By Nicole King
Over at Acculturated, Ashley E. McGuire recently asked women to please, please, for the love of everything holy, stop posting semi-nude pictures of themselves on Facebook and Twitter in the name of “body positivity.”
McGuire’s point was that really, these women didn’t look all that bad. Rather a lot of them still make most of us women feel bad about ourselves. Like the fitness guru who, after giving birth, shows off her little flap of “postpartum belly” in the name of “body positivity.”
McGuire’s point is a good one, because the Internet right now is rife with images of semi-clad women baring it all in the name of making all women feel better about the way we look. No airbrushing, only a few size 0s among them. Somehow, pictures of other women looking like, well, real women and not like Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition women is supposed to help us all develop more sunny feelings about our own paunches, wrinkles, stretch marks, and cellulite.
But all this chatter about bodies has neglected the most important point—what, precisely, is the purpose of our bodies? In a discussion of sexual immorality, Paul famously asks the Corinthians, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”
In church a few weeks ago, my two-and-a-half year old son was having a bit of a rough morning. I can’t remember why—he didn’t finish breakfast, he still had a bit of cough from our winter plague, or something like that. As I held him during the prayer, it occurred to me how incredible it was that my body alone could comfort his little soul. He was draped on me—his head on my shoulder, his little arms around my neck, and his legs dangling down past my hips. In that moment, I thanked God that I was still able to hold him, that he found comfort merely by being pressed against me.
You are not your own. Even your body. Our bodies are meant not for strangers to gawk at on the Internet, and not to inspire jealousy in our girlfriends, and not for wearing the most recent trends well. Rather, our bodies are the instruments whereby we show the Holy Spirit to others.
When my toddler finds comfort by resting his little head on my shoulder, or when my one-year-old laughs gleefully when wrestling with me, or when I am carrying one child while holding the hand of the other—my body is an instrument of the Spirit.
Motherhood of small children is intensely physical, and that is my phase of life right now, but there are many, many other ways in which the body is not for us, but for others. When we give a hug, or watch for just the right opportunity to gently place a hand of encouragement on a grieving sister, or when we clean our homes to welcome guests, or use our hands to prepare a meal—we are truly doing the work of Christ, because we are being Christ in the flesh to others.
Our bodies are for our husbands, our children, our families, our friends, our neighbors. They are for doing things, not merely for being admired. And they do these things quite well. We live in both an intensely physical age, when physical pleasures and passions are idolized above all others, and yet in an age when those pleasures have been so perverted that a teacher cannot hug his own student without fearing a lawsuit. In this milieu, we have grown uncomfortable with our own physicality, because if our bodies aren’t that great at inspiring lust, then they must not be that great, after all.
Let’s celebrate, instead, a different outlook on the body, an outlook which embraces not merely the appearance of our bodies, but rather the purposes for which God created them.
Nicole is a writer and the Managing Editor of The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, the quarterly publication of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society. She is also the wife of Michael and the mother of two little boys and a needy German Shepherd rescue. When she isn’t writing or tending to children, she enjoys running, cooking, drinking coffee, feeling guilty about how said coffee is affecting the nursing baby, and pinning projects which she will probably never get around to.