How often do we hear these words and find solace? And how many times do we hear these words, roll our eyes, and say “sure” as we stare down at all our bodily imperfections?
“God, if humans are the peak of creations, how come my body is riddled with flaws?”
Thanks to modern fashion, ads, pornography, the entertainment world, hook-up culture, and the list goes on and on, we have become acutely aware of our bodily imperfections. We could credit the abundance of processed food and unhealthy lifestyles for a lot of these flaws, but honestly, most every-body has some sort of imperfection.
This can be frustrating, since, as women, we want to bring beauty into the world; we want to be delighted in. Every successful marketing ploy knows this. Yes, successful marketing understands that women want to reveal beauty, and shamelessly take advantage of this desire. Consider how many companies advertise all kinds of “potions” that will make women even more beautiful– ridding them of nasty specks, wrinkles, dimples, and what have you.
Even if you waltzed through life gracefully unaware of these matters, once the beauty ads and hyper-sexualized expectations affront you, it’s hard not to wonder: am I even enough?
This intense bodily focus is heinous. It creates a separated notion of the human person — forgetting the soul, and finding all worth and importance in the carnal. The reality that our body will one day return to dust poses a problem, since eternal youthfulness wears the crown. The focus of maintaining a healthy body veers into creating a sexual body. A body worth ogling over — one that will defy death.
The Wounded Woman
As Catholic thinker Alice von Hildebrand wrote, “When the soul is neglected, the body will never recover.”
When we separate the body from the soul, and place our entire focus on the carnal, we create a chasm of pain and brokenness within our hearts. We can’t reconcile growing old, or make sense of suffering. Our value is now embedded in the shallow. The sacredness and mystery of women is eradicated, leaving women bereft of identity and constantly trying to find it in something that is going to fade away: physical beauty.
It’s important to understand that this is not a new issue, but one that has been brewing for quite some time, and a pivotal turning point occurred back in the late 60s.
That is when the Sexual Revolution and the Woman’s Movement —two profoundly separate movements— united over the issue of abortion and contraception. A quick summery can be stated as such: the Sexual Revolution wanted women to be “liberated,” to sleep around with whomever, wherever. No individual off limits— including the married. Whereas, the Women’s Movement worked tirelessly to have women treated as equals — recognized and valued in the work world.
Both of these goals faced the same problem: babies. Pregnancy and motherhood are huge obstacles if you are seeking sexual license or a successful career. The possibility of having a baby was simply too great an interference. Therefore, women had to be able to prevent or terminate pregnancies, giving them the ability to do as they pleased.
Women had to be emancipated from their feminine role: motherhood.
Thus their bodies were “liberated” from motherhood, so be it hooking up or climbing up the ladder of success, women could easily put off having children, not have children, or terminate pregnancies if they “accidentally” got pregnant.
But anytime we tamper with God’s law, we can expect consequences.
Introducing birth control meant cheapening sex and also cheapening women. When you take the procreative end out of the sexual union, suddenly, this huge, massive, mind-blowing possibility —the conception of new life— is entirely removed. What makes that union a colossal act is suddenly eliminated.
The sacred element of sex is completely eradicated: it becomes disposable. Sex no longer has the potency for fruitfulness; instead, it’s entirely vapid. Rooted in selfish desires. There’s no giving and receiving love — a sperm fecundating an egg— there is only taking.
Once new life is obliterated from the picture, the weight and responsibility of sex is also removed. “I can have sex with whomever and no one ever has to know about.” There’s no consequence.
“I took what I wanted and left, responsibility free.”
When parents say the old “Oh, Mommy and Daddy loved each other so much they had a baby,” they’re not lying. That love is so good that it is fruitful; it becomes touched by the Divine and a new soul is brought into the world. That is how transforming love is. In the complete giving of love, there is such a profound secret and mystery at play: the possibility of new life. Love doesn’t diminish, love grows. It is so much more than simply the physical. It’s tied up with the eternal. It’s governed by the Divine.
But when we remove that, we push God out. Sex falls from grace, like an angel falling from Heaven. It loses its mystery and sacredness and morphs into something cheap.
And, tragically, so do women.
Birth control and abortion deny the role of the woman— the maternal, the calling that shrouds life in mystery, reverence, and beauty. Inevitably, we reduce women ontologically because we deny their true end and vocation. Womanhood loses its meaning. Is it any wonder that “What is a Woman” is such a hot question today?
A woman’s body is no longer shrouded in mystery, but rather it’s exploited and “free” for viewing. Just scroll through Tik Tok or Instagram.
Paul VI states in Humanae Vitae:
“Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
Sexual partners become as replaceable as coffee pots or lightbulbs. Tired of the percolator? Try a Keurig; it’s much sleeker.
Without the Divine, we open up an insatiable hunger that will only deepen with our vain attempts to satisfy it.
Imagine the psychological damage this produces on a generation. Is it any wonder that women obsess over their bodily appearance? There’s an overwhelming need to be the apex— to be forever young. The ever glorious, golden French Press that no will ever want to replace. As a result, objectification manipulates women into believing that marketing their bodies — from bikini photos, gyrating videos, and all kinds of sensual visuals — is the best way to secure rank and affirm their worth.
We’ve separated the body from the soul because instead of seeing the beautiful unity and wholeness of the person, individuals are reduced to parts: decaying body parts.
A Mental and Emotional Toll
For many women, the obsessive need to look perfect is taxing— mentally and emotionally. It wreaks havoc on their self-esteem.
Understandably, many women go through “scale-fasts,” hiding away their scales, simply to help restore some form of mental equilibrium.
