Posted in Essay, Spiritual Practice, Terri Stewart

Sacred Space in Our Bodies: Women

Last week, I started exploring finding sacred space in our bodies. I took a brief look at the need for sacred space because of the large influence of Western Christianity on our society and the world. Additionally, the groundwork was laid for a holistic view of our bodies as sexual beings and the unity of being.

Today, I will be speaking to the point of women and body image. I will be using images, factoids, and spoken word to make the point for healing our body image and considering our bodies sacred space

The problem: Pretty

iraneusquoteAccording to society and the media, pretty is not:

  • Dark skin
  • Dark hair
  • Freckles
  • Fat
  • Crooked noses
  • Old
  • Or short

Pretty is:

  • Pale
  • I’d like to point out that even women I consider quite beautiful such as Beyonce, often have their skin “lightened” in Photoshop for magazine covers.  I am sure this is the editor’s choice.
  • Tall
  • Skinny
  • Young
  • Sexualized
  • Vanity Fair magazine did a survey of who the most beautiful woman is in 2009 and Angelina Jolie won by a wide margin.  I believe that she fits all of these categories, especially the sexualized presentation of women.

Often, in the media, sexualized women are used for no apparent reason.  In this advertisement that popped up one day while I was working on research for this presentation, there is this woman presenting her legs and high heels…for an advertisement about school grants.


Popular media has a freedom to make fun of what pretty isn’t…whether it is fat, short, old, or freckled.  Here Tyra Banks is being called fat.  She is a role model for young women across America whether we like it or not.  If people are associating fat with her and calling her ugly and disgusting, what does that do to our young women that admire her?


And now a personal story…

colincaseyThis is my my child Colin and his cousin Casey, my niece.  These two kids both consider themselves fat at this time.  Colin was afraid to wear “skinny jeans” because he thinks they make him look fat so he hides his body behind baggy basketball shorts and sweatshirts. Casey is in the same boat. They already don’t like their bodies.

Even models are not thin enough.  Ralph Lauren ran this ad with this image in Japan.  They then fired Filippa Hamilton for “breach of contract” which she says is because she was too big.


Here, Dove bravely shows us the evolution of beauty:

Here is the list of the Maxim Hot 100.  Women and girls measure themselves against this list and this standard of beauty thinking it will bring

  • Happiness
  • Fulfillment
  • Joy
  • Wealth
  • Desire
  • And Self Worth



This is death dealing to our young women.

  • Teenagers who THINK they are overweight are at a higher risk of suicide.
  • Over 35 million people in the U.S. have an eating disorder of some kind…anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating.  A huge percentage of these people are women.  Up 95% of the people with anorexia or bulimia are women and 65% of people with a binge eating disorder are women.  Or girls.
  • Eating disorders cause early onset of disease and illness.
  • This is being driven down to an earlier age…over 80% of 10 year olds fear being fat.
  • Again, this is death dealing.  Young women are dying from eating disorders.

Just to contrast,  Measuring against this standard of beauty actually brings

  • Depression
  • Sexual Disorder
  • Self Hatred
  • Self Mutilation
  • Eating Disorders
  • And Suicide

Popular music is no better. Here is an offensive song by the Macc Lads called “Ugly Women.” The lyrics include:

Thank God for ugly women, all the boilers bags and trolls, Just so they could get a shag they invented alcohol.

Speaking of self-mutilation and to that which Kathy Makkai spoke of so poignantly in her poem, nearly 1.2 cosmetic surgeries done for non-medical reasons were done in 2008.


Ridiculously, this is now being marketed in children’s books. There is a book called, “My Beautiful Mommy” available on amazon.

But there is good news! Our young women are changing and the world is moving into a place where we can consider our bodies and body image, sacred space.

Again, what’s theology got to do with it?

  • Body/Spirit dualism allows objectification (Kelly Brown Douglas)
  • Objectification leads to disembodiment in the sense of our body as unholy other
  • When we are disembodied, we can no longer connect to creation (Sally McFague)
  • When we are disembodied, we can no longer connect to the other (Mayra Rivera)
  • When we are disembodied, we can no longer connect to the other within our self (extrapolated from Mayra Rivera)
  • We can neither connect to immanence nor transcendence

Without immanence (experiencing our bodies) or
transcendence (experiencing the other),
we lose our sense of sacred

And we become a befuddled mess. My hope and prayer is that you will hear the prophetic words of Kathy Makkai and the Girl’s Making Media and declare your body and your body image sacred space.

