We Are Not Our Bodies, Our Bodies Are Ours
The Monstrous Crew
Hey there everyone; I’m Becky, and you are listening to the Monstrous Regiment, of which I am the least qualified and saltiest monster. Keep in mind that I am facebook’s resident ring nosed immodest hippie, and if you are easily triggered by single women speaking their minds while having blue hair, I recommend you move on over to the transformed wife or pick up Doug Wilson’s new romance novel; the misogyny and spelling errors will surely soothe your minds. In all seriousness, writing this particular podcast was a kind of a labor of love for me, and one that has filled me with a certain sort of anxiety- and not just because I am following Sarah and Kate, who are my brilliant and engaging sisters, but because this topic is one that is really dear to my heart. I want to talk about the reconciliation of ourselves to our bodies; I wanted to do this topic justice, and communicate truth to those who have not been able to love and relate to their bodies- a struggle I think we are all intimately familiar with, even if we haven’t been able to acknowledge or address it.
When you grow up in christian evangelical circles, “body image,” “self love” and “body positivity” were phrases that were very taboo- the relationship between you and your own physical self was very much centered around guilt and sin, and to speak about it in any other way was considered “liberal” or “feminist” or simply inappropriate. The very nature of your body, by virtue of being composed of flesh, is considered to be this sort of decaying pit of sin- unholy, unclean, unGodly. Your body is where sinful desires sleep, and to be in touch with your body was to be in touch with your sin. It was a form of gnosticism and dualism, where your heart and soul belonged to God, but your body belonged to the devil and to the earth and to the world. Ignore it; keep it a secret. It is thought of as separate from God, and separate from you. Bodies have to be controlled and covered over, regulated and feared as pits of temptation (especially if that body is female.)
It’s truly such a tragic view of what God created. Psalm 139 says “you created my inward parts, you wove me in my mother’s womb,” and it is every bit as magical and mysterious and awe-inspiring as a night sky spilled over with stars or bioluminescent algae making the whole living ocean glow emerald green and bright blue. He MADE our bodies, and he made them as carriers of our souls and selves and that is incredible. The entire bible speaks of the link between the body and the soul, it speaks of the importance of our bodies and compares the bride of Christ to a BODY with many essential members, each with their own function. There is no shortage of parallels; the eye is the lamp of our body, the tongue is the rudder of the ship. 1 Corinthians says that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit- just let that sink in for a moment. You are the image of God. Your body is where He lives and breathes, in the same way that he formed the waters of the world and hovered over them in the very beginning. It talks about how we are not our own, we were bought at a price; therefore, honor God with your body. Our bodies are not separate from us; they are not the culture where sin breeds and is spread; Jesus said that sin begins in our hearts, He said that it isn’t what goes into your body but what comes out of it that makes it unclean. these incredible, strong, capable vessels are GOOD. So why are we taught to hate them?
I tried to search back in my memory for the first time that I was ever really ashamed of my body, and my earliest memory is being about 5 or 6 and looking down at my thighs in a pair of shorts. Five years old, and I was ashamed that I didn’t look like the other little girls around me. I look back at pictures of me then, and guess what? I was a little girl. I was beautiful. I was free, playing in the ocean or the park. I wish that I knew how the very first seed of doubt and self hatred was planted, but I think that for most of us it begins in such subtle and seemingly innocuous ways that it would be impossible to pinpoint when it began. To prepare for this podcast, I asked for willing individuals to reach out and share their experiences with me in regards to their own relationships to their bodies, and it was encouraging and refreshing to get to be vulnerable and connect with both men and women on this plain of shared experience- because I think this is one of those places where we can, if we want to, all meet and say, “me, too.” I’ve struggled too. I have fought myself my entire life. I have fought the world, and I’m tired. Everyone was super vulnerable with me, and I got to hear a wide range of individuals with totally different lifestyles, religions, backgrounds, and body types talk about how and if they are able to be at home in their bodies; this is a universal battle. There are SO MANY external pressures pushing down on us all. The. time.
