Smokin’ Hot Conversations: Melinda Cadwallader on Getting Naked

All summer long, I’ll be running a series of guest posts here on the blog called “Smokin’ Hot Conversations.” These will be posts about gender, relationships, power, and the church, meant to move us to deeper reflection and conversation about the often distracting or harmful messages in Christian culture. Earlier this week I asked a question about whether modesty can be redeemed, and I loved Melinda Cadwallader’s answer. So she joins us this week to expand on her view of redeeming modesty, especially in light of being a parent. Melinda is a blogger and co-leads a ministry with her husband. Learn more about her here.

And if you’d like to contribute to this series, drop me a line.

Redeeming modesty, you say? Let’s get naked.

Melinda Cadwallader

Let’s get naked.

Go ahead, take it all off. Strip down to the bare natural. It’s time to get raw and real about our bodies.

As your clothes hit the floor, let everything else fall with it, every single negative word ever spoken to you about your body – too tall; too short; too fat; too thin; too fit; too flabby; too beautiful; too ugly; too curvy; too gangly; too busty; too flat. Every lie that has veiled your eyes, heart and thoughts. Every hurt, offense, harassment, or ridicule directed at your physical being. LET. IT. GO.

Now look at yourself in a full length mirror and take it all in. What is your first response? I hear some giggling and snickering, but I also hear a sigh signaling a tear revealing grief. It is in this moment of complete shedding that we are able to remove all the garbage of what we believe to be true about our physical bodies, and begin to build a foundation of what God says about us, his precious creation.

I have wrestled with issues of modesty my entire life. At a very young age, I was cornered on the playground by older girls at my Christian school. They demanded I show them my bra because they were convinced I was stuffing it (enter: jealousy, insecurity, and intimidation). Then there was the infamous one-piece bathing suit rule in middle school, followed by the no-strapless-dress rule at senior prom. Interestingly, with the latter there was an exception clause for skinny girls because, supposedly, they didn’t have anything to potentially expose thereby drawing too much attention. I mean, that’s what it all really came down to in our Christian culture bubble – modesty equals the measures we take to ensure that no sign of skin, curve, or form becomes a potential snag for those who are probably already steeped in their own sense of self-loathing.

After so many years wasted whining about wearing bras, along with the drama of finding jeans that actually fit my curvy shape, and the hassle of putting on more clothes to please others when the weather is suggesting a more comfortable ensemble, I gave up on this loaded, ridiculous idea of modesty.

Done.

It was not until I stepped into the full knowledge and understanding of what my body is – its magnificent design, the power and life that I am able to give because of its created form – that I began to feel modesty could be redeemed. Really, it was the reality of being a mom. It was the call to lead my daughters into a healthy picture of modesty.

So, I’m committed to pursuing a new vision of modesty. If health is defined as a condition of optimal well-being, then modesty lies in the health of those who hold it. Healthy modesty says, Your body is created in the image of God, every organ, every nerve, every vessel – every detail is designed for great purpose. Healthy modesty says, Your body is created to move, to give life, to express love, and function at its greatest capacity. Healthy modesty does not inflict shame or guilt, but allows grace and authority to stand tall.

When I was the director of cosmetology at a beauty institute, the general age range of our students was 18-25, and it was mainly women. One of our tasks was to instill a sense of professionalism, which would almost always play out in how our students presented themselves to their guests. We never said, “This is the way to dress”; we simply said, “This is who you are: you are capable, you are educated, and you are a professional.” The outcome of speaking life in this way was much more than just a positive picture of self-respect – it was a posture of worth, value, and greater purpose.

My breasts, being larger than my classmates, were always an area of shame for me. They bounced when I ran, so I stopped running. They were heavy, so the bras got larger and uglier. Yay. Tank tops had to be a certain strap width to hide the hideous mom-bra. And then the only body parts that did get complimented or praised were my “strong calves.” Double Yay. Every young girl’s dream is to have her “big calves” complimented frequently. Still, my calves became something that I was proud of. Capris, shorts and skirts suited me well and kept the compliments coming, especially from the popular guys.

