By the time I hit puberty, my mother had left her Catholic body-shaming god and his behind. Her message to me was a simple one: Everybody's got one.
I am the youngest of six kids. My parents were both raised in strict Catholic homes. After my youngest brother was born, God apparently stopped having a problem with birth control. Then nine years later, while my parents were splitting up, my mom went off her birth control. And before they broke up permanently, Mom and Dad had one last romp.
That is how I have come to write this today.
By the time I was about to hit puberty, my siblings had moved out and were off doing their own thing. So, it was just me and my mom. After the divorce, she spent some time deconstructing some of the most damaging aspects of the fundamental religion in which she was raised. The worst of those ideas revolved around sex—who should have it, who they should have it with, when they should have it, and when they should feel bad about having it.
The guilt and shame weren’t limited to sex. The human body itself was cause for concern. Skirts had a required length, and two-piece bathing suits were a one-way ticket to an eternity in the lake of fire.
Adam and Eve were chilling happily in the Garden of Eden until Eve damned everyone in the whole world forever. She ate from the Tree of Knowledge that a loving god put there, warning them not to eat from it. The knowledge the fruit held was that to be naked was shameful.
God doesn’t explain the reason this is shameful. That’s one advantage to being a god, I suppose: never having to explain yourself—at least not very clearly.
When Adam and Eve realized that being naked was bad due to the magical fruit they had eaten, they hid themselves from God. Which is even sillier, given that God is allegedly all-knowing. Fig leaves and clothing were the result of their new understanding of the concept of sin—although up until the apple incident, god seemed to be fine with their nakedness.
God accepts exactly no responsibility for planting the tree in the first place. Not even the fact that he is an all-knowing and all-loving god could stop him from blaming Eve for the blatant set-up he created, even though he knew it was going to happen. He designed our bodies and the way they function, then he facilitated the shame and guilt around them by planting the tree of knowledge.
I worked this all out fairly young.
Looked at objectively, the origin story in the bible is just goofy. But if you were taught this as a kid by your parents or other respected adults, chances are you’re going to believe it. There are plenty of things we are taught as kids that are real but seem just as ridiculous but are true. The funky but adorable platypus comes to mind.
Toss in the fear of eternal torture, and it becomes easier to understand how such a story becomes the truth in the eyes of a trusting child.
I can’t think of a better way to manipulate human beings than to use one of the most powerful drives we have. Most people can’t help the thoughts and feelings associated with that urge. It makes for a convenient weapon of manipulation. Associating nudity with sex, then attaching shame to it, creates a holy trap that is hard to escape.
Plenty of examples exist of clothing or other adornments covering our sensitive bits. Ancient statues among various cultures wear clothing, though the reason isn’t completely clear. Sexual rivalry, the need to keep warm, the need to protect our vulnerable genitalia, and simply status could all be reasonable explanations for the depiction of clothing in art.
But none of those examples has the nefarious intentions of religion and God.
When it came to letting go of her shame and guilt around nudity and sex. My mom had her work cut out for her. But the ethical contradictions in the bible were incompatible with her own sense of morality and reality. She was able to work through these silly ideas that caused her so much grief.
When it came time for her to talk to me about the birds and the bees, all that hard work was done.
“We all have butts,” my mother told me.
A simple message, but powerful. Everybody’s got one.
She was getting at the fact that underneath our clothes, we are all made up of the same parts, just configured a little differently. So there is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. Having split from the Catholic Church, or maybe more accurately having been abandoned by it, her god had done some deconstructing of his own. He no longer had any issues with the human body or its sex drive.
Mom’s new, kinder, gentler deity appreciated the human form. He understood that the naked body wasn’t inherently sexual. There wasn’t any need to feel shame around the bodies he had created. As the Church abandoned her, her new god had desexualized nudity and lifted the shame associated with it.
This new god also recognized that having blessed his creations with the gift of sex, there was nothing to be ashamed of in those feelings, either. Rather, He emphasized healthy boundaries, respect from sexual partners, and the most important part of any sexual encounter…consent.
To her benefit, and mine.
While my mom still believed in a god, the Catholic one she was raised with and His silly sex rules, were long gone.
Thanks to her abandonment of the creepy, sex-obsessed Catholic god, I was not saddled with the nefarious ideas of purity culture. Instead, my mom imparted the wisdom of the god she created after her divorce. Which just happened to coincide with her own newfound wisdom.
The human body isn’t sexual until someone decides that it is. We’re all born naked. The idea that the naked body is sexual in all contexts paves the way for some really unhealthy and twisted ideas. Shame and guilt around nudity and sex are strictly godly concepts meant to control and manipulate. Letting go of shame around our bodies and nudity is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves, our partners, and our children.