Monday, August 13, 2012

Women's Bodies and Shame?

Warning: This post talks about women's locker rooms and is pretty "girly"--- men you have been forewarned  and I won't be offended if you skip this one :)


Jon and I have been taking our kids swimming a lot the last few months. Several months ago we had an interesting conversation about the differences between men and women's locker rooms.

Apparently ladies, for all of you who don't know, men don't cover up in locker rooms. It is totally acceptable to walk around in the buff-- young and old.  They don't have curtains around the shower, it is just a "tree" that everyone stands around and showers. They rarely have dressing rooms and even if they did, according to Jon, no one would use them.

This information surprised me and made me wonder if, at almost three years old, Rose isn't getting too old to go to the men's locker room!  It is so interesting to me that it is  so different from the women's locker room where there are curtains around every shower and even separate changing rooms to go into. The only people who I have ever seen strutting around in the nude are old ladies, which use to horrify us during Jr. High swim team! In fact, because of all my years on swim team  I have learned all the tricks to discretely and "modestly" disrobe in a crowd, but I still don't think I'd ever just walk around totally in the buff. In High School there were often lines of girls waiting to use the bathrooms to  change for gym, because you'd never just strip, even if it meant you'd be late for class.

Even as a grown women many of us don't even feel comfortable breastfeeding in a completely female environment (say the Mother's Lounge at church) without a blanket!  And don't get me wrong, I am not condemning anyone here because I often do the same thing.

It just makes me wonder, where does all this embarrassment and shame about our bodies come from? And why don't men seem to have inherited it?

Several months ago we were at small public swimming and since there were no changing rooms in the women's locker room, and I didn't want to try to manage a crawling baby in a bathroom, I used some of my discreet disrobing techniques to change into my swimming suit. As I was changing I noticed a girl, about 10 or 11, watching me but trying hard to make it look like she wasn't. It didn't bother me because I got the impression from her that she hadn't ever seen an adult woman naked before (which I really wasn't) and that she was just curious.

As I thought about this later it really hit me hard; here was a young girl, on the  verge of becoming a woman herself, who probably had no real idea about what her body should look like. In our pornography ridden culture it is very likely that by this time in her life she had seen at least one or two pictures or videos of naked, or mostly naked, women. (In fact, I know that all she has to do is drive down the interstate and she'd see at least three). How sad it was to think that most of the examples this young girl may have gotten  about what her budding female body should look like (and behave like) came from women whose bodies had been photo-shopped and used to sell cars.

This experience really got me thinking about the shame and the embarrassment that surrounds women's bodies. Is the reason that so few of us feel comfortable in our own skin is because all we have to compare ourselves to is the media's unrealistic portrayls of women? In a culture where little value or respect is given to women's bodies-- using them to sell everything from milk to houses-- have we inherited and internalized more shame then we realize?

Have we taken the concept of "modesty" so far that we are giving our daughters unrealistic perceptions about what a real woman's body looks like? Does the preschool maxim "girls can see girls and boys can see boys" not apply after you reach puberty?

And if so, why haven't the men gotten the same message? 

I realize that my experience may be different than other women's and I know for sure that things vary differently from culture to culture. There is a passage in on of my favorite books, "Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood" where Fatima Mernissi recounts how, from the time she was a little girl, she and her mother, aunts, cousins and grandmothers, would prepare to go to the traditional bathhouse (called a hammam). She writes: 

"Our tradidional hammam ritual involved a "before", a "during" and an "after" phase. The phase before the hammam took place in the central courtyard, and that was where you made yourselves ugly by covering your face and hair with all those unbecoming mixes. The second phase took place in our neighboring hammam itself, not far from our house, and that was where you undressed and stepped into a series of three cocoon-like chambers filled with steamy heat. Some women got completely undressed, other put a scarf around their hips, while the eccentrics kept their sarwals on, which made them look like extra-terrestrials after the fabric had gotten wet. The eccentrics who entered the hammam with sarwals on would be the target of all sorts of jokes and sarcastic remarks, such as "Why don't you veil, too, while you're at it."  (pg. 224)

This excerpt from the book fascinates me because it gives a glimpse into a different female culture and way of life than I have ever experienced. I am probably certain that if I was thrown into a hammam I might just be one of the eccentrics in my sarwal. Yet, I can't help but wonder how, if from my very earliest experiences, I had been surrounded by a wide variety of real, living, breathing examples of women's bodies-- young, old, fat, thin, firm or  stretched-- that I might have had a much different feelings about my body as a young woman... and even as a grown woman.