After my first child, I watched my body contort back to a “not-even-close-to-the-same-kind-of” shape, which brought a sad longing for the beautiful body I used to have. Nursing in public was embarrassing, inconvenient, and absolutely unwelcome by most. But before giving birth to my third child, I took a class on natural childbirth. I became educated about the strength, power, wonder, and awe that my whole body contains. I finally understood the full and complete process of birth and how our bodies are designed for this incredible journey of bringing life into the world, as well as sustaining that life. Funny, how a “new age” midwife who doesn’t fit the Christian mold was able to express a deeper understanding of the power and beauty the human body possesses than anything I’d ever heard in my church culture. My posture and perspective completely shifted. (Go ahead and cue REM’s Losing My Religion.)

So here’s how it is now. My 14 year old daughter is told she is beautiful, daily, by both me and her father. We take the initiative to point out all of her lovely features as equally as we do her beautiful character. It is intentional. My 5 year old daughter continually asks if she looks beautiful in her all her fancy dress-ups, and we always answer, “Absolutely stunning!” With her as well, we complement those compliments with ideas of beauty being found in the words we use, the love we show, and the integrity we hold. It is intentional.

The most powerful way that we as followers of Jesus can reclaim a spirit of modesty is to reclaim our own healthy view of our bodies. The all-too-common lowly sinner mentality casts a shadow of shame upon our bodies as we cling to the remembrance of past failures or simply hurtful cultural messages. The misconception of humility keeps us thinking less of ourselves and our bodies, when true humility is deep security in ourselves so that we can focus on fully loving and valuing others.

My daughters are being raised to stand in authority as daughters of a King. This is a heightened sense of worth and incredible value that is greater than anything this world can ever offer. Their posture is erect with a confident faith. There is a strong perception that the power of God, the very power that raised Christ from the dead, is living inside them. Their presence and influence in this world is powerful and limitless. If this was the standard set for all children, would we even have to load on these rule-based, shame-filled weights of modesty and decency at all?

I grew up with all girls and my first two children were girls. When I had my son I was to the moon about it. Full disclosure: I became enamored with his penis. No really, in total seriousness and respect toward the human body, I had simply never seen a baby boy naked, nor watched a little boy grow up; it was all a mystery to me! And all those years of “covering up for the Lord” left me kind of intrigued by this little man. He is 2 ½ now, and I’ll tell you what, I have so much more respect for the male species now that I understand their bodies and how they were created. If this last paragraph makes you uncomfortable, I apologize – but don’t you see? That’s just it! We are unable to celebrate the human body without offending someone who doesn’t find it worthy of celebrating!

How about this: instead of projecting a cloud of doom over your daughter when she menstruates for the first time, consider it an opportunity to explain why her body does this, what it really means, and celebrate that rite of passage! Instead of lopping off the foreskin because that’s what your parents did and all your friends do, consider the purpose of the decision, and then stand on it. Instead of fighting over issues of modesty with rules and regulations and measurements, consider speaking about the dignity and worth that our bodies possess, and the full authority we have to walk in it.

It’s called living intentionally. Living with a conscious standard for yourself and your family will bear healthy fruit. And that health will become visible in all kinds of ways – through clothing, media, language, vocation, relationships, marriage, parenting, faith, etc. And that health might even earn the moniker of modesty in some of its manifestations. And that’s good. That’s modesty redeemed, because it’s rooted in the body’s inherent beauty, not shame.

Really, this kind of modesty is a standard born out of seeing how God values us, and responding by valuing ourselves.

And it’s never a standard we try to impose upon others.

In the words of Rachel Held Evans from her brilliant post this week:

Our bodies are not something to be overcome; they are not dirty or shameful or inherently tempting. They are a beautiful part of what it means to be created in the image of God. These are the bodies that allow us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, the bodies that feel sun on our skin and sand between our toes, the bodies that nurse babies and cry with friends, the bodies that emerge from the waters of baptism and feast on the bread of communion. They are beautiful, and they are good.

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter was released in 2012.

