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Catholics, it’s not a big deal to show your body

How religion has shaped my perspectives on body and sex image

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Image Credits: Chris Ho

I do not resent my parents for raising me Catholic.

I’m sure you have all heard of the popular stereotype that the ‘religious ones are the craziest because they are oppressed.’ I’m also sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘I’m waiting until marriage,’ quickly followed by the phrase, ‘yeah, right.’ Being someone who’s attended Sunday School (but on a Wednesday), and growing up with a heavy Filipino-Catholic presence in my pre- and post-pubescent years, I can say I’ve heard my share of these comments, and have felt the guilt and self-hatred that came with them.

I was a naïve teenager, and I went to a predominantly white school in the backend of Surrey, near the cows, and right smack in the middle of suburbia. Not a lot of people shared my Catholic morals, and for many years I judged those who deviated from them. I fully admit I wasn’t born ‘politically correct’  — in fact, I was quite the opposite. I wouldn’t blame Catholicism for making me feel like a social outcast, but Catholicism enforces the ‘purity myth’ right from the get-go. I was ashamed of my body because I was taught to conceal it, and paired with being the only one in my group of friends who felt this way, I became considerably insecure and self-loathing.

My grandparents even told me that “too much attention is unflattering on a woman. A man will not be able to find Jesus in you if you do not give yourself to Jesus first.”

What the fuck?

It wasn’t until I was 16 that I felt beautiful for the first time. By this time, I was finished with Sunday School and was starting to come into my own person. I switched to straight-cut bangs and suddenly I was Hollywood’s inaccurate image of Cleopatra. I finally started wearing makeup too; just eyeliner at first, but then lipstick and blush. After a swarm of attention — “oh my god, you look totally different, you’re, like, trying now” — I couldn’t fuckin’ stop. I got into fashion too, and I vocally became a much louder person.

I even started masturbating (something I denied the urge to do for years of personal celibacy in the name of Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour) because my friends were all doing it and I just didn’t care anymore.

It wasn’t like I had finally tasted freedom or anything like that. I never felt repressed, I never felt like I had awakened as a Catholic sinner. However, that is exactly the reason why I consider myself a full-frontal advocate of body and sex positivity. It’s, like, not a big deal. God hadn’t come down from the high heavens to smite me, and as I grew older I began to love my body enough to separate it from being a highly sexualized figure into one that is simply my own.

The reason I’m okay with showing off my body is because Catholicism taught me to care so much, and it equally taught me not to give a shit. My body is my own — it’s not my boyfriend’s, and it’s not the next virgin bearer of Jesus Christ. It can be a sexual figure, but only when I want it to be, and only for certain people. However, at the end of the day it’s my body, and how people see it is really not that big of a deal.

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