The virginity prom
sex isn’t usually a favourite topic between parents and their children, but at one event it’s front of mind. Purity Balls, most common in the American South, feature a ceremony in which young girls promise their fathers that they’ll remain chaste until marriage. The vows are sometimes accompanied by a ring.The connotations can feel a bit iffy, and for the most part the tradition has been reported on with discomfort. ‘Purity Balls Still The Creepiest Sh*t Ever,’ read a headline in Jezebel, describing them as ‘the nuttery that is having a fake teenage wedding with your dad’, and lamenting (rightly) that the emphasis on virginity is placed on young women ,never young men, and that a woman’s ‘worth’ is too often associated with her sex life.
For the ‘Purity’ series, photographer David Magnusson documented the balls in Louisiana, Colorado and Arizona (the project has since been turned into a book). ‘When I first heard about the Purity Balls I imagined angry American fathers terrified of anything that might hurt their daughters or their honour,’ he wrote. But: ‘The more I learnt, the more I was surprised that I had been so quick to judge people I knew so little about.’ The final portraits are both serene and unsettling; a conflict and multiplicity he was eager to capture. ‘I wanted to create portraits so beautiful that the girls and their fathers could be proud,’ he wrote. ‘Someone from a different background might see an entirely different story in the very same photographs.’ Davidmagnusson.se
Fathers and daughters in the US share a‘vowof-chastity ceremony’ in David Magnusson’s series,‘Purity’, now published as a book of the same name.