Our bodies, especially the female body, is sexualized and objectified to the point that in the eyes of the entire world (even and especially christian circles), we are products. Bought and sold. Given and taken. The entire culture has sold us the ideal of the ultimate female body being the perfect balance of slender and curvy. As being smooth, hairless, without blemish. As being white. As being effortless to maintain. Small nose, big eyes, straight teeth. We, as individuals, are completely removed from the equation, and the marketability of our bodies is the very center of our lives. The Medical Institute for sexual health reported a couple years back that there was a distinct rise per year in the number of teenage girls getting cosmetic surgery to make their genitalia look like that of a porn stars; why? Because their sexual partners were shocked and disgusted when they discovered what women actually llook like; and not just what they look like, but what they act llke- that they are autonomous PEOPLE and not sex robots who want to be dominated. Unsurprisingly, this same ideal is perpetuated and propagated in the “christian” and “reformed” worldviews all the time. We are still products; we are baby makers; sex givers; meal makers. We exist FOR men to use as a vehicle for all that lust they’ve been nursing since puberty. We are expected to be keep that ideal female form, but beneath layers and layers of clothing to conceal it until we are gifted and unwrapped by our benevolent rulers (aka, our husbands.) The bodies of CHILDREN are sexualized and regulated. Go to any religious facebook group and you’ll find a group of dudes iinnocently asking how old a girl technically has to be before she can be “wed” and bedded (which brings us quite disturbingly back to this desire for small, hairless women.) We are taught from the very beginning to be ashamed of our bodies. To cover them so that men aren’t forced to imagine having sex with them (that is, ysing them without regard to the person who lives inside them). In many religious settings we are taught to use them, not just to carry children, but to carry as many children as humanly possible in as little time as possible, without allowing them to heal before we yield them again to our husbands for the purpose of satisfying their urges and fulfilling our duty as women. I spoke with one woman who is barren, who told me
heartbreakingly that she had been badly mistreated her entire adult life for being a woman who, in their eyes, was not a woman. Now, don’t get me wrong- the ability to connect with our husbands in an act of love is beautiful. The ability to grow and carry our children is INCREDIBLE. It is pure magic. But sex and fertility do not define us. They are not the measure of our worth as women. Our worthiness as people is not dependent on our ability to perform in these or any ways. And it’s not just women, it’s men too- the idea that we have to perform, we have to prove our womanhood or our manhood by performing our “roles,” the way that this toxic churchianity has laid out for us; which has nothing to do with scripture and everything to do with power dynamics and power religion. But having those lies ground into our minds from the beginning leaves us hating ourselves and being ashamed of ourselves, and how could it end in any other way? How can you possibly have a loving sexual relationship with your partner if you don’t feel comfortable in our own skin? If you’re not at home in your body before you share it with someone else? This is not what Christ has for us. We should not accept that it is.
Now, In addition to sexual objectification, the human body has been used as an excuse for dehumanization all throughout history; whether that’s the color of a person’s skin and hair, their facial features, the different ways their culture is represented through physical appearance, their age, or their gender. White supremacy, patriarchy, and every form of power religion has to lean hard into physical disparities as being representative of the tiers of what they see as necessary hierarchies- white people being “genetically more intelligent” than black people (and therefore more fit to lead), men being “genetically more logical and less emotional” (and therefore more fit to lead), and things like that. It’s base, ridiculous, and always founded on trash statistics and bunk science, and it all amounts to the same thing- I am entitled to be the one with power and privilege, and here is a set of superficial, physical markers that make me feel comfortable saying that out loud (but… it shouldn’t.) When human beings choose to love themselves more than their neighbor and elevate their own wellbeing over others, they like to use any and every arbitrary and illogical reasoning they can work out within themselves to paint a picture for the world that shows them why it makes sense for them to be “on top.” It has everything to do with power dynamics, even on a personal, relational level. Many times when there is an unhealthy relationship where one person feels the need to exert power over the other person to keep them in line or to control them or to keep that person from walking away from them, they will slowly pick away at their appearance and/or personality to make them feel small and unworthy. It’s playing dirty, it’s cruel, but it works.