Would I have felt more comfortable with the way I was developing? Would I be more accepting of the way my body has changed as a I've grown and born children? Would I be less deceived by the world portrayals of womanhood?

Perhaps.

Either way, these experiences have definitely got me thinking about how I'd like to teach my daughter about what women's bodies really look like. I don't want her to inherit a lot of the shame and embarrassment that I did about my body. I want her to know that real, living, breathing women's bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes and that her body will change throughout her life. I want her to know that the  that no matter what her body looks like it is beautiful and divine.

Please don't get wrong on this. I am NOT saying that we ought to all strut around stark naked in the locker room so our girls get realistic expectations. I don't think I could do that.  But I do think that we do need to do a better job at giving our young women more real examples about what real women's bodies look like.

I am new at this motherhood thing and so I am curious to know  how you have taught your daughters to love and respect their bodies?

39 comments:

  1. I actually had a really similar experience in a women's locker room. I wrote about the my thoughts here: http://www.birdsofashmae.com/2012/04/thank-you-ymca-locker-room.html

    I appreciate your project!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I just happened upon your blog last week, and I just want to say thanks for this post; it's great!

    I think it's disturbing how both extreme immodesty and extreme modesty serve focus women (and men) unncessarily on their bodies. Obviously, we've seen the damaging effects of pronography and the uncovered, objectified female body. But I feel that focusing so obsessively on "modesty" - to the point that girls and women feel ashamed of their bodies, is also damaging. There has to be a happy medium, a way of teaching girls and women that the body is a gift from God, part (but not all) of our eternal identity, and a tool that enables us to do good.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is an important topic to me - I have three daughters!

    We are a pretty open household and don't mind if the children see us naked in the shower/bath/getting dressed. My kids have often commented on my soft belly (I tell them it got all stretched out from having babies and I wouldn't change it for anything).

    We talk about photoshop and how every single picture that is used in advertising is fake, in some way.

    We talk about how Heavenly Father made all of us so different, and so beautiful in our own ways.

    My oldest daughter is 9, and is on the road towards puberty. I hope that our conversations over the years and the positive attitude I have towards my own body will imbibe her with a sense of beauty and worth no matter how much she changes over the years.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This reminded me of an article I read recently about how female athletes get fewer endorsements than male athletes (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/08/sex-doesnt-always-sell-why-female-olympians-fail-in-advertisements/260658/#)

    It pointed out that men see a male athlete in an advertisement and want to be like them. Women see a female athlete in an ad, they are jealous of them and wish the athlete looked more like them. Interesting difference like the difference in locker room mentality.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes I completely agree with this! I have always had some body image issues and I'm realizing that I need to change some of my attitudes and work on being an example to my daughter by speaking of my body in a positive way, and not let her see me criticizing my physical self. I see women of all shapes and sizes and can easily comment on how beautiful they are and seem to be so harsh on myself and notice every flaw. I want my daughter to be confident and proud of her body. I also try to limit what she see of women in the media- magazines, ads, even cartoons that demean women. I know for me personally that if I watch a movie or something that has a scantily clad actress it totally leads me to feel hate towards myself. So I avoid those things as much as possible, and I try to eat healthy and do things nice for my body so I love my body instead.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was raised where I locked my bedroom door every time I was getting dressed. I would have been mortified having anyone even glimpse my naked skin. It was terrible. I felt like I didn't belong in my own body.
    I have a best friend now who was raised with an "open-door" policy. She has helped me in many ways to be more comfortable in my own skin. I don't have to try and hide. I am in no ways immodest, nor do I strut around nude, but I'm not so paranoid about someone getting a small glimpse of my exposed stomach or upper thigh. I have tried to look around and recognize that I look just like everyone else that is real and that is true beauty. I don't look anything like that sexy-lady on the billboard, but neither does anyone else.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Umm... It is normal for me to change naked in the locker room. And I am in my 20s, not 80s. I know that little kids like to peek but it doesn't bother me. If parents have a problem, they should use the family locker room with their children. I was a division 1 athlete and no other athletes I knew had problems changing or showering that I can remember. I didn't grow up in Utah or Idaho so maybe the locker room shame is in Mormon communities.