Yes, the obsessive bodily focus that imbues society is toxic. It’s a vapid shrine to the “self,” bathed in narcissism and abuse. Yet, it is hard to be immune to such a rampant charge, especially because, as women, it distorts our understanding and desire for the beautiful.
More and more young women flock to botox as a response.
Whereas celebrities are praised for their “courage” when they reveal their unphotoshopped images.
It seems that women are hungering for a fountain of youth, a way to always be physically beautiful and when the realization that this quest is damning hits, a new crusade emerges: dub everything and every flaw gorgeous.
This is where body-positivity enters the scene. The crusade to embrace the wrinkles and lines and what have you.
Yes. It is necessary that we do away with the idea of always trying to look sixteen. There is nothing fulsome about aging. If we truly honored human life, we’d see the beauty of entering into our wiser years, and how those lines illustrate the laughter and trials we’ve been privileged to experience. Perhaps, in accepting our wiser years, we’d do away with disgust and replace it with reverence. Life, from conception to death, is a gift.
Yes, we need people to encourage less body-obsession and instead a deeper appreciation of the human person, body and soul.
So, is the Body Positivity Movement the Answer?
Just as the repetitive cry of “you’re beautiful” seems to fall short, this movement doesn’t quite seem to cut it.
Alas, Body Positivity is merely a different hue to the same toxic body worshiping cult.
Body positivity reals against the idea that your value should be based on your overall all bodily sexiness. Yet, it cannot seem to discover where that value should come from. So, instead, body positivity asserts that all bodies, all imperfections, all unhealthy habits are also “sexy.” It goes so far as to arrogantly celebrate the ugly.
Anyone questioning this belief only has to look into pop-body-positivity-icon Lizzo, who proudly touts how beautiful and “alluring” her overweight body is by sharing numerous nude and promiscuous images all over her social media. It seems that we still place all value on physical appeal. The only difference is that in order to ensure no one is offended, one must claim that all imperfections are beautiful.
This is a lie and no antidote.
Neglecting the bodies God gave us is not beautiful, just as exploiting our bodies is not beautiful. Both things are abusive and a blatant disregard for the dignity of God’s creation.
And both outlooks fail to grasp that man is more than a carnal being.
Restore the Maternal: A Woman’s Call to Give Up Her Body
Somewhere, amidst this madness, we’ve forgotten that as women, part of our vocation is to give up our bodies, which we can only fully grasp if we see more than just the temporal.
We see this calling most notably in the role of a mother, who gives her body up as a home and place of nourishment for her child.
In doing so, she undergoes physical changes that include the pain and suffering of dying to self in a very physical way.
The body she once knew and was familiar with starts to disappear. Her breasts change, hips widen, and her waist might take a hiatus; the list goes on and on. The reflection of her body in the mirror is almost foreign.
“Who is this?”
Yet, this process of giving up the body is also a woman’s glory. Her journey into physical motherhood.
It takes a woman longer than six weeks to actually recover from birth. Because in giving birth, her body undergoes trauma.
Christ calls us to pick up our cross and carry it, just as He did. That cross He walked to Calvary and gave up His life so that we could find eternal life in Him. He was bloodied, broken, and He died.
Women are also called to give up their bodies through motherhood, so that new life can enter into the world. This is why bodies bleed every month through our fertile years. Likewise, when we give birth, we bleed. Our bodies undergo real suffering and experience a “little death” for the sake of our children entering the world.
The wounds Christ suffered on the cross are not beautiful. There is nothing aesthetically pleasing about the sight of a bloodied crucifix and the image of our mangled King. It’s gruesome. But the act, the life-giving act, the selfless love of the Cross is beautiful.
Likewise, stretch marks, bodily wounds, distortions that women may undergo as a result of pregnancy and birth are not necessarily beautiful. They are aesthetically ugly. The body looks broken and bruised and that’s because the body underwent a “little death.”
But the act of giving up the body as a shelter for another, as a sustaining force, is beautiful. So, on one hand, we could say the marks are a beautiful imprint of one of the most powerful, and beautiful acts known to mankind.
Suffering, ugliness, and death all come into the picture post-fall as a punishment for sin. Our bodily imperfections and pains from childbirth are a result of sin. They are meant to be ugly; they’re scars and wounds and reminders of the physical pain and trauma of birth. The healing takes times, and it’s crucial we honor the process because in doing so we honor our femininity— body + soul.
Beauty and Scars
What women need to embrace is that, even when we take care of ourselves, our bodies will age and show signs of wear.
Christ still had His scars after He rose from the dead. We can take comfort in this, and instead of viewing our markings as either discouraging mars or demanding our social media followers dub our imperfections beautiful, we can acknowledge the necessity and importance of those wounds.
The mother sees the changes she underwent to give life.
The aging woman sees the laughter she has shared and the trails she has withstood in each line that forms on her.
The internal shines forth through the external.
In and of themselves, as isolated marks, our imperfections or signs of aging are not gorgeous. But when we see the full picture, there is beauty to reveal.
Not Everything is Beautiful
When we want to christen everything in life “beautiful,” we subsequently choose to overlook the ugly, difficult elements.
We panic when suffering and aging enter the scene. We are shackled to the superficial.
The holy road of womanhood, that includes motherhood, growing old, and dying to self, seems problematic rather than good.
Beauty is not solely an affair of the body; true beauty includes the soul. It sees the full picture, the one that extends past the tangible.
The moments that call us to suffer, to mortify ourselves, and walk towards Calvary are to be embraced not resented. This is challenging. We, as women, need to be able to encounter ugliness. Otherwise, we will never carry our cross through and see the glistening radiance of renewal and redemption.
We need to suffer through. We need to endure Good Friday; only then, will we wake up to Easter Sunday.
Only then will we supersede fleeting glamor and reveal lasting Beauty.