  • http://www.AmyThedinga.com/ Amy Thedinga

    Good stuff. Especially the part about telling people “who they are” instead of “what to wear”. The modesty issue takes care of itself when identity is settled. And humility … As CS Lewis said – humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. Lets get our attention off the rules and regulations and onto shining the light of Christ as sons and daughters of the King.

    • MelindaCadwallader

      Amy Thedinga Yes.  Royalty mindset changes posture and behavior. Thanks, Amy.

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  • alyssabaconliu

    “Instead of fighting over issues of modesty with rules and regulations and measurements, consider speaking about the dignity and worth that our bodies possess, and the full authority we have to walk in it.” <— Yes, yes and a THOUSAND times yes. Well done.

    • MelindaCadwallader

      Thank you, sister!

  • uponacloud

    The part about your son is so cute. I thought I had to say that because you thought someone would be offended.

    • MelindaCadwallader

      Haha, thanks, I have shared this with a few moms where the response has occasionally been a bit wide eyed…just love every morsel of him.

  • GavinJohnston

    Glorifying our bodies is a very narrow path to tread indeed and thank you for being bold enough to go down that path!  We must realize that what we are glorifying about them often, even in this article above, is very culturally determined and hence extremely relative and worldly.  Almost everything about the Christian faith is against relativity and worldliness.  I’m a former athlete and avid weightlifter and I’ve spent countless hours in from of mirrors in gyms perfecting my body.  Over the last few years, as I’ve established a mystical connection with God, I’ve had to deeply question what my desires for my body should now be.  As I’ve mostly let go the desire and need for bulging biceps to feel good about myself, I can see that my attachment to my body is way down the scale of how I can connect to God.  I now ask myself, as I try to maintain a reasonable amount of muscle tone, how can my physique glorify God?  How can it help me in my mission to help others find faith?  I receive few answers other than I’m tired of seeing overweight pastors everywhere so at least for others to see that a young and physically healthy person loves God too might be a good testament to the Cause.  So in the end, I think the actual individual aspects of our bodies is very un-important and completely relative to the culture.  American women are growing up in a culture based on lust and there is no way to get around that.  American women have been objectified to terrible degrees.  So as much as we may try to liberate ourselves from that awful reality, we are still walking in a Satanic culture of lust.  Very few people have been blessed with enough Christ-likeness to shed those superficialities that ravage our world and culture.  So on the one side, our connection with Christ can beautifully rid us of the shame, but on the other side, it might not mean that we then choose to glory in our new found liberated sense of embracing our physicality.  None of the Christian Saints glory in any of the superficial qualities of their bodies and indeed, much of their life was spent killing the flesh.  I feel like underneath the surface of young, hip, and “attractive” Christian culture is this desire to get “Tantric” about it all and spiritualize sex, drink, and bodily beauty.  That is a very, very narrow path and in Christ, it might not even be a path, but a sidetrack.  Just as Jesus told the rich that they have already received their reward while living and hence risk a greater heaven, physical beauty is its own kind of wealth that can easily distract us from deeper spiritual expression.  Women have carried the faith from the beginning and men have a lot of catching up to do.  Our culture is putting men into extremely immature states and spiritual regression and that immaturity is always trying to drag women down with them.  I pray for women to just be incredible temples to God where the shape of their body is just incidental to the Holy Spirit that resides within.  I’m sure the angels of love and beauty don’t come to us in tight fitting tank tops with lots of cleavage, there is an other worldly beauty that surpasses all physical expression.  Maybe that should be our goal?