    As for body shame, I have never been so ashamed of my body as I have been recently at church. I am over 8 months pregnant and it seems like many women like to make incredibly rude comments about my weight gain, how I carry the baby, what they think about my belly button poking through my shirt or dress, etc. Maybe Mormon women are more judgmental than other women about bodies. To ourselves and each other. Some thoughts need to be kept inside, people.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think how we view our own bodies will be the biggest indicator of how our daughters view their bodies. The best thing we can do is probably to make sure that we are happy with ourselves, and definitely don't speak negatively about ourselves and our bodies.

    My sister has her daughters shower with her once when they reach a certain age approaching puberty so they can see what an adult woman looks like and answer any questions the daughter has. I think that sounds like a good idea.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I never feel more beautiful than when I'm pregnant. I'm always excited when I get big enough to graduate to maternity clothes. I don't mind comments about my growing belly because I rejoice in the changes as well. There's nothing more beautiful than a woman proudly exercising her divine right to create life. Shannon, be proud of that big baby belly! You are beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amy,
      I felt proud and pretty but then I went to church. Seriously, a woman told me in passing that I had "gained weight all over." I am 8+ months pregnant in the hottest part of the summer! I never had boobs before I was pregnant. I think that she was either being purposefully mean or she is just stupid. I can't think of any other explanations.

      When did it become acceptable to comment to someone about their weight?

      Delete
    2. Shannon, Oh, I feel for you. Rose was born the very end of August and that last month was hard. It is hard to be big and heavy ALL summer. And hopefully that woman wasn't trying to be mean, she probably didn't even think about what she was saying. Or maybe she is like me and then says something and then regrets it later :) Hang in there babies are so worth it!

      Delete
  10. So I have been pondering this a bit too but maybe from a different angle. I am surprised at how many women shave (or wax) their entire body (except the hair on their heads). I can only think this phenomenon comes from the hairless bodies glorified in pornography. And it is a bit disturbing because isn't it the extra hair that separates us from being girls? So the new ideal is some sort of prepubescent female? More about that here: http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/whats-point-pubic-hair
    http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2011/04/war-pubic-hair.html
    And I'm not knocking the choice to shave. I'm just analyzing the new trend and what it means for our culture.
    We go to such great lengths to cover up our aging hair or body. I have to admit it is hard for me to accept but I absolutely respect women who own their skin, hair and bodies for what they are and how God created them.

    ReplyDelete
  11. As an only daughter, I learned so much about a woman's body when I went to college and for the first time lived with 5 other girls. It was there that I learned that I wasn't the "only" girl whose body was like _________ (fill in the blank). While we didn't walk around naked, I did find it liberating to just be able to talk to other women about the parts of my body I thought were strange, to only find out how normal my body really was. We should talk to our daughters more (and maybe dads should talk to their sons too), so that we stop having this "image" of what women "should" look like and instead celebrate the way God made us naturally.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Fantastic post! (I've been a silent appreciator/reader for several months and want to say "Keep up the great work!")
    This post strikes some conversations I've had with my sisters who are mothering pubescent girls right now.

    I was recently on several beaches around Europe, and was at first shocked, and then impressed by the many many topless and bikini bottom clad women swimming and sunbathing among men in Speedos. Where were the loose cotton coverups? The flouncy bum covers? These women were off all ages and shapes. They weren't there to flaunt or be sexy, they were just being comfortable. I wondered why as an American Mormon woman, privately very comfortable in her own skin, I was so startled by the many 'natural wonders' around me. It knew it wasn't spiritual repulsion. It was cultural. I had been taught through magazines, YW lessons, and television not only that the female form is dangerously provocative, but also that mine, decidedly not cover-girl material at size 16, is unacceptable and meant to be covered up.
    As I realized these things I was proud of these European women for being unashamed of their bodies, and jealous that I hadn't been raised with their cultural perspective. I hope it is something that my nieces will have an easier time with.
    Another interesting note is that blatant pornography is even more pervasive in European media, so I think it's fair to say our American shyness of nudity is has more to do with our puritanical beginnings than our current pornography crisis.

