Kathryn Elliott is the Special Features Editor for The Word Among Us magazine. She is based in Washington D.C. and has produced content for a number of Catholic media outlets, including EWTN.
Some of the most attention-grabbing news events of 2013 centered around women in pop culture making the most of, or making a mess of, their feminine genius.
And the crowds went wild: sometimes with boos, other times with applause. In some cases, the public reactions to women degrading or fulfilling their dignity matched well with Catholic Church teaching.
In our society and in our times, the differences between men and women are often minimized. The following acts of women in the spotlight, however, are essentially female. They either could not have been done by men, or their meaning would change dramatically if the actor was a man.
With this post, I don’t want to mark these celebrities as all good or bad, but to examine how people generally reacted to some of their high-profile actions. Each of these women has intrinsic beauty, dignity, and worth. But did she live up to it in 2013, or not? What follows is my recap of the people’s vote:
Kate Middleton: Delivered the royal baby George
In a reflection this past October, Pope Francis said,
“So many things can change and have changed in the cultural and social evolution, but the fact remains that it is woman who conceives, bears in her womb and gives birth to the children of men. And this isn’t simply a biological fact, but entails a wealth of implications be it for the woman herself, for her way of being …”
The media highlighted many implications of Kate’s pregnancy, and to her credit, she maintained poise and privacy. We all had spring fever, though. It was baby fever — and his name would be Philip, no Henry, no — George.
This excitement and fascination with the royal pregnancy carried with it many positives from a Catholic-Christian standpoint. The world was anticipating and celebrating the birth of a child to a loving, faithful, married mother and father. Celebrating!
Something about Kate’s gracefulness and modesty allowed us to take pleasure in her maternity. No, most babies aren’t born in such idyllic conditions, but seeing this one with Kate gave folks permission to honor the role of woman as child-bearer. I work full-time and don’t have kids, but I still think that’s a win for womanhood.
Jennifer Lawrence: Stayed natural
Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence took on ruthless Hollywood this year with her down-to-earth looks and talk about eating fries before a film take.
Earlier this year, Lawrence called out Dior for digitally altering pictures of her, leading to a second ad campaign which showcases her natural beauty.
For what it’s worth, J-Law also edged out Miley Cyrus to be dubbed Entertainer of the Year, by the Associated Press in its annual survey of U.S. editors and news directors. One commented, “It’s refreshing to see a young woman not squandering her talent and success by succumbing to the temptations many do in Hollywood and who actively speaks about the ridiculous behavior of some of her peers.”
For disempowering those who idealize a tasteless, unrealistic, hyper-sexualized and made-up body image, Lawrence gets praise. Her message echoes “the Dignity of Women” by Pope John Paul II, which says that a woman has value simply because she is a human person, apart from her physical characteristics (Mulieris Dignitatem, par. 29).
Amanda Bynes: Set herself on fire, abused money and drugs
This was a difficult year for Actress Amanda Bynes. She was arrested several times before being diagnosed with schizophrenia in October. Her crimes ranged from possession of marijuana to starting a gasoline fire in a neighbor’s driveway.
At the heart of Bynes’ breakdown was mental illness, but also a distorted self-image. Throughout the summer, she obsessed about plastic surgery and posted inappropriate photos on the social media platform Twitter.
Unfortunately, plenty of rumors and mean comments have been made at her expense, but a lot of decent people responded with sadness. Those who expressed a desire to see the former child star restored to her happy, confident self are like the apostle Paul, who told Gnostics in Corinth that their bodies were temples for God’s spirit, not meant for destruction and debasement.
We want our friends to treat themselves with respect. We also want the women our nation’s youth are watching to demonstrate self-respect. When they can’t, or don’t, it’s too easy to blame and condemn instead of insisting that even she deserves kindness. Bynes’ mother was spot-on when she asked the public to give her daughter the “respect she deserves during this trying time.”
Miley Cyrus: Twerked her way to the top of the charts
If you’re one of the 450 million viewers of her music video “Wrecking Ball,” I don’t need to go into detail about Miley Cyrus’ debut as a visual sex toy. What you may have forgotten is that she used to be the goofy girl in Hannah Montana, the Disney Channel series.
This year, though, she single-handedly created a new category of sensual gyrating that put Elvis, and everybody else, to shame.
The good news is that across the board, celebrities and commoners found her transformation unbecoming. Cyndi Lauper said it was “beneath her” and “really raunchy.” Country singer Josh Gracin tweeted, “Thanks Miley Cyrus... Now I have to explain to my 11 yr old daughter why she no longer can follow your career.”
The takeaway is that an American threshold of decency exists! I’m not saying it’s particularly high, but it’s a start. Miley moments are an opportunity for Catholics to share our beautiful teachings from the Theology of the Body. To Miley and her industry, we can proclaim Romans 8, “...Be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.”