I recently read a quote by an australian actress named Anna Mcgahan that was incredibly powerful and I felt like really hit the nail on the head, and it was in the context of a conversation about her journey with her body. She said, “I follow my body’s journey from the idea of [being] a marketplace – that is bought and sold, is merchandise, is used, or dominated or enslaved or injured, for the sake of others’ gain – to transforming into
a sanctuary or temple, and other incarnations like a hearth or tent or bride. From having no worth, to being of extraordinary, priceless value.”
This is exactly right. This is what we are fighting for. This is the reconciliation we are looking to find. We are taking our bodies back from a context where we are marketable, where we are used and harmed and torn apart for the sake of other people’s gain and greed and bringing them into a context where we are truly a sanctuary. Our bodies as temples has absolutely nothing to do with tattoos or piercings or colored hair- it has to with the indwelling Spirit of God and the fruit He bears there. You ARE the image of God, and that includes the body he gave you.
One of the things that I got to thinking about while writing this podcast was the reality that We are often separated from our bodies by societal rules of propriety and politeness from a young age; we don’t know that we deserve autonomy and safety and the ability to say, “don’t touch me” and “leave me alone,” because we are taught to only to obey and to please and appease others. We are taught from the beginning that a. Our bodies are sinful and bad and evil and b. Our bodies serve exist to serve other people’s purposes rather than existing as temples of God- holy, capable, and OURS. We as people are removed completely fro ourseves, and told what is and isn’t okay to wear on our bodies and on our faces, and whether or not we can color our hair or have tattoos, we are told tht we have to appear feminine as women (whatever that means) that we have to appear masculine as men (whatever THAT means), and we are told what to do with our bodies (like yoga or drinking alcohol or injesting a particular plant), and we are told how little autonomy we have over our bodies, and who we are or are not to allow access to our bodies, and in this whole process we just get further and further away from ourselves.
There are so many people who have been so abused and used and battered that the fight they’re in right now is deciding to stay IN their bodies. Deciding not to unmake themselves and get out the only way they know how- do you understand that? Because of the very nature of fallen man to take and take and take from the vulnerable and from the exposed and from the underprivileged, there are people who are so far from their own skin, or so lost inside it that they are ready to end it. To be rid of it.
ANd so here is where I tell you that there is a home for you inside your skin. There is room for you. There is air for you to breathe. I know it sounds cliche, I know. But God MADE you; he formed you. You don’t belong to anyone. Your body does not belong to anyone. Your body is an extension of you; an extension of your personality and your unique soul. My profession is as a hairstylist, and my favorite thing about my job is getting to meet and connect with all kinds of different people and to help them find the outward expressions that make them feel the most like themselves, because people are complex and beautiful and difficult and challenging and so completely different from one to the next. Learning to find healing in your body and learning to be reconciled to the site of so much hatred and loss is not wrong- it’s not vain or worldly or selfish. It is Christ, alive in us. It is reconnecting the pieces that have been rent apart. It does
take time; it does take safe places; it does take a tenderness towards yourself that will have to be acquired over time.
It does get easier. When you are able to view yourself as a person and not as a marketable good, you no longer have to worry about being that smooth, carefree, porcelain image of unattinable perfection. You don’t have to worry about what appears to masculine or appears to be feminine. You don’t have to worry about what will sell you to any person or group of people; When I was talking to people to prepare for this podcast, I had a friend tell me that she got great advice from a stranger while she was traveling. He said, “focus on your primary,” meaning, focus on the things you are passionate about. Focus on the people you love. When you are looking forward and looking outward, it gives you a healthier and more clear perspective about your own self and the space you take up. Love God, love your neighbor; act justly, love mercy. Find the medium through which you give and receive empathy and compassion, find out what unique way YOU connect and share experiences. Let your body be a part of that, because it’s your vessel and it’s your home and it’s your safe space.
Listen, friends- we are not our bodies, but they are ours. We are not our bodies, and we will not be easily devoured.