  • MelindaCadwallader

    “So on the one side, our connection with Christ can beautifully rid us of the shame, but on the other side, it might not mean that we then choose to glory in our new found liberated sense of embracing our physicality”GavinJohnston . yes, the first step is to rid ourselves of the shame, and THAT is the grace of God. But to move forward in that is to recognize the immense design of the function of our bodies, not just what our eyes see, but the inner workings of our physical form. Our culture today is not healthy; obesity, heart disease, cancer and innumerable auto immune diseases plague our nation, while the medical culture is diagnosing our symptoms with really, just another symptom.  We are convinced our bodies are broken and we claim dependency on pills, potions and lotions to keep us healthy.  We choose not to grasp the complete understanding that our Creator has designed our bodies to heal themselves, function normally and move freely. When we move past the shame, and claim the power we possess, in health related living, we start to see amazing changes, and when we go a step further we start to take responsibility and accountablity for the health of our bodies.  I bring a sacrifice of praise to the Lord by taking care of my body, understanding how to regulates itself, eating responsibly and living intentionally; the result of that is weight loss and health.  Sure, you can get caught up on the path of objectifying your body as the thing to be celebrated, but true health will always bring the glory to God. There is opportunity to witness to an unhealthy culture, as a living example of Gods grace, Gods help with self-discipline and  respect to our Creator by learning how to take care of his creation. Health is not a physical portrait of perfection, but a condition of optimal well-being. I am suggesting we start with the culture we DO have control over, and that is in our own home.

    • GavinJohnston

      MelindaCadwallader GavinJohnston Beautiful!  The culmination of your words with “in our own home” is so true.  Our homes and the bodies that we protect in them are like our modern Garden Sanctuaries that Adam and Eve first possessed un-shamefully.  As Jesus said “do we not know that our bodies are the temples of God?”  The Apostle Paul so passionately speaks to the dual pull of wanting to finally be rid of his “earthly tent” so that he can be home with the Lord, but also knows that God has given him his flesh so that he may glorify God “in his weakness” and so the “thorn will always remain in him.”  Paul says that is why he “beats his flesh daily”.  An often forgotten mystical realization is that pain and pleasure are but two sides of the same coin and they are almost the exact same feeling.  We are all familiar with how pleasures become pain when we over-indulge in our bodies, but we must realize that our pain also can become pleasure.  How many more times would Christ go through the agony of the cross so that he could love us all the more?  The pain was real to his flesh, but his love turned that pain into the deepest bliss of resurrection.  As I myself have ascended heights of bliss I often turn back in fear, confusion, distraction.  One day, as I sought the pleasure of bliss and it began to open up in my body I realized it was also painful.  So much of my life spent in darkness and confusion I had learned to identify more to the shame and hurt than the love and beauty.  The Bliss, the Spirit was burning away that rotten flesh and though there was great pleasure, it was painful at the same time.  As I made that realization, the bliss expanded and I felt the bitter, bittersweet thorn in my flesh.  Even Paul, before his mission was complete begged Christ just to finish the deal and keep him in the “seventh heaven”.  Believers go through the pain of persecution and other such trials so that God can refine us so that we can gain even greater glory!  My physical health has translated into walking upon earth feeling like I’m floating with the greatest confidence that can no longer be shaken.  The shame is gone, the concerns are gone, my body is offered up as a “worthy sacrifice”.  I envision that I have put on the Armor of God on, but my only weapon is the grace of God.  People may see big biceps and chest, but if they come to know me they will know that I’m only made strong because of my “weakness” and sacrifice of worldly rights in the name of glorifying Christ’s grace.  As we open that Holy of Holies within, yes, you are right, everything changes!  For many, a Spirit shines through in crystal clear eyes that from simply a physical level indicates health, but from a spiritual level, indicates that there is a Temple where the Holy Spirit is residing.  God protects that with the utmost concern!  In His wisdom he knows how to someday let us tear down the bricks of our temple so that we may rebuild it anew, but that rebuilding is our resurrection, it is our three days in the whale, it is our empty tomb.  Christ knew that we are too often concerned with the bricks and mortar of our temples, and so we are, but our health runs deeper than the strength of the bricks…

