Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bodies and Bikinis


This week, Katie shared with us her post (after passing her big test, YAY!) defending bikinis. I would really love to hear more from the bikini defenders, so if you're willing to add your voice, please email me!

Elizabeth, who blogs with her husband at The Spark and The Flame, has a contribution for the Bikini or Biki-no series. Please enjoy!

At times, when the topic of modesty comes up in discussion, it quickly becomes a debate over which gender bears the most responsibility. Should the most modest women walk around completely covered? Or, should the most honorable men walk around blind-folded? What about modesty for men? Should they be covered too? I think that this “responsibility debate” both dodges and underplays the real issue at hand, which is the intrinsic value of our bodies. 

Our bodies are intrinsically valuable because we are human persons. The value of our bodies does not come from ourselves or from others. The value of our bodies comes from our creator, in whose own image we are made. To deny the dignity of our body is to deny God. Our dignity is directly derived from God, and without God, there is no source for human dignity.


It is appropriate to consider the proper treatment of our bodies in light of this very fact. Because our bodies have such value, Karol Wojtyla tells us, “the role of ... the means to an end determined by a different subject is contrary to the nature of a person.”


This means that the use of one person’s body by another for the purpose of pleasure or gain is contrary to the dignity of the person. We are told in Theology of the Body that the opposite of love is, in fact, not hate, but use. It is our responsibility not to encourage the use of our own body or that of another as a mere object. To do so is a profanation of the human body. Lust is the common name of that act of using the human body as an object.


What does it mean to use the body as an object? “Objectification” is defined (dictionary.com) as “to present as an object, especially of sight, touch, or other physical sense.” In this definition, the first emphasized sense is that of sight. I think one of the easiest and most clear means of presenting one's body as an object occurs in situations in which that body is scantily clad. Scant clothing automatically sexualizes the body, and invites others, people you don't even know, to use your body for pleasure. It makes the body into a tool for a purpose, a means to an end. Use is still use, even if it is visual rather than physical. Our bodies are too inherently dignified to be subjected to such a purpose. 
I love how deliciously cheesy this poster is.


Modesty is not about shame. It is not about being ashamed of our bodies, as if they should not be admirable. Modesty is about dignity and reverence. We are created in the image and likeness of God. Our bodies are so very admirable, that they cannot and should not be reduced to common usage as objects. When we clothe our bodies, we need to take this fact into consideration. Are we presenting our bodies in a way that conveys as well as engenders respect, or are we presenting our bodies as objects for use? 


Modesty is not about whose responsibility it is to cover up or not to look. Modesty is a recognition and a declaration of one's own dignity; the sanctity of one's own body.  The holiest part of the Jewish temple was always veiled, not because of shame, but because of reverence.  Likewise with our bodies, which we cover, not by reason of shame, but by reason of reverence.  Fulton Sheen called it "reverence for the mystery" and lamented its loss in the modern world.  To present the body in a bikini may risk unveiling what should be hidden and inviting for use and profanation that which should be reverenced.  

So what do you think? Has your position changed on the topic of bikinis?

6 comments:

20somethingcatholic said...

I love this! I'm just getting into Theology of the Body - it's so beautiful. Modesty is such a strange topic, but you put it so well. It isn't about shame, but rather dignity. And unfortunately the media inundates us with bodies as use. (If anything, at least eye candy) It takes a strong and willful person to rise above that. And the "blame" I believe goes to both females and males, not so much for showing skin or not, but the reasons behind it. (Typically for sexual appeal or attraction) I think you've put this topic in a thoughtful perspective!

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for your comment! I am very interested in Theology of the Body. A lot of the emphasis in TOB is on the dignity of the human person. Modesty is something that is difficult to understand without that viewpoint, I think.

Unfortunately, the mainstream understanding of modesty wants to suggest that the more we show off our bodies,the more autonomous we are, but are we really?

I think there is a greater preservation of personal autonomy in refusing to present the most intimate aspects of our bodies to any stranger's gaze.

Paige said...

As soon as I can get my head straight about it, I am going to write a pro-bikini (or at least not an anti-bikini) post.

Christine Falk Dalessio said...

Without answering the bikini debate directly... I once heard a topic on TOB and art by Fr. Thomas Loya. He was showing a painting of a female nude which was very beautiful. Then he overlaid a clear plastic sheet on the paiting. The sheet had high heels, fishnets and a garter belt which now "clothed" the nude. I can assure you the painting became instantly pronographic, because the clothing was designed to be provocative.
I think we just have to consider whether "more" clothing is better every time...

Elizabeth said...

Christine's point is a good one. I think many bikinis are designed to be provocative, though, along the same lines as the "clothing" in the example. The point in the example was not to cover, but to just emphasize how little was covered, and this is how I think most bikinis will invite one's body to be looked at.

So yes, the point is not to cover indiscriminately, but to determine first what ought to be covered, second how it can be in a way that shows the most respect.

Donald Kolenda said...

Wow, what a great post! I believe you and the Holy Spirit are in sync. Thanks for writing this.

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