“…we become estranged from our body, looking at it as an object…”

Crosby, John F., The Personalism of John Paul II


I’ve had a distorted body image for many years; in fact, I’d say, for most of my adult life.  I can trace it back to two events in my early life. The first was being exposed to pornography at age 11 or 12, which distorted my understanding and view of the human body, sexualized it, and distorted what I thought it should look like. The second event was showering at a friend’s house and having the friend push me out his front door, pull my towel off, and lock me outside naked. I felt deep shame and embarrassment about both the lockout and the porn, and from that point on my relationship with my body changed. I saw my body as something that was only for sex and, viewed it as ugly and shameful since it looked nothing like a porn star’s body. For the rest of my life, I did my best to keep it covered.

Fast forward 35 years. When August 2021 arrived, my birthday month, as well as my brother’s. We started texting back and forth to set-up a date to celebrate, and after choosing a Sunday that worked for us both, my sister-in-law ended the text string with, literally, breathtaking words: “Don’t forget your bathing suit”. I almost vomited.

The body, in my mind, is something sexual. So, if my body, which is only sexual and not attractive then, in my mind, it should be covered. And, even if it is attractive, it should be kept covered out of a sense of modesty and avoiding leading others into possible sexual sin. Not puritanical at all! Because of these thoughts, I am very uncomfortable with baring it in public.

That being said, I recognized this as an opportunity to get past my discomfort and find a little healing. I thought, “This is a gift from God – a place to deal with this shame and discomfort in relative privacy.”, So, I decided to go swimming.

This was my 49th birthday, and over those 49 years, things have developed on my body that I find unattractive. Namely, extra weight and body hair. These were not things one saw in pornography and so, in my mind, they were not acceptable. Actually, not just unacceptable: disgusting. The thought of showing what I considered to be a disgusting body in public, even to my family, triggered the shame I’d felt when I was locked out many years ago, as well as the shame associated with pornography.

The morning of the get-together, I woke up agitated. I opened my blinds in the hopes it would be raining, but it wasn’t. It was cloudy, though, and relatively cool, and I was praising God for that. However, as I drove to my brother’s house, the clouds broke and the stupid sun came out. “Whyyyyy Lord…why are You doing this to me??”  I knew the answer was, “For your own good!”, but I didn’t want to hear that.

I got to their house without a bathing suit, hoping that would save me, but, of course, they had an extra. The backyard was sun-drenched, warm, and humid, perfect for a dip in the pool. So, after being encouraged by my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew, I got in, with my T-shirt on. But I got in. I got out and jumped back in from the diving board. How freeing! To be able to do something I hadn’t done in so many years, with people I knew I could trust. After a few minutes, I took my shirt off and swam as I used to when I was a kid.

The rest of the afternoon was enjoyable, and when I left their house, I knew that yet another little hurdle in my healing–one that didn’t feel so little–had been cleared. I realized on the drive home that my body is just that, a body. Not a sexual object, not a measure of who I am, nor a determiner of my value as a person. What a huge burden to have lifted off me by such a seemingly small act, taking a dip in the pool.

I look forward to swimming at their house again soon, before fall arrives. Swimming in public, or with other people, will come in the future, since my sister-in-law asked me to bring my housemate with me next time. But for now, I am grateful that I cooperated with the grace given to me to embrace my lumpy, hairy, gift of a body.

Thanks be to God.

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Garrett Johnson is a 49 year old blogger and stylist living in MD. He joined the Arlington chapter of Courage in 2012 and has since helped establish the Washington DC and Baltimore MD chapters. He has spoken at the Courage Conference, on EWTN and at other Courage events. You can follow Garrett on Youtube, Facebook, and his website brotherwithoutorder.com.

The opinions and experiences expressed in each blog entry in “The Upper Room” belong solely to the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Courage International, Inc. Some entries have been edited for length and clarity.