It’s a bubble wrap life: thoughts on modesty

Heart of Tuscany July 2013 054 ModestyLast night I ate at Nando’s. I went for a half chicken marinated in mango and lime dressing and it tasted good. I could have gone for it naked (or plain as they prefer to put it), but we all know that chicken tastes better when dressed. It made a good thing great. And it’s the same with people and clothes.

No it’s not.

I can’t do it. I can’t write an important piece about modesty, attraction, responsibility and liberty premised on an extremely tenuous food metaphor. I’m not going to suggest it’s like putting meat on the BBQ and then telling someone they can’t eat it, or anything about chocolate cake, sweets, or any other edible. I’m not going to say it’s like taking an alcoholic into a bar.

I’m not going to use any of those examples because they are about consumption. We eat food, we drink beer, we do not consume another person. And too often that is the problem when we talk about modesty and attraction: we do so from the mindset of a consumer. We think of other people as an it, as something that we either consumer or do not consume. And in doing so we deprive other people of agency. Continue reading

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Beauty, lust and attraction

My view of what makes someone beautiful is distorted. It swings like a pendulum. From beauty in the eyes of media buyers and fashion columnists, to a rejection of physical attraction as somehow beyond the realms of what I am supposed to feel.

Sara, in her guest post focused on the former trend, so I’ll give less attention to this. But I will say a bit because I’m a guy and I see things a bit differently. I guess this is sort of a part two to her post at the weekend.

It will come as a shocking surprise to no one that the way I look and think about women is not always with the purist motives. I could blame it on a culture that has promulgated the Barbie doll image as the best way to get attention, snag a husband, and achieve generic happiness. I could blame it on television programmes that slip sex scenes into disconnected plot lines. Or the magazines that brandish nearly naked women as the way to get ahead. Or I could go the whole hog, blame the internet, it’s turned porn from the furtive acts of men in trench coats to the very next thing you see on your screen.

Last year a survey of Christians in Northern Ireland found that 65 per cent of men under 35 have intentionally accessed porn. It was more prevalent among church leaders, who also had a higher rate of affairs. Gareth Davies has recently suggested it might need addressing in sex and relationship education at schools due to the harm it causes.

Porn does things to your brain. It makes you think something is normal which is not. It provides a go to destination for lust and temptation. But it does something more. It alienates relationships from sex. It offers what you think you want in a way that comes without a cost. So when we look at an attractive girl we see sex, and when we encounter the challenges of living life with other people we opt for the easy casual disconnected option.

In See Me Naked Amy Frykholm tells the story of a man addicted to porn:

“Pornography had provided Matthew a safe place, deep inside himself, for pleasure. But the connection to another human being was part of the fantasy. Images of naked strangers provided the illusion of openness, as if the woman whose photo he looked at was making herself available to him. Pornography had the capacity to make him feel both fleetingly alive and simultaneously numb. Fantasy replaced the nuanced intimacy demanded of him in his everyday life.”

As well as being a guy that finds girls attractive, I am a single guy that finds girls attractive. I may have been a little less than serious with my step by step guide to marital bliss, but there are things that are in my mind when I weigh up if I’m interested in a particular lady. And physical attraction is on that list.

Should it be?

Should I find girls attractive, and should I use that judgement to decide who I want to spend my life with? I think so. I think otherwise I am abusing beauty in just as destructive way as the covers of magazines that portray a mirage of beauty painted onto a hollow shell.

Appreciation of physical human beauty is supposed to be off the reservation. It is akin to lust. It is gazing at what causes us to sin. So we should cover it up and avert our eyes. Beauty is not without consequences. I am guilty of only a little hyperbole.

Because when I walk down the street and I see a girl sunbathing in the park my eyes linger longer than they should. When I’m standing in church supposedly singing songs of praise to the God I love, I find my love annexed by the girl I am presently smitten with. My appreciation of human beauty is so often lust, it is so often unhealthy, and it ingrains in me a suspicion of that particular emotional reaction. When I see something that is beautiful I think that it is wrong that I have come to that conclusion based on my instantaneous and almost involuntary registering of attraction.

There is such a thing as lust. But beauty isn’t just found in those people to whom we are attracted to, or to use the infantile but efficacious expression, people we fancy.

Why has my view of beauty become so defined, so contingent on a message that beauty is a sexual thing, and sexual things should be desired after, and if I want something sexual then I should be able to get it? How have I let myself become consumed by a vision of sex that is so commodified and mangled into a shape that serves what I think that I want in that particular moment?