Body Image Body Shame culture exercise Feminism fitness

Brandi Chastain, Perfection and Modesty

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I’ve been thinking a lot about Brandi Chastain lately. Remember her? She’s the rock star soccer player in that photo up there. She is celebrating the US Women’s victory over China in the World Cup in 1999.

Her spontaneous and glorious and very fun celebration earned her both accolades and vilification. While one group rallied around her obvious and contagious joy, another group tsked at her lack of modesty, taking off her shirt and showing her bra! The scandal.

I think about Brandi—we’re on a first name basis—when I finish a workout or a run and I’m feeling like a beast. This is what I think:

I really pushed myself today. Good job, Jen.

Oh, who am I kidding? I exert the lowest amount of energy possible at all times. But still, good job me! You know who I’m like? I’m like Brandi Chastain, when the women won that game and she got all naked and skidded across the field on her knees that way I’ve always wanted to do. I’m fierce and awesome, and when my abs look like hers, I will show them to everyone. Everyone.

But, Jen, remember. She got in all that trouble, with the people who talk. You know the ones who are always talking talking talking.They said she was immodest and inappropriate. They said showing her sports bra was in bad taste.

Well, sure, they said that, but they’re dumb. Plus, remember what she said? She said, “I worked my ass off for this body, and I’m not ashamed of it.” Remember that?

Yeah. I remember and she’s awesome for saying that. But remember, she has those amazing abs, so she can show them to everyone. Everyone.

Right. And your swimwear of choice is not the Granny suit from the 30s, but a two piece, and not a tankini. You do show your abs. To everyone. Everyone. And maybe you should think about not doing that? What would the church people think?

And here’s the rub for me. I balance my complete respect for Brandi Chastain with my inability to afford myself the same respect. I allow myself to feel guilty for not adhering to rules that are stupid in the first place, and made up by men who place the onus for their lust on the female body.

Many people in my faith culture have this thing about dictating what women wear, because curves are scary and can make people fall, oops by accident, right into fornicatin’. Really all this does is subjugate and objectify a woman’s body, negate my agency as a human, and belittle the mental capacity of everyone involved.

Maybe my swimwear of choice seems like I’m thumbing my nose or asking for trouble. Really, I’m just more comfortable that way and all I’m thinking about when I’m wearing it is, “I sure hope my kids don’t drown.” Maybe when it’s 1100 degrees in the summer and I’m running, my sports bra is the only top I’ll wear. Maybe that’s not trying to be alluring, but trying not to die of heat stroke.

I’m tired of my body being a talking point. I’m tired of playing chicken with Christian “rules” and I’m tired of being blamed for someone else’s inability to keep his mind out of of the gutter and away from the lady parts. And to the men, I’d say, really, you guys should be demanding that we think more highly of you than to suggest you are a mere tornado of testosterone incapable of restraint.

(By the way, dudes go to the pool and run shirtless. Women have eyes. And yet, this is not an issue. Furthermore, I would argue it’s possible to appreciate the creativity of the Creator without being lewd about it. There are, in fact, good looking people in the world.)

But it’s not just about the church. It’s also about body image and strict adherence to ideals. Brandi is allowed to show her abs because she is gorgeous and fit. Our culture only has so much appetite for the more heavily girded female form.

I love that Brandi Chastain silenced her critics by being proud of her body, of the team’s accomplishments and of her celebration. Why should she not love her body? Why should she demur when they just won the World Cup in a shoot out? What is not to love about that? The thing is, great abs don’t corner the market on physical pride.

Bodies aren’t who we are. They are the vehicle for the parts that make us whole. They are wacky and weird and kind of miraculous. To say that only women who look like *that* (whatever *that* is) are given the grace to expose their bodies in public is to say the rest of us need to walk around in draperies.

So I talk to myself every day about Brandi Chastain, her abs, and my heart. I idealistically wish for a world where beauty does not reign and lust is not an issue. In the meantime, while we wait for Heaven, I will clothe myself appropriately, and I will not, I absolutely refuse, to be ashamed of my curves.

6 Comment

  1. A-freakin’-men. Yes! I’ve spent most of my life trying to cover myself up not because I might trigger a man’s lust but because I’ve been ashamed of my not-awesome abs. I was just coming to accept my body as it is and just be the healthiest me I can be when I read a blog post by a woman who said “being overweight isn’t acceptable to God.” When I called her on it, her answer was to continue to shame me personally. So I am cheering at your words, “Bodies aren’t who we are.” Because that is about the truest thing anyone could say about our bodies.

  2. Abs-sofreakin-luitly.

    Tell ’em! And me. I suffer from the same “it’s totally okay and respectable for *them* but not for me.” Other women have bodies that are amazing and beautiful and curvy and straight and everything in between. Mine is somehow the anomaly in my mind. Mine’s chubby and hail damaged and shows I’m not worthy (cue Dana Carvey and Mike Meyers), but everyone else’s just are. They just are what they are and that’s perfectly what they should be.

  3. Wow, that’s kind of really cool, Brandi taking off her shirt in celebration- she’s awesome! And yeah, I can totally see people being like “oh that’s immodest, a woman in a sports bra is an evil attack on men.” Uggh.

    I’m so glad now that I’ve rejected what I was taught about modesty, which made me feel guilty for wanting to be beautiful, and made me judge other women. Now I wear what makes me happy, and I feel good about looking good. And I can say other women are awesome/beautiful/etc instead of “ooooh that’s bad, she shouldn’t wear that.”

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