    I wish that in our discussions about modesty, with young girls in particular, we could eliminate the entire 'men can't control their thoughts' dialogue, along with the 'you can judge a book by it's cover' mentality. All these teach are lack of respect for men and self-righteousness toward others dress standards. Let's focus on the bigger principle of what it means to internalize modesty in heart and mind. Then maybe we could put the tape measure away for sleeves and skirts, and be a little less terrified of dropping our towels in the locker room.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read this blog post recently that describes so wonderfully why we need to stop the "men can't control their thoughts" idea that we teach our Young Women. Here is the post: http://mormonchildbride.blogspot.com/2012/07/take-sad-song-and-make-it-better.html

      Delete
  13. When I was pregnant with our last one, I tried to take my daughters to the appointments with me so they could see the changes in me and my growing belly. I thought if they got used to what a real body looks like, then maybe they'd realize the stuff they see out there is fake? I also try and not feel funny nursing openly around the kids' friends when they're at our house. Most of the kids who we have over aren't around babies, but none of them have been repulsed. Hopefully they'll remember when they're older that nursing is a natural thing to do.

    Also, I find this funny because I'm a pretty modest person, but we've had swim days with our play group all summer. We go to a neighbor's pool, so it's just the women and our kids. I have this one swim top that I can pull down to nurse in, the underwires have come out, so it tends go stretch a little low in front. I think normally I would feel so self-conscious about this, but because I'm just going out with the girls, it really hasn't bugged me. Now, if men were around, I think I'd be tugging and pulling at that top. Sometimes I wonder if women would be so sexually competitive if men weren't around. Could we all run around in lacy underwear just like it were normal if there were no guys? Is it because there are men around that we compete with one another? Seems to play a big part, I think. I wonder if anyone's done any studies on this.

    ReplyDelete
  14. After reading the other comments, I have to pipe in that yes, men need to control their own thoughts (and they are completely accountable for their thoughts and actions), but sometimes they CAN'T, and for those struggling to overcome a porn problem, it is a breath of fresh air to be around women who dress modestly.

    I love Miranda's comment about Europe and the women just being comfortable in their own skin there. That is so weird that men are typically so free in the locker room and women are more shy. Where'd we come up with that cultural baggage? Hmmm. Is it all cultural, or is there some inherent shyness?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Excellent post. It is true that men walk around in showers - and no one really cares.
    Men haven't been sexualized nearly to the degree women have. It's easy to see this in the media.

    Look at comedy films. The out-of-shape intelligent or humorous male lead always gets the hot chick. Adam Sandler, Will Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Segel. They don't have to be good looking, they’re funny. But their leading ladies better have a perfect body, and show it off, because that's what America expects, and what they want to watch.

    If women want to get the guy - be sexy.
    Guys? - be something. Funny, intelligent, silly, buff, brave...whatever. Just do it well, and you'll get a hot chick.

    I've tried to address this topic on my blog twice now - I don't know if it worked or not.

    If you're interested, here are the links:

    http://thoughtsofasimplecitizen.blogspot.com/2012/04/do-women-objectify-themselves_09.html

    http://thoughtsofasimplecitizen.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-mans-plea-for-modesty.html

    ReplyDelete
  16. While I think it's great that Europeans are seemingly comfortable with their body type whatever that may be, we do still need to be modest.

    For myself, I'm not embarrassed to be naked in the women's locker room, and frequently shower off after my swim with other ladies in their birthday suits. But I don't live in Utah, Arizona, or Idaho. I remember "strutting" around the locker room at BYU while the other girls tried desperately to cover themselves with those ridiculously small towels. What was up with those?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am with you on those little towels! They don't wrap all the way around my waist and I am skinny! Maybe it is a subtle hint that we shouldn't worry about covering up :)

      Delete
  17. Heather, I love that you've addressed this topic because I see how damaging this mindset has been to both me and a lot of my female friends. I have never been comfortable in my own skin. I am tall, proportional and healthy and yet have some how grown up with the mindset that if you aren't small and petite and busty that you just aren't good enough or love-able. Unfortunately my dating experiences into my thirties has confirmed and reinforced this idea. Its even more sad that my lack of perfectness has been so hammered in by otherwise righteous LDS men. I don't look like a model (I'm a flat chested size 6-8) and I don't date. For some reason I always believed that the only way I would ever be able to marry was if I got pregnant first and they had to marry me. Isn't that the most horrible thought for a good mormon girl to grow up to believe?!! I would be mortified if my own future daughters felt that way. As I've grown older I have wondered how and why I would have developed this belief system. I was raised in Utah in a very zealously religious home. My Mom was really down to earth and beautiful in the way that a women who has born 6 children and carries baby weight is so elegantly beautiful. I have no idea why I felt so deficient, because my sisters don't. But its an unfortunate reality I deal with.