    • GavinJohnston

      MelindaCadwallader GavinJohnston And it sounds like you’re discovering possibly how the Holy Spirit moves through our bodies when you say “When we move past the shame, and claim the power we possess, in health related living, we start to see amazing changes”.  As I made those discoveries, I was at first focused on the awesome physical changes happening and I became a little obsessed with trying out the new ride God was giving me.  But after several months of that, and many mistakes along the way, I found that the physical was all a preparation for new spiritual experiences!  So for awhile, when we undo the clouds of “shame” like you said and we can finally familiarize ourselves with our magnificent bodies, I would say that we are on our way to deeper spiritual realizations and experiences.  So, for awhile, my body was at the forefront of my thought and experiences, but now it is more an afterthought because we are all truly Spirit!  I think this is one reason so many people get attracted to Eastern faiths, because eastern faiths have all these well laid out techniques for getting to the Spirit.  So as I had my spiritual awakening, I had to get information from those traditions to make sense of what was going on.  But after several months I was able to reconnect with my Biblical roots in an esoteric sense.  but here is the beauty for us Christians, via revelation from God, our paths can be highly individual.  Yoga, the 100 fold path of Buddhism, and the many complicates systems of Eastern faiths can become over-whelming and almost too-legalistic in a sense.  Church has become too based on belief and correct theology, it might be time to get up and dance, stretch, shout, jump, and so forth.  When you get to the point that your talking about above, if it hasn’t already happened, your on the cusp of miracles!  God Bless!  Please excuse my seeming arrogance and over-confidence, but there is just so little time to run this race so in forums like this I just blast in at the risk of being run out, just hoping that as Emeril Lagasse says, that I’ve “kicked it up a notch!”

    • GavinJohnston

      MelindaCadwallader
       GavinJohnston
      In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
      16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. 18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.
      20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— 21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22 which all concern things which perish with the using— according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      GavinJohnston MelindaCadwallader Hey Gavin, if possible I need you to refrain from cutting and pasting large chunks of text into the comments. Makes it hard to follow. Linking would suffice. Thanks!

  • MarkADemers

    Two thoughts.  The first is ridiculous … In the movie “Spaceballs” there is a character – half man and half dog.  At one point in the movie, someone looks at this creature with amazement and confusion.  “What ARE you?” he asks the creature.  “I’m a ‘mog’ – half man and half dog,” comes the reply.  “I’m my own best friend!”  Without meaning to disrupt the need for transformation and conversion and all, that line has stuck with me.  In my body, in my being, knowing I am loved by the God responsible for my creation, can I love myself?  Can I be – physically as well as emotionally “my own best friend”?
    The second thought has to do with a book by Rev. Dr. Marcia Mount Shoop called “Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ”.  She writes: “It is a curious fact of life in an incarnational faith that the body is so poorly attended to, or worse yet, even reviled.”  While the emphasis in this blog is on modesty, might we begin to intertwine all the messages we receive ABOUT our body with all the messages we receive FROM our body?  Dr. Shoop suggests the human body is the front line when it comes to experience.  There is no such thing as a disembodied experience, no matter how cerebral we try to be.  What an interesting dilemma we have – obsessing on our body on one hand, and ignoring it on the other.
    Melinda, thanks so much for your post.  You give me lots to ruminate on.

    • MelindaCadwallader

      MarkADemers Love the ridiculousness…I think you are on to something with the idea that we potentially can view our bodies as a best friend.  If we abuse it, it will not serve us well, be loyal; it will deceive us and ultimately either love us back or give us the finger…
      I cannot even begin to tell you of the instances witnessed where church pastors and ministry leaders shout out a quick, comical, “Lord, please bless this Filet O’ Fish to my body, in Jesus name..”  Its as if grace is a ticket to act irresponsibly. Lovely, eh?

  • http://www.momentarydelight.com/ DarrenBeem

    I like the spirit of the post and as the father of two young girls hope that I can  be someone who affirms them and loves them in all the ways that make them unique.
    As a father of little girls my temptation will be to keep my girls pre-pubescent and innocent. Yet, I know the day will come, probably too early when they will grow up.
    Let also me take the liberty of interpreting your article more broadly. As a follower of Jesus, I hope that our family can foster conversation on all sorts of difficult topics, and that we can freely discuss ideas and our feelings, even when those ideas are unconventional or troubling.

    • MelindaCadwallader

      DarrenBeem “Let also me take the liberty of interpreting your article more broadly. As a follower of Jesus, I hope that our family can foster conversation on all sorts of difficult tolehpics, and that we can freely discuss ideas and our feelings, even when those ideas are unconventional or troubling.” 
      Yes. Simply, wholeheartedly, unconditionally, freely and lovingly. Truly authentic. Family.  
      Standing with you on that, brother.

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