Casually flipping through the store ads in a newspaper this summer, one in particular caught my eye. Next to the department store’s logo, in bright, bold letters, were the words: “Everything is on Sale!” And, next to these words, were three scantily clad women posing to display as much skin as possible. The “sale” may have just been on dishes, clothes, and utilities, but what was I being told? “Everything is on sale—just look at the bodies of these women!” A few weeks later, I saw a man walking down the street, who was wearing a t-shirt that had a huge “For Sale” tag printed on it. What did the tag also say? “Make Offer.” Are we just objects for sale and consumption by others? And do we view others like that?
When I think about “consumerism of the body,” prostitution comes to mind. I typically think, Well, I’m not involved in that, so I don’t ever hold a consumer attitude towards others, right? Unfortunately, I—and I’m guessing others—fall into a consumer attitude. How many times have I shied away from people because they were unattractive or unpopular, and instead exclusively talk with the “popular” crowd? How often have people bought into the media’s lies that only the “hot guy” or “sexy girl” finds intimacy in a relationship? And you only need to walk down the Barbie aisle to see how young girls are being taught that sex appeal is a key element in life.
In the midst of our consumer culture, where can we look?
In Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyła discusses “sexual values,” the impressions made by people of the other sex, particularly by their “womanliness or manliness.” While important, he explains that these values can’t take precedence over the person, a unique individual with immense dignity and worth.
Wojytła states that choosing sexual values over the person is “clearly utilitarian in character, and not on the level of love for a person. The sexual values which a man finds in a woman, or a woman in a man, must certainly help to determine the choice, but the person making it must in doing so be fully aware that what he or she is choosing is a person.”
This can be a challenge, and I know people argue that, “we’re only human, how can we not put sexual values first?” Precisely because we’re human is why we can choose to prioritize a person over his or her sexual values alone. This isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world, but chastity isn’t for wimps, either. We need to keep trying, and eventually we’ll make it! Here are some ways that I have tried to overcome a “consumer attitude” in my own life:
Be present to others. Not just talking with whoever’s attractive or really nice, but being fully present and encountering each person you come into contact with. Every single person is a great gift (even when he or she may not seem like it) and needs to be treated as such!
Base your relationships on more than the physical stuff. When describing the primary place of values and prayer in a relationship, I once heard a retreat speaker say, “You only have as much between you as you have above you.” Instead of focusing merely on the physical aspect of a relationship, emphasize common values and goals. This will help you to focus on who the other person actually is—and I’m willing to bet that you will become better friends in the process. Step out of the dark TV room, and find some creative dates, where you both can communicate and work together!
Community Service. Talking with and serving people in less-than-stellar conditions takes your mind away from the externals and helps you to see each person’s deep value.
Have multiple friends of the opposite sex. It’s a great way to naturally interact with people, choosing to love them for themselves, not just for their “sexual values.”
Anne Marie Miller studies Theology and English at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She has a passion for the Catholic Faith, chastity, and St. Francis of Assisi, and frolicking around barefoot. In August 2013, she was blessed to marry her incredible husband, and the two of them enjoy the epic adventures of married college life. When she’s not doing homework, housework, cooking, or playing chess, AnneMarie reflects on her random observations on her blog, Sacrifice of Love. (http://marianninja.blogspot.com)