Can I get an Amen?

References are here.




I am a monk disguised as a passionate prophet. My true loves are God, family, and the creative arts. And maybe just a little bit of politics too. (PS My photo is by Eric Lyons Photography).

17 thoughts on “Sacred Space in Our Bodies: Women

  1. You certainly can, Terri. Amen! So much depression and discomfort in the service of what? There’s a quote in the i Ching that I love. Paraphrasing: If you pay more attention to the vessel than what it contains, you will entirely miss the meaning of the moment. How many meaningful moments do we miss because of this obsession/delusion?

    Well done … a good post and a good deed in one package … I hope lots read it.


  2. AMEN! I still have problems with body image and I’m 70. I keep remembering my early teen daughter saying to me that our friend Martha Reid was beautiful. This shocked me because Martha was over 65, thinning hair, wrinkled and overweight. Yes, Martha is beautiful and money can’t buy her type of beauty. Great post, Terri. I’m forwarding it to my daughter who has three early-/pre-teen daughters.


  3. Great, timely post!

    I just saw a TV program on “pretty faces” (don’t remember the actual title) . . . about the astounding increase of teen-agers have breast “augmentation”, plastic facial surgery and the like. The surgeons are reporting increases of 20% A YEAR in the number of teen-agers they are seeing.

    Almost all teen-agers find something about their bodies they don’t like – it’s just our brain’s ego-centric view of the world (some of our brains, mine included, take a very long time to connect the right neurotransmitters!).

    What I find alarming is that it’s becoming common place for SURGICAL solutions to age-old adolescent issues and the risks that go with it . . . and the parents who are footing the bill.


  4. I raised 3 daughters through most of these body image pitfalls, including bulimia, depression, suicide and cutting, and this complicated web of dis-ease is not just about body image, but other ideas of identity and security, too. Media plays a big role, if you let it, but even without that, the idea of comparison is somehow inherent in “survival of the fittest”. Addressing your self, with kindness and compassion, and at a less anxious pace, is a practice of grace, and always has been. I do think we’ve made it more difficult in modern society.


  5. I lost a former co-worker to bulimia and knew a young man, bulimic also, who ended up taking his life with rat poison. Our “perfect” image today is truly death-dealing. Advertising feeds into it. Who knew how sexy a car could be. Sad commentary. Great, important post.


  6. thank you for this great post..I have always had problems with my own body because i never learned to accept it as it is..and I had many friends who were like me..who reached a dangerous point of self loathing and depression of minor details in their bodies that people found beautiful..!! it is a shame how we are driven and controlled by all these false standards of artificial beauty that make us hate ourself for not being in the category of those “very perfect” people according to us..while real beauty is being natural, is accept what you the joy of life knowing that you are beautiful inside and out..! it is something simply money can’t buy..


    1. Yes, it is! How we work through it to come to the decision that we are perfectly worthy and perfectly sacred as we are is the tricky bit!

      Thank you for reading and commenting.


  7. Profane spaces in our bodies – inspired by Terri Stewart and a host of other women writers.

    I love my potbelly
    the dark rings under my eyes
    my bad teeth
    my lack of height
    my skinny legs
    my awkward hands
    my BP
    being nearly 50

    I love your dark skin
    aging looks
    sagging breasts
    falling hair
    flesh to spare
    whatever gets you
    through the nights

    profane spaces in our bodies
    all that mars
    being then on tenterhooks
    take it easy, baby
    profane is best
    be yourself


  8. Amen! This is such an important post! I have struggled personally with this very issue, as have many of my friends and family. The media is largely to blame, and we should all be aware of how they emotionally manipulate us. For example, while I love it that Dove is “seemingly” promoting women of all sizes in their commercials, their parent company also produces the Axe brand of products for men, which highly sexualizes women in those product ads. See: Don’t be manipulated.

    Food for thought. To most corporations, women, who make up the majority of shoppers in the marketplace, are just dollar signs. The bottom line is profit. Not self-esteem for women, not a healthier body-image or stopping the trend of objectifying and sexualizing women. The porn industry is also to blame but that’s an entirely other rant. Thanks SO much for tackling this problem, Terri. It is one of the most important issues that women today have to deal with!!


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