look at Ecco or other possibilities, but STOP BUYING SENSIBLE SHOES.

15. Wrinkled, rumpled anything. Most hotels have irons and ironing boards. Why do people show up to a professional conference as if they just slept in their car? If you are one of those people whose finances prohibt you from staying in a hotel, then I completely understand...rumple away. But for the rest---use the iron and maybe even include a bit of starch! Furthermore--if your wrinkled, faded t-shirt is stained or has even one hole...then for heaven's sake--throw it out! [YES! If your t-shirt has a stain on it, even a small one, TOSS IT. Do NOT be tempted to wear it in public.]

16. Dog and Cat hair. I know all about your pets from the amount of hair on your black sweater. Let's see--a long-haired white Angora; and that looks like Golden Retriever fur. There are simple things one can do in the absence of a lint brush--pick up some masking tape and blot your sweater--or better yet--don't let your cat sleep on your laundry.

17. Facial Hair looks good on Santa Clause, but men, unless you are the real Grizzly Adams, trim your beard, your ear and nose hair--regularly. As we age, hair does pop up in more volumnious amounts and in strange places. Do not let the forest take over. Hack it back.

18. Pegged Jeans. You thought they looked good in the 80's, did you? Now your middle aged body has spread so that the high-waist and skinny ankle jeans only serve to emphasis your rear end and belly. If you insist on wearing jeans, go for the lower waist and boot-cut length variety. Why women insist on wearing ankle-tight jeans that make their butts and bellies the prominent feature is beyond me. [As Emily Neill says in her book "Closet Smarts", tapered pant legs don't look good on anyone. Ignore the fact that they're back in fashion.]

Well dear PeaceBang, thank you for being the sounding board for my frustration. Of course, I am hardly perfect myself, but honestly, there were so many very lovely, but sloppily dressed people at this conference, I just wondered--was I at a professional conference, or at summer camp?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Worship Leaders and Pouter Pigeons

First of all, my little powder pigeons, let me explain where I get that term of endearment. It is from my favorite movie, "The Producers," featuring the brilliant and inimitable Zero Mostel as a seducer of little old ladies. He calls one of his paramours his "little powder pigeon," or so I thought, until I looked it up years ago and found out that the pigeons in question were actually pouter pigeons. No matter, but I thought you ought to know. I stick with powder pigeons, because it's funnier.

When training worship leaders, it is the minister's job to make perfectly clear the expectations about how to dress for such an honor, and to brook no fuss about it. Set clear guidelines, provide them in both written and oral form, and for those who complain, firmly state that we're moving out of the old "come-as-you-are" approach to church leadership to modeling a more gracious and hospitable presence, which includes dressing up for church.

To light a chalice in pajama bottoms or anything resembling such is a disgrace. We should not hesitate to make it clear to all of our congregants -- whatever their age -- that they should dress nicely for worship leadership roles.

My mother used to say, "You don't ask the family what everyone wants for dinner or you'll be in the kitchen all day. You tell them we're having spaghetti, and to be at the table by 6. Period."

Clergy, you have authority. Use it. If you get strong resistance or acting out, use it as an opportunity to do individual counseling about the need to move beyond rebellion against authority into an attitude of stewardship. We do not show respect for the act of worship by dressing so comfortably we could be mistaken for a pajama party.

Worship leaders who show up to church looking like a rumpled mess after having been clearly instructed to wear a shirt and slacks should be greeted with, "Good morning, Ted! I was really looking forward to your reading today, but you're not dressed for it. Do you mind if I ask Bill to stand in for you, and we'll put you on the schedule for next week?"

Asking "do you mind" allows the person in question to say whether or not they DO mind, and if they do, you can ask them if they would like to get together to talk about it. Meanwhile, hold your ground about the dress code for worship leaders. We will never move beyond sloppy and careless aesthetic if we don't set boundaries and stick by them.

In Unitarian Universalist churches, where the theology and the liturgy can already be so loosey-goosey, ill-dressed worship leaders just adds to the spirit of "anything goes." I think in a church with a higher liturgy, you can tolerate more rumpledness, even as you're working to change the culture.

You know your people. You know the ones who are acting out a juvenile rebellion with their t-shirts and need to be firmly guided to appropriate dress, and those who are just clueless and require only gentle recommendations.

A cheery e-mail to all Worship Associates with general housekeeping tips a few days before Sunday are also helpful. For example: "Greetings, Worship Associates. The last several Sundays have gone very well, and thank you! This is just a reminder to be sure to get to church by 9:30, check in with me if you're a chalice reader, and make sure you're through checking the sound system by 9:45. We've done a terrific job the past month making our worship services a more reverent occasion. Thank you for preparing spiritually before you arrive at church, and for putting more effort into your Sunday attire. Both of these forms of preparation help create the more special spirit we have been aiming for. Blessings, Rev. Powder Pigeon"

And now I'm going to be a bit harsh, but I mean it:
Anyone who throws fits or stops coming to church because his or her minister tells him to dress up a notch for leading worship is not committed to church life to begin with. It is our job to keep impressing upon our people that church life is not about preserving our comfort and self-image at all costs.

