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Daddy Dearest: How Purity Culture Can Turn Fathers into Idolsjujumediazone / Flickr

Daddy Dearest: How Purity Culture Can Turn Fathers into Idols

May 22 2014
Our pledges belong to the Heavenly Father, not our earthly ones.

When we see a man and a woman holding each other tenderly, wearing fancy clothes, we think wedding, marriage, romance. It's simply instinctive. So when looking through a series of purity ball portraits—girls in white dresses, beside loving fathers—we're seeing something very familiar, but in a very different context. This juxtaposition strikes as jarring at best, inappropriate at worst.

The blogosphere erupted with their reactions to Swedish photographer David Magnusson's "Purity" series. "Thoroughly f---ing weird ... striking and frankly terrifying," opined Tom Hawking at Flavorwire. Jessica Valenti at AlterNet called the pictures "beautiful [but] disturbing." In message boards and Facebook groups and comment sections around the Internet, words like "creepy" and "strange" were thrown around. On the flip side, there were those who said you'd have to be "perverted" to think there was anything wrong with the pictures.

In this light, what Magnusson had to say about his own work was particularly interesting. In an interview, he stated:

When I came across the Purity Balls and was so struck by how my own first impressions clashed with how I could relate to them once I learned more, I had the idea to photograph a series of portraits intended to be so beautiful that the subjects, the fathers and daughters, would be really proud of the portraits of themselves in the same way that they are proud of their decisions…

I have met strong, independent, intelligent, thoughtful young women who have made their decision out of their religious convictions and beliefs. And I have met parents that I am convinced want the best for their children.

By his own account, Magnusson came to respect the people he was photographing, and had no intention of creating something creepy. So why did the series strike so many people—including some Christians—that way?

Critics suggest that the culture of purity balls introduces something into the father-daughter relationship that does not belong there. Most of us are familiar with the concept of a "daddy-daughter date," a harmless term we often use for a father and daughter spending time together. Purity balls, they fear, go far beyond that. Suzanne Calulu at No Longer Quivering—a site for those who have left the kind of ultra-conservative lifestyle from which purity balls came— describes the pictures as "beautiful little girls, inappropriately intimate fathers."

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