Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reactions to Female Body

I have to make an admission. I have a real appreciation for the female body. That's probably not a surprise and I don't expect that anything I'm going to say is going to come a as a shocker to many. In fact, I expect I would expect that if I said I didn't find women attractive people would think that something was wrong of me. What is sad is how normal and even encouraged a distorted appreciation for the female body is.

Let me preface this by saying that my thinking has changed over the years and still has a long way to go go. Growing up, the way I viewed women was probably the way the majority of boys in today's society view women. If I could get my hands on a Playboy or Victoria's Secret I was all over it. If there was a flash of a naked girl in a movie, the VCR was probably going to be paused so I could get a better view.

Unfortunately for me, and for thousands of boys growing up today, I was seeing that female body as a sexual object. I didn't see her as a sister or a daughter. I saw these women as objects to be used for my gratification. Fortunately, I had a healthy fear of my wife and avoided the pornography pitfall that many husbands and fathers fall into.

I have changed in my thinking although, I have to admit I'm a long way from where I want to be. A big step is when I started learning about the Theology of the Body--which, in a nutshell, is Pope John Paul II's teaching on sexuality. One thing I learned was that in the beginning it wasn't this way. Adam and Eve were naked and were not ashamed. It wasn't until the fall that they were naked and ashamed. They were ashamed because they saw feared that their bodies would be seen as objects to be used instead of someone made in the image and likeness of God.

A story I learned, and a favorite of mine, was the story of St. Pelagia the Penitent. According to which story you hear, Pelagia was either a stripper or a prostitute who became very wealthy because of her work. One day she was walking by the church in Antioch past a group of bishops. All of the bishops averted their eye so they would not succumb to temptation with the exception of Bishop Nonnus. Bishop Nonnus saw Pelegia's inner beauty as well as her outer beauty. He saw in her a sister in Christ and said to his fellow bishops, "Did not the sight of her great beauty delight you?" Pelegia saw Bishop Nonnus looking at her not with lust in his eyes as she was accustomed to but with the love of Christ came back later that day and heard him preach. She was so struck that she became baptised and led a saintly life.

I've come a ways because of this teaching. I actually used to subscribe to Playboy magazine and even after I had cancelled my subscription I kept all of the back issues. About a year and a half ago, I chucked them--tossed them in recycling. I admit that I thought about putting them on Ebay but realized that by selling them I could possible be encouraging others to sin.

That was a big step for me. I'm not going to pretend that I'm all pious and saintly. I still combat lust everyday and pray that God gives me the virtue to fight this sin. It's a change for me. There are still many days when I need to avert my eyes---and many days when I don't even do that (thank God for reconciliation) But occasionally, I can see a beautiful woman and appreciate her inner and outer beauty without lust taking over. It's a long journey---but by golly---I feel like I'm on my way.
I feel that the Theology of the Body is such an important teaching and would like to blog more about it. What does everyone else think?


  1. I would love to see more blogging on TOTB, personally. Especially from a layman's point of view. My husband got some one on one instruction on TOTB one time when a priest at a parish we attended held a study session. Craig was the only one to show up. But I will say that it was from this point I noticed a real change in him.

    As you may have noticed from some of my blog is difficult for women to look at themselves and each other and see image of God, too. It's something I work on all the time now.

    God bless you!

  2. Great post, Jamie. Raw and honest. I think that most men struggle with lust. It is one of those silent sins that you don't share with anyone and therefore you think that you are alone in your struggle.

    I already have, and plan on continuing to, written about this subject on by blog too. I think you should share more about it as well.

    God bless!

  3. I admire your honesty. Something I've learned from the Theology of the Body is that part of women's innate "genius" is to care for others much more than herself. However, sin has distorted this into trying to please others no matter what that means she does to her body/heart/soul. I hope and pray that more Christians are transformed by the Theology of the Body so that we can transform a world corrupted by sin.

  4. I like your post. You seem to have tackled the age old question of 'what is true and honest beauty?' as well the meaning of divine love. It reminds me of the 1400's during the Renaissance when Ficino translated Plato's and adapts the platonic vision of love to Christianity- The idea that Church beauty is different than Human beauty. While the church beauty is serene, naked, and asexual, human beauty is sinful, scantly clothed and promiscuous.
    I guess what I am trying to say is that it seems your view moves towards 'original sin' where everyone is sinful and we must pray to reach forgiveness. But is there another way?

    But sometimes I wonder do we see this as too extreme? Maybe we could take an Aristotelean view on things and look for the 'golden mean' where a balance of two extremes is how you reach goodness. Then that would mean if you can balance out your lust with your appreciation for the soul of a woman, you could achieve what God intended rather than be a 100% sinner for having one thought of someones body.

    I don't know the answers really, I just think its interesting too. Keep up the posts!

  5. To Anonymous:
    RE: "Then that would mean if you can balance your lust with appreciation..."

    First of all, thinking about someone's body in itself is not sinful. God created all men and women beautiful. He desires for us to admire the beauty of His creation. Our thoughts become sinful when we move away from admiring God's creation and towards a distorted and selfish thought about another's body. When it becomes about ME and not about what is best for the other, then we cross the line into sin. It is when we no longer respect the other and God's creation but think solely about pleasure or instant gratification that we sin.

    Additionally, we cannot control the thoughts that come into our minds. We can, however, control what we do with those thoughts. If an impure thought--or any dangerous thought that can lead to sin--comes into our mind we can do one of two things. We can either:

    1. Reject the thought immediately, and by doing so, we avoid sin
    2. Allow the sinful thought to take residence in your mind. Continue to think about it, fantasize about it. This is where we cross the line into sin, and run the risk of falling into some greater sin.

    Finally, you cannot balance lust with appreciation for the soul of a woman. It doesn't work that way. Can you appreciate the Mona Lisa and destroy it at the same time? No, of course not. Lust is a selfish desire that seeks one's own pleasure at the expense of others (i.e. destroying another). You cannot both appreciate another and destroy another at the same time.

  6. I agree with Tim. To have a passing thought isn't sinful in an of itself. To linger over it, to fantasize about it, to act on it... that's a different matter.

    St. Francis de Sales said, "There are three steps leading down to sin: the temptation, the delight, the consent. So there are three steps leading up to virtue: the inspiration which is the opposite of temptation; the delight in the inspiration which is the opposite of the delight in the temptation; the consent to the inspiration which is the opposite of the consent to the temptation." The temptation itself isn't sinful. It's when we begin to take delight in the temptation and consent to it that we fall into sin.