PeaceBang, really grateful for her snazzy congregants.

Strictly Entre Nous

Don't get me wrong: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE talking fashion, make-up, products and shoes with all my pals in the ministry. In fact, I think there's nothing more fun than that moment when all the deep theological talk falls away after dessert has been eaten, and we all descend into stories of how sweaty we were that morning in the pulpit, how we used tons of powder and were wearing nothing underneath but Hanes cotton t-shirts and shorts, and that we still schvitzed like crazy, and how badly we wanted to re-do our eye make-up before coffee hour but we didn't have time because someone was telling us something too important. I love discussing my latest facial with my pals, or how I found a terrific product that takes the bags out from under my eyes, or jeans that give good derriere.

However, I think we should keep these chit-chats strictly between us, and not because we need to give our congregations the mistaken impression that we're Above All That, but because there are almost always more important and worthy things to discuss with the people to whom we have been called to minister. Dish about fashion and hair is just that: dish. Among colleagues, it's about image and persona, and thus transcends mere shallowness. But when we talk a whole lot about clothes and make-up and products with our folks, we may very well be (a) reinscribing gender stereotypes, (b) re-emphasizing our culture's sick obsession with appearance, (c) giving them the impression that we're scrutinizing their looks rather than seeing them through the eyes of love and Spirit and (d) avoiding some other, more rich conversation.

This isn't to say that I don't talk about shoes and clothes with my staff or my folks. I do, but it's brief and fun, and I dwell on it only if it's a currently important issue in their lives (such as when they're getting ready to take on a new job or they're preparing for an important family event like a reunion or a wedding). When fashion or cosmetics provide an opportunity to talk about incarnation, to delve into the struggle for health and wholeness, or to explore identity, bring it on. When these subjects are raised just to pass the time, pass the time some other way. Seize the moment. Sure, you may get a reputation for being a serious pastor, but darlings, there are worse things. Just be a serious pastor who dresses well, is all I'm sayin'.

(Celebrity gossip, on the other hand, can present a marvelous opportunity to talk about morals, ethics and how to interpret pop culture as religious people, so consider that the next time you guiltily purchase "In Touch!" and pick up "People" while you're at it!)

What I'm leading up to is this: I do not believe that discussion, or even mention, of fashion, diet or cosmetics is generally appropriate in the pulpit -- and especially not for women preachers. If such topics are employed homiletically, they should be used with utmost care and strategy, mindful of the way they change both the tone of the sermon and the relationship between congregation and preacher.

I think that the moment we include news of our diet, the quest for the perfect hair-cut, or the tortured indecision about what shade of gown to wear to our ex-husband's wedding in our sermon, we give the congregation the unwelcome opportunity to see us as people who are living way too much in the world, and falling prey to its damaging, materialistic dictates. We are oversharing, and assuming a far too familiar tone. This is my opinion after having lost respect for many preachers who swerved from potentially deep waters into the "Ain't I human, too" topics involving body and appearance. I am a conservative in this wise: I do NOT want to hear my preacher mention that he got an idea while taking a shower. I am too imaginative to let such a comment go without creating a whole, unwelcome visual image. Create a visual of yourself naked and soaking wet, and I'm a goner for the rest of the sermon, unless you're pretty brilliant.

Let's be careful out there!! Modesty in word is every bit as important as zipping your fly or sewing the gap in your blouse closed.

Yesterday morning I heard a lovely, very smart preacher who was perfectly slim talk about her diet. Her whole sermon, in fact, used the metaphor of diets to teach about Christian life. While she clearly intended to provide a strong religious message with her sermon, I was still unable to stop thinking, "Colleague, I thnk I get what you're doing here, but you're still a woman preaching about diets."

I do not want to overly belabor my grappling with the explicit and implicit messages of yesterday's sermon so much as I want to highlight for my dear readers the appropriate compartmentalizing of our fun, light-hearted, fashion-conscious selves with our preacherly selves. I'm not saying that never the twain shall meet, I'm saying that we must be very, very careful how they do, and when.

"But PeaceBang!" I hear you say, "You're being so inconsistent! Don't you always say that it's part of our calling to concern ourselves with Beauty!?"

Yes, I do, my dear powder pigeons. And I insist that it is important for us to think about beauty, to strive for it, and to seriously consider our persona, our looks and our fashion savvy. But you see, we are trained, called and ordained religious leaders. We have a theological education. We are grounded in faith and in prayer, and we are armed against the Adversary in whatever form the Adversary takes. Our concern with fashion and beauty is not a matter of our own spiritual development, but a matter of making ourselves more publically appealing so as to bring the gospel to a community who is ravaged by consumerism and hammered by Madison Avenue. It is not to lift up the worth of fashion for its own sake.

Looking put-together and polished and being as gorgeous as we can be is not about our capitulation to our materialistic culture. It's a tool we employ to get through more doors, to catch the eye of more seeking souls, and to earn our place alongside other respected public leaders.

Herein endeth the lesson.