    I am so saddened by this culture which has disallowed women to be comfortable with her natural body. I'm also saddened that so many good men have been raised to believe that perfect girls should look like the models on the billboards and still be able to eat as many french fries as they want without changing at all. I sincerely hope that all of you wonderful women are able to somehow teach your girls that true beauty is about loving and respecting what is both inside and out, and taking care of what is both inside and out, regardless of whether or not society at the time believes it is the ideal.

    I know that our female bodies are beautiful, designed for divine purposes and yet I feel like an ugly alien in my own uncovered form. I sincerely hope that somehow future generations can grown to feel differently. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. just so you don't feel crazy i totally remember feeling that way about maybe i should get knocked up on purpose SO i could then get married. i was a flat chested fat girl who spent a decade in the singles ward. i'm very glad i didn't, of course. i fight my poor body-image tooth and nail because i don't want to pass it on to any girl i come in contact with ever, but man, it is a hard battle. i understand!

      Delete
  18. Great post! You ask, what can we do to teach our children about more realistic female bodies. One thing we have always done is be comfortable having prints and books with reproductions of classical nudes in the house. The nudes show women (and some men) of all sorts of shapes and sizes. We have a beautiful and tasteful painting by Bouguereau called "The Bathers" hanging over the family bath. Here's a link: http://www.illusionsgallery.com/Bathers.html Those women have some beautiful curves!

    Although my junior high kids act embarrassed when showing friends to the bathroom, my older kids have told me that they think it's pretty cool! I think it's great that my teenage son grew up looking at that depiction of womanly beauty instead of only the Victoria Secret ads in the mall.

    Another thing is to be ok with having fewer bathrooms at home! We've always lived in older houses that had just one or two baths. A lot of learning goes on in those crowded bathrooms!

    Thanks for sparking the conversation!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I was thinking about just this topic the other day after I took my little boy and girl to swim lessons. Small world.

    One thing I thought interesting was that both my Mom and MIL, who were classmates at the same school my husband and I attended in Southern Utah, were expected and required to shower and change in the same fashion as the boys. Both locker rooms had a row of open showers and everyone was expected to use them. They don't seem too traumatized by the exercise. But by the time I got to middle school there were showers with curtains, and VERY few girls actually used them. The thought of being naked with all the other girls was plenty scandalizing, not to mention stressful. Perhaps sometimes we need to be a little scandalized and then we get over it :) I wonder where that magic balance is?

    ReplyDelete
  20. I do not live in Utah. If I am in a locker room, I will cover wrap myself in a towel when walking around, but don't try to cover up while changing. I honestly have a bigger problem getting in and out of garments in front of people that don't know understand what I'm wearing! How do you ladies handle that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's my thing, too. I was raised in a very open family and was quite comfortable with what male and female bodies looked like from a rather young age. It was natural and beautiful to me. I had no issues changing in shared rooms at schools and stuff. But now as a woman who wears sacred underclothing, I struggle with the best way to find balance when I dress in public rooms.
      One thing that may help, Tori, is removing your garment-top and shirt together so that the top stays inside the shirt. It's awkward with a bra in between them, but possible. It's easier with the bottoms. And put them back on the same way...altogether as if it's one piece. That way there's a minimal chance someone will notice them.

      Delete
  21. This was such an interesting post, Heather. I have literally been thinking about it all day!

    It's true, as some commenters already have pointed out, that the European mentality regarding nudity is more relaxed - and uncomplicated really. I have to say that I usually feel much better about my own body after visiting a public pool or the gym since you really see women of all shapes and sizes and ages in the locker rooms and people change and shower as they would do at home, with very little awkwardness involved. It can actually be a very uplifting experience!

