The genesis of body shame, according to the biblical tradition, results from our admittance into the realm of rationality. When Eve gains the knowledge of good and evil, her body — or at least her body image — breaks. Eve, in front of the mirror in the morning, laments the crooks and crannies of the meat sack she must wear into the world.
The cultural emphasis on the mind over the body flows through the modern United States milieu. During the coronavirus pandemic, bodily shame extends bodily shame to include our breath and speech, which can be particularly problematic to our romantic relationships.
On St.Olaf’s campus, the extension of bodily shame can be seen clearly in how romantic relationships function during the pandemic. Already, the dating population leaned on dating apps and now the mere prospect of getting together in person is daunting.
Meeting up in person, now carries with it all of the baggage of being breathing, potentially COVID-19 spreading beings. But beyond that, all relationships from the first meeting assume a sexual nature, insofar as talking has become a body-to-body activity.
U.S. culture naturalizes the idea that sexual expression and sexual experiences are inherently bad. From hook-ups to the most heteronormative of sex partners, sex is steeped in shame. The stigmatization of sex is dangerous as it bars individuals from education, shuns healthy conversation and pushes sexual relationships into the dark.
The convex of the sexual relationship is the cultural ideal of falling in love with your best friend; that is, we’re taught to find someone who stimulates our mental sphere and then only secondarily, our bodies.
Because of the nature of COVID-19, however, the veneer that all of our relationships are bodily is broken. The intellectual relationship between two lovers now faces growing shame. Merely talking to another person means sharing a respiratory area physicalized by a disease spread through the air.
The implications of these growing levels of shame is a dating space replete with anxiety, hesitancy and dejection. Considering the numerous positive outcomes of being in love and the naturalness of love, the loss and difficulty around romantic relationships is a real challenge to our culture.
Let’s get a couple of things straight, all categories of body shame suck and bodily shame is not distributed equally. I am not advocating for a reversal to the paradigm where our bodies are bad, but our mind is good; rather, I believe that realizing how bodily shame has extended to previously non-bodily spheres helps us to counter-act both and the broader bodily shame prototype.
Further, some bodies are more heavily shamed than others. Audre Lorde’s mythical norm – white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian and financially secure – is the body against which all other bodies are compared. Thus, if the mythical norm haver faces inscrutable shame, the Black and Brown, the fat and the female, get it in droves.
The pandemic’s transformation of speech into a bodily activity, though, is a ubiquitous call to fight against body shame.
This is the part of most Opinions’ pieces where the author makes a prescription based on their diagnosis. Unfortunately, I do not have a detailed list that aims to deconstruct bodily shame as it is. Instead, I’ll push you to consider how the pandemic heightens body shame, particularly around romantic relationships, as you and your friends navigate a pandemic, St. Olaf.
Brennan Brink ’21 is from
Rapid City, SD.
His majors are ancient studies