Dirt: Church girls
God-posting on main.
Terry Nguyen on Father, Son, and Addison Rae.
Rarely do I come across an image on Instagram that disrupts my scroll state. It’s even rarer for an influencer to trigger this interruption, but last week, it was Addison Rae's now-deleted post — of her décolletage exposed in a white bikini, the words “Father” and “Son” printed on each breast — that unsettled me.
I was forced to pause and really look — not just at her bikini-clad figure, haloed in a harsh, American Apparel-like vignette, but at the two logos stamped on her clavicle: Adidas and Praying. I knew of both brands, but they struck me as vastly different. The Instagram thirst trap-cum-advertisement reeked of parody. I couldn't look away. Why does this exist?
What does Praying, a pseudo-religious minimalist brand for the Very Online and performatively pious, have to offer Adidas, the second largest sportswear manufacturer in the world? Turns out, a footwear collaboration is on the horizon. But that doesn’t explain how Addison Rae, one of TikTok’s biggest and blandest stars, fell into this bizarre equation.
I first encountered Praying online in late 2020, when murmurings of a “trad-cath” revival were contained to Twitter, yet to reach the opinion pages of the New York Times. This week’s Times op-ed unduly fixated on a few scene-y New Yorkers’ dalliance with religious conversion; the tone suggested that the columnist, a Catholic, was grasping to be associated with “young urban intellectuals” and the avant-garde, not the other way around. Praying reflects this once-niche subculture, whose online acolytes lean more regressive than transgressive. The brand remixes beloved pop culture moments and random phrases into austere, meme-y merch. The piety is ironic — probably?
Praying was launched in 2020 by two first-time designers, Skylar Newman and Alex Haddad, who had worked in software and architecture, respectively. The two played with the idea of displaying bold but also vague statements on their clothes, which could be left up to individual interpretation. The Holy Trinity bikini is one such example, and it might be the brand’s most iconic product yet. (The unshown bottom in Addison’s post is, of course, emblazoned with “Holy Spirit.”) Symbolic emptiness is part of Praying’s point: "It’s a way of using nihilism to move past nihilism,” Newman told HighSnobiety. “What we’re trying to do is say things and show images that have two meanings. A lot of the time, these meanings are competitive. They can be ironic or completely sincere.”
Addison is far from being the first celebrity to sport Praying. In fact, the brand’s endorsements suggest Praying is aiming for virality instead of true shock value. A closet staple for Olivia Rodrigo, the brand designed purses for her tour. And celebrities, from Megan Thee Stallion to Lisa from BLACKPINK, aren’t afraid to flaunt that they’re among God’s Favorites. Yet Addison seems to be the only personality to court backlash for endorsing Praying’s provocations. Recently, Christina Aguilera was also commissioned by the brand to lounge about in a Holy Trinity bikini. The text on Christina’s was in French, though, and her video, captioned “A religious experience 🕊☁️,” begat significantly less outrage than Addison’s.
It might be because Addison positions herself as the all-American (virtual) girl next door. A bikini mocking the Holy Trinity might be too risqué for an influencer who’s selling dolls of herself, as Addison is, and trying to be a Netflix chick-flick actress. But blasphemous imagery is traditional currency in Hollywood. (When will Praying call up Madonna?) Recall Lindsay Lohan’s 2010 cover on Purple Magazine, where she posed as a crucified Jesus. Addison is no Jesus-like Lindsay, a disgraced star at the time of the Purple shoot. There are no good biblical parallels to draw here, besides the constant adoration she receives from fans. (Celebrity worship is a form of modern religion.) “When I’m in the crowd of fans or onstage, that’s when I feel the most connected to something greater than myself,” said the musician Maggie Rogers, who recently completed a master’s degree at Harvard Divinity School. (She has not been seen in Praying.)
Thanks for reading Dirt! Subscribe for free.
As a former Catholic, I found the backlash amusing, because it reminded me how performative religion can be. You eat the body and sip the wine. You genuflect and kneel in prayer. You confess your sins, repent, and say your three Hail Marys. Much of Catholicism is pure spectacle, as is online life, even as we clamor for some salve, a hint of truth or authenticity. These days, we are all followers of something — a religion, ideology, or person. So why not surrender to the pageantry of being a follower, earnestly or ironically? To cite an oft-quoted line from the poet Ben Fama: “Prayer is whatever you say on your knees.”
Maybe the current appeal is more about prayer’s aesthetic function: Claim the symbols of devotion without committing to the spiritual bit. As society grows more secular, the easiest “rebellion” is to reject modernity and embrace tradition. The “cool-girl-gone-quasi-Catholic” persona born online is not really about God, after all. It’s about the self – and Addison Rae is the perfect evangelist for that mission.
— Terry Nguyen
The Dirt: Communion is on social media.
Need more Dirt? Here are some recent staff favorites: