A human GI Joe would have a 44-inch chest and 29-inch waist, in comparison with 39 inches and 40 inches in the average man. Barbie’s measurements would be 36-18-33 and her neck would be nine inches in circumference in comparison to the 15-inch average neck. No wonder we’re so warped in our expectations! No wonder we stand in front of the mirror and say, “Yuck.”
The amount of body shame out there is extreme. Seventy percent of women 18-30 years old don’t like their bodies, as well as 43 percent of men. And only 20 percent of men and 11 percent of the women are body positive.[i]
The media uses our body shame to commercial advantage. Take, for instance, breasts. It may come as a surprise, but throughout the grand arc of fashion history, small breasts in women have been considered more ideal than large ones. It’s only in recent history in the West that large breasts have become fetishized. In light of this, the desire for large breasts has increased in recent years. The availability and affordability of breast implants has also increased. I think the cosmetic surgery industry has monetized our body shame. It has created a product—breast implants—and shamed us women into thinking we need it. The breast implant industry makes over a billion dollars a year selling its wares to one in 26, or four percent, of women in the US.
I have nothing against cosmetic procedures for deformities or extreme aging. But every candidate should ask, “Am I doing this out of shame, because I’ve compared myself with some unrealistic ideal of beauty?” The ability to accept ourselves and our bodies for what they are, to see them as fearfully and wonderfully made, is a gift of God.
Something that helps with this is idealizing health over sexiness. Now, those two things overlap. A healthy body with muscle tone, proportionality, flexibility and strength will be more appealing visually and sexually. But when the motive is health, looks and sex appeal don’t become an end in themselves. I personally overcame anorexia partly by idealizing health over thinness.
The redemption of our sexuality is in seeing it as a gift from God to serve a higher purpose of love. In Eden, Adam and Eve’s nakedness with one another signaled true intimacy. In true intimacy, we accept nakedness—the feelings of vulnerability—because we trust our partner.
Take note that this trust can’t be experienced in a transient, casual relationship. Trust-building demands commitment. Marital commitment and relationship satisfaction have been correlated over and over again in research. This is why marriage was created. It provided the foundational commitment, security, and trust needed to cultivate true love. It’s when we really trust someone that we can safely show them our private parts—both physical and emotional—without shame. In fact, true intimacy demands this. We must trust them not to reject us, and trust that we won’t want to reject them.
The book of Genesis says that the man and woman were naked and felt no shame.[ii]God designed that our sexuality be a source of innocent pleasure and childlike happiness. He wants us to lose self-consciousness in intimate union with our partner.
But immediately after sin the first couple knew they were naked and sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.[iii]This shame at nakedness has become such a standard part of human nature that its absence and corresponding exhibitionist behaviors are considered pathological.[iv]In other words, in our fallen condition, a sense of shame at nakedness is normal.
I believe we crave that naked-and-not-ashamed experience and the intimacy that comes with it. Much of the immodesty we see in our world is a kind of false intimacy where we expose our private selves publicly, longing perhaps for that naked-and-not-ashamed intimacy. But false intimacy never lasts or satisfies.
I’m a staunch believer in whole health of the mind, body and the soul. In light of that, a great place to start “getting naked” is in our relationship with God. Do we tell Him the truth about ourselves? On a regular basis? This is called “confession” and it cleanses the soul, clearing the way for deep communion. Specifically, be honest with God about your sexuality. Sure, He already knows. But you don’t know His knowingness until you tell Him. Bring the shame of your sexual sin and others’ sexual sins against you, to Him. He Himself was stripped naked and hung before the shaming world. He who knows shame is able to take yours from you and restore you to childlike freedom.
By Jennifer Jill Schwirzer, LPC
This is one in a series called - “God Made Love”
[iv]Entry 302.4 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manualof the American Psychiatric Association is Exhibitionistic Disorder.