Written by LONG NGUYEN
(This article originally posted at restoreculture.com)
A few nights ago, while standing in single digit temperatures, I was locked out of my home with no key and no one to let me in. So I chilled at the nearest McDonald’s to wait for the rest of my community to come home. I sat at one of their new electronics charging stations, which didn’t work but attracted a lot of interesting people in New York City at 11:00pm. The first few came and went but the last two sat and we all had a nice two-hour conversation. One was a fashion model who was visiting from L.A. for Fashion Week and the other was a fashion photographer. We talked about good number of things but mainly about the struggles of working in the fashion industry, which led to a portion of our discussion that really bothered me. The photographer shared that one of the biggest common frustrations in her line of work is dealing with models who struggle with getting too physically close with others who are not their significant other.
“It’s just a photo-shoot. It’s fake and not supposed to mean anything, and once you’re done doing your job you can just carry about your business.” Then she made the interesting comparison to actors doing a sex scene and porn stars making porn. “It’s just a job and it’s all about professionalism, being able to separate your work from your personal life.”
That last part made me cringe deeply inside, out of a strong disagreement, but also out the sorrow of knowing that somehow, something must’ve happened in her life for her to give into the belief that this could even be true. Then it hit me, as shocking as it was to hear it blatantly expressed, the reality is, this is something that many of us have bought into or accepted to some degree. And this belief is the philosophy that we are not our bodies, that we have the ability to disconnect ourselves—our hearts, our emotions, ultimately our souls—from our bodies.
But this is also a belief that none of us are intrinsically born with. I am not a soul that happens to be trapped in a body or a body without a conscience, instead I am an embodied-soul. This truth is not only something that we can discern intellectually, but is also something that we can experience in our being.
Here is what I mean:
It is a given that there is a much deeper reality to every human being than what is simply visible. I’m sure that every one of us would be gravely offended if we were ever told otherwise. That’s because we all have the ability to think – to ponder and conceptualize abstract ideas; we also have free will – the ability to choose between what is good or evil. Add these along with our senses, our temperaments, our intuitions, etc., there are endless reasons why every person is an endless mystery. And our bodies are the way through which we outwardly express this inner mystery, our inner selves, to the world. (Crazy right?! Yes it is!) This is the reason why our bodies and souls are so deeply connected, the reason why we are embodied-souls. For instance, if someone were to take an unwanted photo of me, the person seeing the photo of me throwing my shoe towards the camera will be able to clearly see that I was not happy. However, the exterior manifestation of my interior disposition (my actions due to my frustration) will also come with consequences. The camera will most likely be broken and my actions will also evoke certain reactions from others.
With this being said, is the opposite then also true? Do our actions, our outward physical expressions of our bodies, have any effect or consequence on our hearts, our inner beings? – YES!
We can begin to answer this more deeply by acknowledging the fact that our bodies speak a language, and this language communicates a reality regardless of whether we may mean it or not. For example, if I were a model (What? It could happen!) and I were to closely embrace a female model for a photo-shoot, my body would be communicating to her, and to everyone who will see the photos, that I would like to be more than just friends. Regardless of whatever our intentions are for our embrace our bodies will still be releasing oxytocin, leading our hearts to wrestle with certain emotions and our minds to struggle with certain “what-if’s”, and ultimately leaving our wills to decide how we’re going to react. A sort of connection, for better or worse, is still formed.
I know that these are very bold statements, but instead of dragging on with explanations, I would like to invite you to reflect on your own experiences to affirm whether or not these are true. And if you do agree, then it would be safe to also say that regardless of whether we communicate truths or lies with our bodies, there will always be internal reactions that will shape the way we think and act.
But wait, there’s more:
Given this reality, we can now ponder why any of this matters, and I believe that this is simply and beautifully answered by Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) who said, “It is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul who loves.” This means that everything we do with our bodies matter because it will express, and also lead us to experience, either love or lies. Our bodies therefore are the way through which we can fulfill our purpose as human beings: to love and to be loved. This brings a great deal of responsibility but also a great deal of awe and wonder! Because since what we do with our bodies matters, this also means that our bodies, in and of themselves, matter. This affirms the goodness of our bodies, and therefore, for this very reason alone, they are also beautiful!