So the fine fellows over at Mountain Catholic are running my thoughts rn on topless picnics, art, St. JPII’s Theology of the Body, and all sorts of fun things today. You should check those thoughts out! And if you aren’t sold, here’s a tease:
So, women and men are pretty different in many ways and very similar in others. As someone reading a Catholic think site on the internet, you probably realized this at some point in your life. I think for me, that moment came shortly after a growth spurt during a 7th grade cotillion ball. I realized that my waltz partner was not exactly at eye level with me any more. Men and women tend to have some pretty key differences that follow on that whole male/female division thing.
Now, I’m also a Californian, so I’m pretty lax about some stuff. You want to wear a burkini? Go for it. Want to show off your spin class and juice detox abs? I’m jealous and kind of numb to it honestly. You want to breastfeed and keep talking to me? I’m flattered you think so well of our friendship. You want to go start a nudist intentional community with your housemates, live in tiny homes, and raise alpaca? That’s a thing you can do with your life, and hey, it’s not a pot dispensary, so there’s that.
But for all that, I do think it’s worth remembering that what you do with your body sends a message, because we are not ghosts in a machine. We are humans, body and soul. What we say with the body, and how we say it, matters. Because, communication. So with this preface, let’s talk about the whole topless picnic think going down in Helena. By which I mean, let’s talk about what a woman’s body can communicate.
Now, bodies, being all multifaceted and stuff with their opposable thumbs, can communicate a lot of different things. For example the face can convey that we are happy:
It can also convey how quickly our life is spiraling downwards:
So the same parts of the body (here the face) in similar arrangements (mouth open) can nevertheless tell us very different things, based on nuances and context. Likewise, the physical form of the person convey different things. Let’s say this now: the female form is good. It is not intrinsically lustful or sexual or erotic in a way that the male form is not. If you cannot look at a Greek marble nude without lust in your heart, I will be so bold as to say the issue is not that women exist. However, that is not to deny that the human body cannot have a sexual or economic or political or educative dimension, among the many ways it communicates the person who is embodied within its limits.
So the female form, as the male form, can communicate the person according to two different modes of material existing, which I will borrow from Roger Scruton: the person’s existing body or the person existing as embodied. This can also be called the difference between being naked and being nude. A naked person is one who has, to follow Scruton, “disappeared behind his own flesh, which is no longer the person himself but an object, an instrument…the eclipse of the soul by the body.” A nude person, however, is the form of a person as embodied, “flesh animated by the individual soul, and expressing individuality in all its parts.”