Me: "I have a hair appointment Thursday. I'm going to have her cut my hair even shorter this time. And dye it a little darker, too."
Me: "It's kind of annoying having to go in for appointments more frequently to keep it shorter. And always having to flat-iron it so it doesn't look weird. I have honestly considered just shaving it off. That would be way easier."
Ryan: "Haha. Okay. Your hair, your head."
Me: "Good answer, Babe."
And that is representative of how Ryan always responds in this type of conversation, not just regarding my hair. My fitness level, my decision to have a permanent contraception procedure, my tattoos: I cannot think of anything having to do with my body – appearance or otherwise – that he has ever made me feel was anything other than my own decision. And not out of indifference, either, but in a way that makes it clear that he will support whatever I decide.
It would simply never occur to my husband to think that I need his permission for any of these choices. I'm only recently beginning to fully appreciate this about him.
When I was twelve, I wanted to start shaving my legs. I tried to talk to my mom about it, but she told me I had to ask my dad. My dad examined my shins (yes, really), said he didn't think they were that bad, so no shaving. The discussion continued off-and-on for a few days, but he just didn't think it was necessary yet. His mind was made up, the answer was no.
This is just one example of the many ways I was taught that choices about my body (or really any woman’s body) could not be made without the “wisdom” of a male authority. In such teaching, the father is the intermediary until a girl is married, then her husband fills that role. I still feel a twinge of humiliation about some of these things and still wrestle with the effects of being taught these (and other) distorted views about my body. I know that my parents’ actions were a result of what they were taught in Evangelical/Homeschooling culture. I know that they were not trying to humiliate me and they truly believed they were teaching me “Godly” principles. I know I should be thankful that there are other areas where they did not adhere so strictly to the teachings from that culture.
For years now, I have shaved my legs every single day. Even during the cruel Midwestern winters when layers of warm clothing prevent so much as an ankle from peeking out. Even when I was nine-months pregnant and unable to see my feet. Even at times when Ryan and I are on completely opposite work schedules and don't see each other for days. I shave my legs every single day for no other reason than I absolutely hate the way it feels not to have my legs shaved. Read into that whatever else you will, but it’s my body and I’ll shave my legs if I want to. I’ll also shave my head if I want to and get tattoos if I want to and never be pregnant again if I don’t want to.
I realize that will sound dangerously rebellious to some people; even as I wrote it, I could hear the teachings from my youth in the back of my mind trying to make me feel guilty for the boldness with which I am so publicly defying them. But I've come to believe that much of what I was taught about bodies is a distortion of the truth. Jesus was the Word made flesh, the mystery of the divine in physical, human form. Why would God choose that if human bodies were something to be ashamed of? Why would he give me a body if I couldn't even be trusted with the opportunity to make good choices with it?
I do not need to be ashamed of my body, nor do I need to look for the permission of some falsely-established human authority (father, husband, or otherwise) for the choices I make regarding it. As long as I am not inflicting harm or dishonoring my commitments, no one else has a right to tell me what I should or should not do with the body God entrusted to me.
In fact, no one else has the right to make decisions for another person's body at all. At my most basic, I am a person in a body – before I am a woman, a wife, or a mother. A person’s body requires neither the approval nor the permission of another person. Maybe some of the choices I make (like my tattoos) are, at least in a way or in part, a physical symbol that I’m learning to embrace my body as a gift God gave to me and that I refuse to go back to a time when I was made to feel I couldn't be trusted to decide what is best for it.
And if I live more fully in my body with tattoos and shaved legs, that is between God and me and no one else.
"I do not recall ever being told that my flesh is good in church,
or that God takes pleasure in it.
Yet this is the central claim of the incarnation—
that God trusted flesh and blood to bring divine love to earth." - Barbara Brown Taylor