The thing about being naked…

Recently I’ve read some really great thoughts about purity culture (here, here, and here especially). Here’s my two cents about purity culture and being naked:

I grew up drowning in purity culture. The kind where at the beginning of summer camp the girls would get an extra “talk” without the boys present on how to dress and not tempt them. I heard that I had to protect my “brother’s” eyes, that I should cover up my boobs and never show off my butt. I got the message that my body was powerful, dangerous, and if I showed it off – bad. 

Now, to a perfectionistic young girl with an over-active conscious, these messages wreaked havoc on my view of my body. I took them WAY too seriously. And too far. I remember shopping for an outfit for a wedding and refusing to wear a sleeveless shirt. Not a tank top, spagetti strap, strapless, halter top – but a sleeveless shirt. Whenever I went swimming I wore a one-piece AND a cover up over it. I was constantly worried about showing off. I hated bras because they meant that my boobs were getting bigger.

It didn’t take long before I was completely uncomfortable with my body. My church didn’t help this message. They applauded all my efforts at being the most modest person in the entire world. They older women would tell me how good I was, especially compared to the other youth group girls, who sometimes wore low cut shirts and tight-fitting clothing. And I judged them right along with everyone else in the purity world.

Now, you may be thinking – sure, everyone does stupid, somewhat extreme things in junior high and high school. Well, my extremity didn’t stop there – it just changed a little. In college, now ok with tank tops, I still didn’t like my body. I heard about freshman floors, where the girls would run around naked together, or do something I thought sounded like the most appalling and embarrassing thing I could think of – communal naked body painting. Like, where you use your naked body to paint…I was horrified.

I didn’t want people to see me naked. I was supposed to save that for my husband, right? But the thing is, I wasn’t even comfortable being naked when it was just me. I would cover up as soon as possible. I didn’t like how my body looked, and seeing myself naked made me feel ashamed. After all those years swimming around in purity culture, I was a believer. Because I was a woman, my body was something to be ashamed of. 

That’s not an easy message to unlearn. After college I lived by myself for a year, and I did something drastic. I ran around my house naked. I tried to embrace myself and my body, and lose the shame and trailing messages of danger and power and badness.

Even after several years of full-fledged feminism, I still catch myself slipping back into purity-mode. I wonder if I’m showing off to much. I feel ashamed for being a woman. I judge other women for showing some cleavage. I look back at those youth group girls in admiration. In a lot of ways, they loved their bodies more than I loved mine. They were comfortable with their womanly humanity.

I still have so much to unlearn. And so much relearning too.

I’m guessing that I’m not alone in this. Maybe we should start a purity recovery group: PAA (Purity Addicts Anonymous). Then we can face the reality of churches teaching us shit about our bodies together.

What about you? How have you experienced purity culture? Ready to join PAA?

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6 thoughts on “The thing about being naked…

  1. As much as I appreciate this article, the overseers in my head are telling me it’s not even appropriate to talk about this subject, especially in mixed company. *sigh*

  2. I probably could have written this post. I remember judging some girls in college about what they were wearing and getting these blank stares from my friends–that was probably my first inkling that it was MY viewpoint that needed adjusting. I still worry about my cleavage, too (and a lot of the rest of my body), but I actually love walking around my house naked.

  3. I replied to you on my blog, but here I’ll add this: I have HUGE boobs. And I’m constantly worried about what “messages” I’m sending…because of my paternal grandmother’s genes flowing through me. I wear sweaters and scarves all the time, not because I love them (which I do!) or because they are cute and in style (which they are!), but because they minimize, cover, and hide. Because they’re modest. Because they desexualize an apparently temptatious bombshell rack. Funny, having these breasts doesn’t make me feel like a sexy temptress. It makes me feel self-conscious and insecure. And they give me back pain…reminding me of the literal and figurative burden they have become to me. What a travesty.

    PS Your idea for PAA is fantastic!

  4. I am right there with you, sister. And having to tell myself constantly that my body is to be loved and celebrated. (Heck, I was just doing this an hour ago in yoga.) Interesting that purity culture also sends girls and women the message that their bodies are to be reviled–by everyone except the one-day husband, that is. Thanks for writing this!

  5. I would join PAA! Seriously, though, that should be a thing. In my case, purity culture and some of the ideas around it didn’t just cause me to cover every bit of my body because of shame, or because I felt hideous until somewhat into college, but I also felt like I got a strong message of “The flesh is weak, and therefore BAD!” Especially after a short-term mission trip I was on when I was 12, where in addition to the usual talk about “we can’t make our Christian brothers stumble, stop showing your boobs this instant!” there was an attitude of needed to push you body to its physical limits, and if you were too tired after getting up at 6 and walking around the city for hours and not being fed enough that you couldn’t stay awak to read your Bible, then you needed to just pray away the sin/ push yourself harder because your body is somehow inherently limited or sinful.

    The idea of your physical body being bad is actually pretty gnostic, (which I kind of want to accuse someone of the next time they are talking about a woman’s body causing men to stumble) and that kind of attitude is normally considered a heresy, yet sickness or even plain being tired still makes me feel lazy and sinful. Which is rather terrible given that I have 3 chronic conditions/diseases now.

    So learning to live with a body that doesn’t work as well as I want it to has been a not very fun journey, but I am finally getting to a point where I can be greatful for what I have, and not feel like I am a failure for being too tired or in too much pain to do everything that I want to some days.

    Slightly more rambly then I had intended, but I really liked and identified with this post. It is always rather sobering to see how the lessons I was taught (either lectured about or seen lived out) more than a decade ago still affect what I wear or how I act even now.

  6. I identify with this so much! It wasn’t until I met my husband that I finally started to like my body (just a little bit ;-). Even after being married for 5 years and 2 kids later, I still have a hard time seeing myself through my husbands adoring eyes. It was so ingrained in me that I needed to cover up – all the way up. There was about a year or so when I was 14 or 15, that I “rebelled” and wore a sleeveless dress that went above my knees. I think it really boils down to motivation. Do we wear certain clothes to get attention (good or bad)? Because we like the style? Because its our partner’s favorite outfit? Our favorite outfit? We can’t control what goes on in another person’s mind, so I realized that I can dress for myself – not anyone else (well sometimes for the hubby now). I have a little girl, and while I don’t want her to grow up thinking its ok to dress like a hooker, I want her to have a love for the body that God gave her that I never had, and am still learning. Its funny how we as women get so many different negative messages from not only the media and pop culture, but the church too! Modestly is more an attitude than the clothes that are on our body.

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