Choosing what to wear to church is like playing Russian roulette. It’s either hit or miss. Add to that being a female in leadership and you just upped the ante. Now you’re playing with a fully loaded clip. Don’t let it be a special Sunday with a female guest preacher. Boom. You’re dead and you’re going to hell. This is the dilemma I face every Saturday night. It doesn’t matter how many mirrors I look in, I will almost inevitably miss a panty line, wear the wrong bra, something too tight or too short. Story of my life.
One Sunday in my early twenties I went up to give announcements. I was wearing a turtleneck sweater dress that fell a twinge above the knees. Well, some self -proclaimed church sisters were less than happy with my knee meat and took me into a bathroom stall. Can you guess what happened next? One of them commenced to taking off her shape-wear. They twisted, jumped, pulled until they stuffed me in that thing like a pig in a blanket. It clearly didn’t fit my shapely body and I was mortified. I felt like I got jumped. I had to sit in the next service completely uncomfortable. I know some of you are probably thinking, “You are a grown woman. Why would you let them do that?”
Until you have grown up in church where the elders get as much respect as a gang leader then you cannot understand.
It didn’t matter that I was humiliated and felt small. It didn’t matter that it had took me time, lots of therapy and a good co-pay to feel beautiful and comfortable in my own skin. All that mattered to them was that my body was unsafe. They had done their Godly duty of maintaining my holiness and virtue at the sake of my self-esteem and confidence. They had fixed me, but I wasn’t sick. What we wear is not who we are and it is not indicative of our relationship with God. Yet, if you manage to break me down and make me feel wrong then you can say whatever you want to get me right.
Then and there I understood my black female body as a problem. Somatophobia or fear of the body is a highly contagious, rampant, and infectious disease in the church.
Symptoms include comments such as: “Don’t be a stumbling block.” “When we said come as you are, we didn’t mean that.” “Why would she come to church wearing that? This isn’t a club.” “She is just wearing that to get attention.” It is spread through the silent glances given to people as you look them up and down. If you have ever found yourself grabbing your boo tighter than a white woman grabs her purse around black males then you have caught it. What’s so dangerous about it is it spreads so quickly with no real outward symptoms and gets shrouded in the cloak of being holy.
But somatophobia is not holy. While always under the guise of “help” the consideration is not made for the shame it produces in others. It is also sexist in that most times the “infected” are women. That’s a whole other blog topic.
The older I get the more I am irreverent in rebelling against the notion of my body as a problem. My boundaries for what I wear to church are just that…mine.
You walk in my church and you may see me in a sweater dress, a fitting outfit or some shoes that are a bit high. I like my clothes to fit. Therefore, I won’t be wearing a muumuu unless of course I choose to. You won’t catch me in stockings or a robe. In fact, the only way I’m wearing a robe is if when I twirl it catches fire and I rise out like a Phoenix. It needs to be Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen epic. When people say that what a woman wore prompted someone to rape her, we cry out. Yet someone saying that what we wear somehow separates us from God is not problematic? Ma’am if you can come up in here in July with that ugly knit sweater with cats on it that was clearly a Christmas gag then I should get a pass.
In my own way I am exercising exaggerated visibility. The more you try to “unsee” me the more I will fight to be seen. We “unsee” a lot in church. It hasn’t helped us.
We “unsee” what is uncomfortable, what is quirky, what we think is sinful. The list goes on and on. Jesus was constantly saying, “Those who have ears let them hear.” I think that Jesus would have also said those who have eyes let them see. See the damage that has been caused. See the ugly. See the misfits. See the sinners. See it all. I think the church seeing is the first step to its healing. Each Sunday, we have the opportunity to participate in the healing of a broken institution by not only seeing others, but seeing ourselves.
Photo Credits: Kurt Williamson, Miami Ad School.