I have a lot of friends who are really into modesty.
To be perfectly honest, I guess I err toward being pro-modesty myself. Ultimately, however, I think the concept is built on lies.
This blog post is supposedly about the stigma surrounding breastfeeding. That’s how it started out. My wife thought I should call it something like “Boobs Are For Babies: A Father’s Perspective On Breastfeeding.” I really like that idea (enough to include it here), but this issue has a far deeper root than being about comfort levels around someone exposed to nourishing a child. The only reason breastfeeding is an issue we need to talk about is that we have all accepted a much larger lie: the human body is meant for sexual use.
The human body obviously has a valuable sexual function; we can’t abandon that even when we think we should. The problem is that we have all bought into a hyper-sexualization of the human form. The pro-modesty crew are often some of the biggest proponents of the hyper-sexualization myth. I’m talking about those who get nervous about marble statues because they think any nude form must have been designed by ancients to insight mass arousal. Those of us who want to protect sexuality as a special thing while going along with the assumption that it is the main purpose of the human form are actually buying into a falsehood sold to us by both sides of generations of culture wars. Those who scream for sexual liberation make life out to be all about sex. Those who have screamed for censorship have agreed that human bodies are there to be used and we must lock them up for the appropriate context.
I’m telling you that there are thousands of non-sexual purposes for the human body, but that the human body is never a valid source for building an identity.
Whether we fight for sexual liberation or modesty, we actually accept the idea that everything always comes back to sex; it doesn’t. It might seem like it does in a photoshopped, air-brushed, sensory-overloading culture that is constantly pitch vague siren-songs on how to become perfectly satisfied. Even the most conservative among us tend to think of a marriage existing mainly for sex.
Public breastfeeding is awkward. It’s okay that we find it awkward. But our question at that point becomes “does this awkwardness mean that we should discourage the practice or that we should be very intentional about recognizing the valid purpose of the practice?” I would argue wholeheartedly that we should take this awkwardness as an opportunity to recognize that a breast is mainly a tool that gives a mother the opportunity to give life and strength from her own body into the body of her child. The greatest strength and beauty of a breast does not pull from sexual sources. Myth broken.
Loving other people’s physical bodies is really hard work, and it rarely has anything to do with sex. Changing thousands of diapers, bathing an elderly loved one, and helping a sickly spouse use the bathroom are all tasks that are a stronger form of physical love than sex. A form of cherishing a person’s form in their immense vulnerability. Becoming comfortable around breastfeeding is just one such task.
New mothers have a serious load of stress building up on their shoulders. Weird hormones, little sleep, milk supply issues, and who knows what else is keeping them at their wit’s end and ready to throw in the towel. In case you don’t realize it, breastfeeding is often very hard work. It taxes the body physically and doesn’t usually work without a great deal of struggle. Breastfeeding moms rarely desire to showcase their breast publicly, but they’re attempting to care for someone who is utterly defenseless and solely reliant on them.
Am I saying people should get comfortable staring at breastfeeders? Obviously not. Am I suggesting that moms shouldn’t show some sort of decorum according to their location? No.
Am I suggesting that things like lust and rape should be ignored or that they can simply be idealized away? No, we can’t avoid sexual deviations and we should stand against them. We should stand against them by seeing and valuing the body on a vastly wider spectrum.
Sex is a sacred thing, but the human body is more sacred than sex. We should be willing and able to become Good Samaritans regardless of the nakedness of those in need.