I once saw a protest in which a group of women were expressing their need to free themselves of the oppressive nature of clothing. I may have gotten that premise wrong and, in fact, I don’t really know what they were protesting, but something that one of the young ladies said really stood out to me. When one of them was asked why they were doing their protest topless, one of them responded, “It’s just body parts. It’s nothing to get worked up about.”
Hearing someone say that about her own body was astonishing to me because I had heard something like it used before but not to promote a kind of sexual “liberation.” I had seen similar “explanations” used in genocidal propaganda in a history museum in Austria from the lead up to the holocaust. That exact kind of thinking can be used to strip a human being of their dignity and inherent rights by reducing them to a collection of parts. If all we are is merely the sum of our parts, then why should we be treated any differently than any other collection of parts . . . like a computer, or a car, or a sofa bed?
In reality, what she was describing wasn’t “just” a body—it was herself. She is a body and that body is a precious gift to the world; filled with purpose, meaning, potential, and the capacity for impact upon others. That’s the first thing that stands out about that kind of thinking. It’s a very narrow and simplistic view of the human person and if applied universally, it begins to reveal some terrible implications.
But it does raise an important question: If our bodies are so precious and wonderful, as Christianity affirms, why do we cover them up? Why don’t we share them with the whole world, all the time? To me, this is a question of intimacy and not just physical intimacy.
I’m talking about the kinds of profound relationships we have with only a select few people in our lives, whether they be family members, close friends, or significant others. One of the things that makes these relationships so special is that we only share certain things within them because of the unique level of closeness they offer. We can tell them about our fears, our dreams, or our secrets and be confident that they will honour the trust we’ve placed in them. But, if we went around sharing those aspects of ourselves with everyone we knew and even strangers, we would be diminishing our very special relationships because it could no longer be said that they were uniquely intimate. If you have nothing uniquely personal to share with those special relationships, because you shared those parts of yourself with everyone else, then what about those relationships can be said to be special or intimate?
You could draw some principles here from the law of supply and demand. If there’s an abundance of supply, often the value of a commodity drops. For example, gold is valuable because it’s rare, but if someone discovered a way to synthesize it and started mass producing it, its value would drop significantly. I think this can be applied to intimacy.
When we seek out physical intimacy, we should show an appreciation for the nature of intimacy as a rare commodity that should only be given in truly committed and authentically intimate relationships. If we’re giving that intimacy away through trivial physical encounters or by wearing revealing clothing, then we’re not gaining more intimacy. Rather, we’re losing the ability to have a unique and exclusively intimate relationship with someone.
Aspects of your body and your personal life are precious for the very same reason that intimate relationships are precious. If you try to have too many forms of intimacy you risk reducing its value as well as your capacity to have future intimate relationships. The more selective you are with your ability to offer intimacy, the more intimacy you will experience.
Brian is passionate about the Church’s ability to communicate effectively in the modern world. From his role as the Creative Director of Holds Worth Design, a Graphic Design and Web Design studio in Edmonton, Canada, he promotes the use of strategic communication and effective branding and packaging of timeless truths through modern means. Learn more about his work on Facebook and Twitter.