Sometime after Donald Trump became president, I happened to hear an incredibly insightful comment from a news anchor. This comment seemed to be an afterthought at the end of a story that made mention of Melania Trump. I honestly do not remember the event or topic of the story, but much of the focus of the story was about Melania’s clothes and accessories. Video was shown highlighting Melania’s appearance, and the anchor’s final comment just before cutting away to the next story was, “Since we don’t know anything about who Melania Trump is, we are left to comment on what she looks like.”
This statement illustrates that we really do not realize, or perhaps we forget, that the body reveals a person. This comment also highlights rather profoundly the way we engage with each other: we have a tendency to separate the body from the person. Guess what? The body and the person can’t be separated.
Last month’s blog and podcast episode 5 explored the truth that the body expresses a person. One of the greatest implications of the statement, “the body expresses a person,” is that the body and the person can’t be separated. But we do this all the time, and this particular news anchor (I wish I could give credit to who it was but didn’t have the presence of mind at the time to write it down) came to the realization on air that since she didn’t know a particular woman’s person, she was limited to commenting on what this particular woman’s body was wearing. Here’s the thing, every woman and every man’s body expresses her or his person and we can’t escape the ramifications of ignoring this truth. Like the news anchor, we limit ourselves and cause harm to others when we diminish another person to only a physical body.
The moment you or I separate a person from his or her body, it becomes easier to value or judge that person differently. It now becomes possible to use that person as an object. When I view my body as separate from my self, I begin to see my body’s appearance as a source of my value. I can begin to choose to use my own body as a tool when it suits me. Whether I attempt to view my own or another’s body as separate from the person, I am moving away from a life that flourishes and toward a life that fails to see people as God sees them.
Since kids learn from adults, we see and hear children separating persons from bodies quite frequently. Verbal judgment based on appearances means seeing another as strictly material. There’s even a term for this, “eye candy.” Okay, so kids don’t use the words “eye candy” anymore, but they do try to reduce others, who image God in an irreplaceable and unrepeatable way, to merely an object for personal consumption.
Not only does this practice have implications for the ways our kids see and treat others, it also impacts the ways they see and treat themselves and their own bodies. Does your son view himself as separate from his body? Does your daughter view or judge her person and her body separately? If so, which is she harder on? Which does he give more attention to?
We can really help our children by acting as mirrors that serve to consistently reflect back to our kids that they are body-selves and that the person cannot be separated from the body. When we intentionally diminish this habit of separating, it changes our conversations about the body, relationships, and sex. We can raise and mentor kids to habitually seek to see each person, expressed through her body. We can influence kids to see that no matter what; his person is impacted by what his body is doing. We can offer them a picture of living as an integrated body-self so that she can choose to do with her body that which is consistent with her person: she can be empowered to make choices with her body that affirm the fact that she is a person imaging God in a one-of-a-kind way, that was made from Love in order to love God and others.
I don’t have all of this down in raising my two girls. I am trying to keep up just like you are. My efforts aren't perfect, but I attempt to affirm that the body and the person can’t be separated, with conversations surrounding the experiences my kids already encounter. My kids know that I don’t like the “body songs.” My definition of a “body song” is any song where the singer croons about someone’s body and doesn’t sing a lyric about the person. My girls sarcastically say, “Oh Mom, here’s your favorite song!” And we actually talk through the song: how offensive and even hurtful it is to have someone separate our body from our person. We talk about the ways that the body belonging to the object (no pun intended) of the song is being described in a very selfish and objectifying way. We talk about seeing others as persons, not as bodies that can be discussed casually or possessively.
Let’s go back to the news anchor we referenced at first. As you watch TV or movies with kids, listen to music, or read with them, don’t hesitate to point out examples of the separation of body and person. Be fun and encouraging as you challenge kids to refuse to do so. Ask questions like, “Well, what can we know about how this person reflects God through her body-self?” Even if we don’t know anything about a person, we can take a position of curiosity and awe knowing that this person, imaging God through this body, is a wonder that has never before been on this earth.
If you’d like a book and movie suggestion along these lines, consider the Wonder book series by R. J. Palacio and the movie, Wonder. Beautifully done, these books encourage the reader to seek to know the person who is expressed through the body, including those who look different or unexpected. Read and preview first to determine if these are appropriate for your child(ren).