    I have actually never seen a locker room with private changing booths or curtains around the showers... ;)

    We definitely struggle with enormous problems related to unhealthy beauty ideals as well, but I would say that most women over here still have a pretty realistic picture of what the female body looks like.

    I obviously don't approve of topless sunbathing or anything like that. But I do think that modesty and a healthy body image are two sides of the same coin. It's all about respecting the temples Heavenly Father created for our spirits!

    Hugs from Finland!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pamela,

      Thanks for the European viewpoint! It is so interesting how things like this are cultural, and I am sure are different even other places in the US. I love that you put modesty and a healthy body image together-- how interesting would that be if that was how we taught our young woman about modesty!

      Delete
  22. I just wanted to say thanks for this post. I've given a lot of thought to how I teach my daughter and my son about their bodies, and you've hit on a lot of the things I was consciously and unconsciously feeling.

    ReplyDelete
  23. So I lived in Sweden for 5 1/2 years and Sweden is a country that is far more comfortable with nudity than America. At first it bothered me. Then I had an experience that really changed my views. I had gone swimming at a local pool and was terribly cold. At the time, I had been recently diagnosed with lupus, and found the cold to be almost unbearable. In the women's locker room was a sauna for ladies only. The only catch was that it was not allowed to wear clothes at all--no swimming suit or anything. I was so nervous, but I was desperate to warm up. So I finally went in, totally naked and realized that my hang-ups were ridiculous. Not one woman looked at me. No one gawked at me. I felt totally private.

    Sweden also allows topless bathing at beaches, and has some nude beaches. After going to a beach (you really can't avoid it) I realized that for Swedes, nudity on the beach wasn't sexual. People didn't gawk at you, leer at you, or act weird. Women weren't ashamed of poochy stomachs, sagging breasts, or even of body hair. They just enjoyed themselves outside in the sunshine.

    Because of those experiences (I never took off my top or went bathing nude) but seeing it made me realize that a lot of American's hang-ups about nudity are kind of silly.

    I love how you look at what this teaches our girls about their bodies.

    ReplyDelete
  24. The greatest epiphany about modesty I experienced as a youth came from an EFY counselor who explained "modesty is for you." I think it should be taught that way. It is wonderful if a man doesn't have to work very hard at keeping his thoughts clean around modestly dressed women, but that should not be the main reason a girl chooses to dress modestly. It should be because her body is beautiful and sacred and has power (as your "Getting Adam to Partake" post explains so well, Heather) and she wants to save that beautiful, sacred power for marriage. Focusing too much on how our clothing affects others tends to send the message that our bodies are evil, when the opposite is true. Our bodies are GOOD, so good, in fact, that we should feel that not just any men deserve to see them. I think teaching modesty in this way does a lot to combat body shame. Also, media literacy--I think we need to teach our kids to recognize that what they see in the media is fake and trying to sell something, and sometimes the very thing it is selling is body shame.

    ReplyDelete
  25. love this. i was publicly naked for the first time in the woman's locker room at a pool in berlin, germany when i was 25 - holy crap! it felt amazing! seriously liberating. what are we hiding? and the best thing to realize - nobody cares! nobody cares about your body as much as you do - no one notices or criticizes it like you do, if at all. and to just be out there, naked and free - i tell you. it changed me. it was the same at a beach in italy - not nudist, everyone was in swimsuits, but no one had board shorts, swimskirts and all the other cover-ups. as someone who mostly goes to the beach fully clothed, to just be in a swimsuit? heavenly. and again, no one cared, no one stared.

    but maybe this is just in europe? i just wish we'd all learn a bit. to just stop wasting the energy of caring so much about our bodies and what they say about our souls. i'm saying this after a near decade of anorexia. we really need to stop caring quite so much and bloody move on.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I read your post and then all of the comments, and I have to say I'm a little dismayed. To me, I think we should be more concerned about what the scriptures and the prophets have to say about modesty than what the worldly traditions are in Europe or what someone's EFY counselor said.

    We should be modest because-- like the temple-- our bodies are SACRED. It's not that they are dirty, that we should be ashamed of them, or that we should compare ourselves. It's about keeping them covered out of reverence and gratitude.

