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Yesterday I was linked to by Ignitum, Patheos and PhatMass, so hits are through the roof. All those strangers had to come and see me the one day I was a big emo-blogger puddle of goo. Sigh.
Actually, I spent a lot of the day out with B.A. and then at an impromptu party and came home at midnight tipsy on red wine and roughed up some poor seminarian at the Crescat's place for having dating some girl while discerning.
As for Ryan's post, the combox has disintegrated into the usual screamfest over feminine modesty. There should be a convention that whoever first uses the word "bikini" in a combox has lost the argument.
I have never myself appeared to my public in a bikini. Back in my super-sporty days, when I was 117 pounds (53 Kg) of lean sinew and fluffy hair, I dropped into a shop called Bikini Village to try on the dreaded garment of doom. I stood there before the mirror, in the best shape I had ever been (and, alas, may ever be), and said, "Nah."
I was 27, I think. Not too old for a bikini, by worldly standards. Not too young for a bikini, by worldly standards. Not too fat by any standard. Not too thin by contemporary standards. (Rubens would have cried.) But the truth was I just didn't want to appear in public in so little clothing. I didn't want the gaze of strangers to rest on my mostly naked body. And never mind strangers, I didn't want the wicked, carniverous sun resting on it either.
So I didn't buy the bikini. Let the sensitive Catholic men of the world rejoice. I wasn't thinking of their opinion, though, believe me. I think I had a crush on an atheist at the time. No, I was thinking of my own comfort and how I didn't want to be seen as a sexy body in a bikini but as me.
Anyway, the number one way a Catholic layman can annoy Catholic women online is to give pious lectures on feminine modesty and express his disappointment that we disobey Love and Responsibility by wearing bikinis, etc.
I would be amazed if Błogosławiony Jan Paweł Drugi, as my peeps in Poland call him, actually mentioned bikinis in Love and Responsibility, although I have no real way of knowing as I have never read it. ( Reading about spirituality of married people's sexuality... So sleepy... Zzzz...)
I have, however, read Mulieris Dignitatem with very great attention, and there Bł. JP II certainly has a lot to say about the tyrannous behaviour of men. Saint Edith Stein, while pointing out the faults fallen femininity is prone to, pointed out that one of the faults of fallen masculinity was a longing to boss women around.
Now, women can take a little bossing. If we're in love with someone, we don't mind too terribly much if he says, "Bring me a drink, woman, and put on that sexy dress I bought you." Male aggression is so often sexually charged, which is why it can be fun from men we adore but usually extremely creepy from men we don't even know.
Darlings, is that too much truth so early in the morning?
Anyway, what I actually want to write about this morning is women as bodies. Christians talk of human beings as embodied souls, and that's fine, but we're also ensouled bodies. We believe in the resurrection of the body, and when Our Lord rose--body and soul--from the dead, He went out of His way to illustrate His corporeal existence. He had His wounds, and He invited Thomas to put his hands in them. He shared meals. He went for long walks.
Thomas Aquinas thinks that we reach the peak of our human bodily perfection at 33, and therefore our bodies will return to what they were at 33 in the General Resurrection, only the bodies of the saved will be fixed of any infirmity, too. As I was still in awesome shape at 33, I have always enjoyed this thought--and I may be exaggerating. Maybe he didn't say 33 exactly.
When I say awesome shape, I don't mean I looked like a supermodel because I didn't, and I never did. Very few women in Canada can be that thin and still have big breasts although I have noticed that this seems to be a more frequent phenomenon among young women from Central-Eastern Europe. (Yarg!)
No, I mean that I was strong and had great stamina and could run a mile without breaking into a sweat and would do it at the drop of a hat, too. I very much enjoyed working out in the university gym, although the sight of the resident anorexic creeping around made me feel awful.
I do not know how old this woman was but she looked really old: very lined and wrinkled with huge sunken eyes. Unlike me, she didn't use the standing weights or the barbells at all. She stuck to the Stairmaster. And she was such a terrible sight, this poor woman amid all the healthy, glowing, athletic bodies of young men and young women. We enjoyed being bodies at work; she so obviously didn't.
Since I was too frightened of her to speak to her, I have no idea how she got like that. I don't know much about anorexia, but I believe it has something to do with control. European women kidnapped by native peoples in early colonial America often stopped eating, as the only form of control over their lives they had. And when I was younger, anorexia was seen as a problem of high-achieving white girls, determined to be perfect, or determined to call the shots over something in their lives, free from the expectations of parents and teachers.
But anorexia is also associated with female fear of fat, which is tragic as secondary female sexual characteristics--breasts, thighs, round bottom--are by nature formed with fat. It is also associated with girls thinking about themselves as Looked At.
This brings us back to some Catholic men on some Catholic blogs having Catholic conniptions about some Catholic girls in bikinis. For in those discussions the battle is over Women As Looked At.
But the purpose of our bodies is not to be looked at. The purpose of our bodies is--well, to be us. We are our bodies, and I think women understand this a bit better then men.
I am not a fan of skimpy clothes, unless the skimpy clothes are necessary for athletic or aesthetic achievement. I think we women should fight against our own tendency to see ourselves constantly through men's eyes, through strangers' eyes, as Looked At. We should dress as ourselves, not as our sex appeal.
For the sake of the public, it is good to keep in mind that we are not invisible and that like any other visual thing, we can invoke aesthetic pleasure or distaste in other human beings. For this reason, we comb our hair and put on clean, neat clothing before we leave the house.
But at the same time, we must think of our bodies not as objects but as subjects, as ourselves (wedded to souls), moving through the world towards eternity. And it would be helpful if more men thought of us that way too.
Incidentally, there is something mentally unhealthy about a young man who takes a shine to a girl he meets at Mass and then feels crushed if he sees a photo of her in a bikini top on Facebook. He is disappointed because now she doesn't match Miss Perfect Catholic Girl in his head. His non-Catholic roommate, however, might well be thinking, as would the young man's Catholic grandfather fifty years ago, "Whoo-hoo! That's for me!"
Let the comments begin and kindly remember that the combox is open only to women, priests and my uber-protective brother Nulli Secundus, who is free to come and bark at eavesdroppers who get past the Swashbuckling Protector of the Day.
UPDATE: Since ancient times, we have always emphasized the soul, so the exact Catholic teaching on the body often comes as a surprise. So here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
II. "BODY AND SOUL BUT TRULY ONE"
362 The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that "then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."229 Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.
363 In Sacred Scripture the term "soul" often refers to human life or the entire human person.230 But "soul" also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him,231 that by which he is most especially in God's image: "soul" signifies the spiritual principle in man.
364 The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God": it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:
Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.
365 The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body:234 i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.