I’m thin. But I feel fat in a swimsuit. I feel very fleshy and obvious in a swimsuit. I can’t pretend away my curves. I can’t pretend away my stretch marks or my flat chest or the scar where I burned my calf on a scooter.
I can’t hide and that’s hard for me. I feel safest when I hide.
So when we go to the Hot Springs in Banff I walk stiffly into a pool crowded with men, old and young, all lined up and sunburned and the women and little girls in their polka-dot bikinis and I quickly slide into the water to escape.
Trent sees me, slouched in my tankini and he tells me to look up. To see the mountains beyond the Hot Springs and I try. But there are so many eyes. The women silently judging each other and hating themselves and the boys and men rating us.
And I hate that I have to hide to feel safe.
My preschooler-sons are oblivious in their Bob the Builder swim shorts. But I grieve for the day when they join the line of male youth along the edge of the pool. When they see women and girls for what movies, magazines and even the church has made them out to be: objects.
I say church, because there’s a shame-culture amongst Christians which has wounded women and made us afraid of our bodies. It’s a culture that makes us feel guilty if we don’t wear dresses to church or purity rings on our fingers; it’s a culture that rules with fear.
I say church, because at times we fail to treat women and girls as persons—as beloved creations made by a loving Father. Instead, we treat them as icons.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am a big proponent of purity and modesty. But not because they chalk one up for the cause of Christianity. I believe in them because, if expressed in love, they truly treasure the humanity of a person.
I’m not sure what the answer is. I know the church is just trying to inspire righteousness in its young people, to help them shine like stars in a dark world, but those stars just want to fade because there’s little kindness in it all.
And I think this boxed-in feeling has made some of us women angry. It’s made me angry. Ever since I was a nine-year-old girl sitting in my leotard and dress listening to my Dad’s sermons on the hard pew, I’ve been angry. Because I felt like an image in the church, a representation of Christianity, not a human, and I rebelled against that.
I fought, for years against my feminine curves, starving the heck out of them so I’d become invisible, too angry to hear the wooing of the Spirit. A Spirit that loves us in spite of our flaws, that loves us enough to long for us to embrace our full potential as women.
The Bible talks a lot more about love than it does about fear and I think if we were to approach modesty and purity with love for our bodies instead of fear of religion; if we were to treat our skin with reverence and our clothing as symbols of respect for that skin, if we were to believe that we were divine instruments rather than sexual beings, maybe we wouldn’t slouch so much in the pool.
Modesty is a despised word mostly because we are hurting. We are hurting because we don’t feel seen. We want to be set free.
I wonder how the church’s more limited view of modesty and purity is hurting our perspective of God’s deep love for us, too,
and I wonder if by not addressing the many other facets of relationships we’re limiting our communication with our Father?
Instead of focusing so much on sex and sexuality, let’s focus on Christ as lover of our soul. Let’s focus on Communion, about how it’s Christ taking the cup of redemption at Passover and then suddenly turning it into a traditional Jewish wedding proposal, offering this cup that we could choose or not choose and saying it’s not only wine but that it’s His blood and that He loves us.
What if, instead of telling women that they should dress a certain way, the church asked them to bring honesty, nurture and a servant’s heart into all relationships, asked them to see the hugeness of Christ’s love and bring it into every part of life?
What if the church saw women as humans, not objects? Treated them as treasured and irreplaceable? What if it helped them to understand the feminine characteristics of God and how they embody those and how their role as women is more than enough, because it is valuable, in and of itself?
Perhaps then much of the anger and shame would defuse. Perhaps then we would no longer need to hide because we’d feel seen–not just for our bodies, but for our minds, souls and hearts.