    From "For the Strength of Youth":

    "Your body is sacred. Respect it and do not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him."

    "Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and you can be a good influence on others. Your dress and grooming influence the way you and others act."

    "Never lower your standards of dress. Do not use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest. When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God. You also send the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval."

    1 Corinthians 3:16-19
    "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness."

    I'm not trying to be contentious-- I am simply really sad that this subject took the turn it did. :-(

    Just my opinion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mama Rachel,

      I appreciate your comments. It is always nice to have multiple opinions, if not it doesn't make for a very interesting conversation. I think your points about modesty are spot on. When we understand that our body is LITERALLY a temple of God then we act in ways that show that we understand that.

      I think that a lot of what the commentors here would also agree with you. I think that what most of them are trying to get at though is that we shouldn't act in ways that are immodest (like nude sunbathing or going topless) but that there are ways that we talk about and teach that modesty that make women ashamed of their bodies. Personally I think that there is definitely a place for nudity in an all female environment. Being nude is not being immodest. If there are men (who are not your husband) around then it would be a different question. But among women I think it might be really healing for us to learn that our bodies are beautiful and different and that is okay. But I think that in a hyper-sexualized world we are so often afraid of the nude body (ours and others) that we unknowingly put a lot of shame on it that makes it hard for women to have a good relationship with their body.

      I believe in modesty and I don't think that topless sunbathing is okay (and I don't think any of the other commenters do either) but I think that women need to know that being naked is okay and that they don't have to carry around shame about having a woman's body. I don't think you necessarily have to be around naked women to have that happen, but I think that it might be really healing if that was okay-- just like it is for men to be nude around eachother.

      Also, I think it is important to note that being around REAL women is much different than seeing a video or a picture. I don't think that seeing a nude in art or on screen would be the same-- it would actually have just the opposite effect.

      Delete
    2. Mama Rachel,

      I am one of the women who spoke about nudity in Europe and how women's bodies are seen and portrayed. I don't disagree with anything you wrote and shared about modesty.

      However, I agree completely with Heather that sometimes (and I think this is unintentional) women are shamed about their bodies and strive to live an unhealthy ideal because they have no exposure (that is healthy) to seeing other women naked. Now, don't think I meant this to say that we should all run around naked. But we needn't cower in an all-female locker room. My experience in the all-female sauna taught me that I wasn't being judged by my body. And I as saw other women, I realized that our bodies are beautiful and wonderful. I don't need to feel bad about my poochy stomach or sagging breasts. Other women have the same things--and they are beautiful.

      Not one woman here suggested that we need run around naked or that modesty is unhealthy and wrong.

      One more thought. Our bodies are temples, but we aren't treating them like temples when we despise the very things that make us beautiful--our imperfections. God didn't tell us that our bodies were only beautiful or sacred if they were perfect. And I think Heather's post really speaks to the problem of women shaming their bodies, despising their bodies, and hating their bodies. I think we need to acknowledge that many women DO despise their bodies--how else can you explain plastic surgery--or the way it is rampant in areas that have a high concentration of Mormon women?

      And even the most modest woman is despising and hating her body if she constantly talks badly about herself or points out all her flaws. I think that attitude harms ourselves just as much as does immodesty.

      I would also like to point out that modesty is more than dress. It also deals with our actions, behaviors, thoughts, and desires.

      Delete
    3. Mama Rachel, I feel a need to clarify my comments. What my EFY counselor said got me to think about modesty in a way I never had before, and it led me to discover that my primary motivations for dressing modestly up to that point weren't what they should have been. I really thought I was dressing modestly for the benefit of other people. I think that I had somehow missed the message before then that dressing modestly is about respecting my body as sacred and showing the Lord that I know how precious it is, just like the first part of the quote you shared from For the Strength of Youth says. I now believe this is the *most* important part of the modesty message, and that any other benefits of dressing modestly (such as being a good example and having a positive influence on others) are subsidiary to the most important reason to dress modestly--to respect the sacred power of our divinely created bodies. I think that is the doctrine, but I think culture messes it up, and that's why I didn't understand it before then. That is what I was trying to say.

      I also think there is a difference between lowering your standards of dress for an occasion (such as wearing a sleeveless dress for a high school dance) and being modest for the context you are in. What is modest while swimming wouldn't be modest in class or at a party. Clothing for dance classes and performances is held to different standards at BYU than every-day wear. Privately bathing, changing, and being alone with your spouse are contexts where it is, of course, appropriate to uncover more of your body than you would in public, giving birth is also such a context, I believe feeding my babies the way the Lord designed is another context where the rules are different (I wear clothing that allows me to nurse pretty discreetly, but I don't think covering the baby's head is necessary), and it makes sense that an all-female locker room or sauna would also be such a context, since that is the way it is in the male locker rooms.

      Delete
  27. This conversation is so interesting. I just found out I am having a baby girl, which is terrifying to me because of all the challenges the come with teaching a daughter the beauty of her body even if it is different...along with a myriad of other things I feel like are just "girl" issues. I appreciate learning how others are going about the process of teaching, as I try to decide what is best for me and my daughter.

    On another note, I wanted to add another perspective to this discussion. I think even within the church, or perhaps I ought to say the culture, there is too much focus on sexualizing the body. We need to remember that the first real purpose of the body is not to attract a mate, enjoy sex, or to create bodies for others--those are gifts of the body, gifts that not everyone will have the opportunity to participate in. The first real purpose of the body is to allow us to participate in the mortal experience--how wonderful this is, because even the most disabled body enables us to prove our worthiness. The body exists so we can be tested. That in and of itself is a beautiful thing. Our bodies stand as a testament that we initially chose to glory in God, and then, when we stand before the judgement seat, our bodies will stand witness for the kinds of decisions we made (Gospel Principles CH 46).

    Perhaps modesty is about more than hiding parts of our bodies that might produce feelings of lust, but is about protecting and preserving a valuable tool we need to pass the test. We shouldn't hide our bodies out of shame, and we shouldn't fear nakedness-or differences, instead we should have glory and respect for its eternal value.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Piper,

      Thank you for your beautiful thoughts about the body. You said that so beautifully. I think we do loose track of what our bodies are really all about sometimes. They make it possible for us to be re-born through Christ, and that is all that really matters.

      COngrats a thousand times on the baby girl! THat is so exciting and you will be a fantastic mother. Though I am with you on the being terrified of a daughter--I know for me that it has made me have to face up to a lot of my mother-daughter relationship fears and heal them. I am still working on it, but it has been an incredible journey. I am sure this little girl will heal you and and teach you so much! Best wishes.

      Delete
  28. Wow, I made it through all of the comments:) GREAT discussion here, Heather. Thank you for bringing it up. I did not grow up in an LDS home and yet, I never saw another naked body. I remember that at my best friend's house, we would take baths together and that was the only time I saw another naked female and I grew up with an older sister and a mother! My elemntary was across the street from the base gym (i grew up on an Air Force base) where my friends and I would go after school and I remember being fascinated with the sauna because just once, I saw an older lady step out of it in the nude. Every time i used the toilet in that bathroom I secretly hoped that someone would be changing in there because I was so curious. My mega modesty lasted all the way through until I got married and we moved to Germany. All through college I would have been mortified if ANY one saw any part of my nakedness. In Germany (at age 23) I joined a local German gym, and as you've read again and again, nakedness is perceived differently. Not in a flaunting way, but in a "this is my body and I'm taking a shower, if you don't mind" sort of way. It was a good education for my self image. This past weekend I went on a campout with several other women and our daughters in cabins. I changed from my clothes to my jammies without much thought, especially because I wasn't going to be completely nude, but another friend trekked to the port-a-potty to change her and her two daughters...I truly felt for her. I do NOT want my daughter to grow up with the same insecurities, mega modesty and crazy curiosity that I had. I have known families that are very open in their home (with both sexes) and it has really worked for them and their understanding and respect for their bodies. They are very modest in their clothing and all aspects of appearance. In my own home, I do not hide my body from my daughter, or even my two young sons (ages 1 and 4). My daughter showers with me regularly and makes comments and asks questions and I answer her and try my best to help her understand. She also witnessed my give birth to her baby brother when she was 4. Let me tell you, this girl has no question as to how that baby managed to leave my body:) Anyway, our bodies are natural and beautiful and made in the image of God and we ought to respect them and glorify them in all of their beauty.

    ReplyDelete