The Personalist Project

Two news items caught my attention yesterday. The first was about idealized Facebook profiles. A recent survey in Britain found that 76% of those asked admitted to tweaking the images they post to their profiles in order to make "their lives seem more exciting." Some even confessed to have "borrowed items to include in the images in order to pass them off as their own and make others jealous." 

Paying attention to how one appears in public, or to friends or colleagues, is nothing new. It is not only forgivable, but entirely right to put one's best foot forward—to conceal some aspects of oneself and highlight others. It is linked to our existence as bodily subjects in relation and exposed to others. It is a matter of self-respect. But it is easy to go from just wanting to make a good impression to trying to make a false impression—false in the sense of idealized, hypocritical, unreal, or whatever. And there are different motives for this too. Trying to make others jealous is one. Being embarrassed about how boring or unimpressive our real self/life is, is another.

The second news item was about a middle-aged woman, who made a sexy photoshoot of herself as a Christmas present for her husband of more than 20 years. The husband's response is wonderful. Though fully appreciating the good intentions of both the wife and the photographer, he did not like it that the pictures were airbrushed. His "heart sank" when he saw them. The pictures were beautiful, but he no longer saw the wife that he loved in them. Writing to the photographer, he says:

You made every one of her 'flaws' disappear... and while I'm sure this is exactly what she asked you to do, it took away everything that makes up our life. When you took away her stretch marks, you took away the documentation of my children. When you took away her wrinkles, you took away over two decades of our laughter, and our worries. When you took away her cellulite, you took away her love of baking and all the goodies we have eaten over the years.

Beautiful and true. Even better, the husband realizes that he is himself largely to blame; that he has not made his wife feel that he loves her just as she is:

Seeing these images made me realize that I honestly do not tell my wife enough how much I LOVE her and adore her just as she is. She hears it so seldom, that she actually thought these photoshopped images are what I wanted and needed her to look like. I have to do better, and for the rest of my days I am going to celebrate her in all her imperfectness.

Something similar seems also true of idealized Facebook profiles. The survey I mentioned above shows not only that most people "airbrush" their own social image, but also that they judge their peers based on their social image. What goes around comes around. The more we judge people based on their virtual appearance, the more tempted they will be to control and improve that appearance. The challenge in these days of social media is to resist that temptation from both sides. The challenge is to be real. Not to trade flawed realities for perfect shadows.

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Comments (16)

Rhett Segall

#1, Oct 17, 2015 11:31am

Jules, your thoughts remind me of the comments made by the character played by Richard Dreyfuss in "The Competition". He tells his girlfriend that he knows he loves her because he's seen her face in direct sunlight "and no one looks good in direct sunlight" and he still wants to be with her! Also, I can't help but think of the comments of Oliver Cromwell to his portrait artist:

"Mr. Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it." As quoted in Anecdotes of Painting in England (1762-1771) by Horace Walpole often credited as being the origin of the phrase "warts and all"."

The beauty of a love relationship is how vulnerable we make ourselves to another. This also ties in with your recent posting on robots-we don't have to fear rejection there; nor the need for expressing repentance, as highlighted by Katie. But what robots and non-repentance offer is cotton candy.

Shalom,

Rhett

TheCatholicbyChoice

#2, Oct 17, 2015 1:01pm

I fail to see how allowing someone to take pornographic images of yourself is either virtuous or an example of Theology of the body.....

Jules van Schaijik

#3, Oct 17, 2015 4:26pm

Thanks for the those references Rhett. And you're right about the connection with social robots. They promise relationship without vulnerability.

To TheCatholicbyChoice: It is not the sexy pictures that are an example of TOB but the husband's response. The husband does not want an ideal body but her body, because in and through it she is made visible. Moreover, he understands that in so far as his wife feels ashamed of her body, he is partly to blame. He sees it as a call to love her better. 

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Oct 17, 2015 4:32pm

Also, sexy and pornographic aren't synonyms, especially not in the context of marriage. That's one of the lessons we get from TOB.

TheCatholicbyChoice

#5, Oct 17, 2015 4:35pm

Jules van Schaijik wrote:

Thanks for the those references Rhett. And you're right about the connection with social robots. They promise relationship without vulnerability.

To TheCatholicbyChoice: It is not the sexy pictures that are an example of TOB but the husband's response. The husband does not want an ideal body but her body, because in and through it she is made visible. Moreover, he understands that in so far as his wife feels ashamed of her body, he is partly to blame. He sees it as a call to love her better. 

That's all well and fine, I just think you should have reinforced the fact that it is unchaste and downright sinful to indulge in any form of pornography, regardless of if you're married or not.

TheCatholicbyChoice

#6, Oct 17, 2015 4:39pm

Katie van Schaijik wrote:

Also, sexy and pornographic aren't synonyms, especially not in the context of marriage. That's one of the lessons we get from TOB.

Marriage isn't about "sexy", it's about sacrificial love and suffering for the good of your family. Taking "sexy" pictures is fruitless and sacrilegious to the dignity and value of the person. Instead of hiding dirty pictures from a playboy, you're hiding dirty pictures of your spouse, the very person you are to lay down your life for? Okay then.....

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Oct 17, 2015 4:50pm

Of course marriage isn't "about" sexy! But it involves sex and sexual attraction, and there is nothing wrong or sacrilegious or against the dignity of the person with displaying your sexual attractiveness for your spouse. We are not puritans.

And nothing could be clearer from the husband's response than that he didn't view the pictures in a pornographic way. 

TheCatholicbyChoice

#8, Oct 17, 2015 4:54pm

Katie van Schaijik wrote:

Of course marriage isn't "about" sexy! But it involves sex and sexual attraction, and there is nothing wrong or sacrilegious or against the dignity of the person with displaying your sexual attractiveness for your spouse. We are not puritans.

And nothing could be clearer from the husband's response than that he didn't view the pictures in a pornographic way. 

Well I am a puritan. Sexual attraction is a distraction, plain and simple. The husband's reaction was glorious, no argument there. However, the vehicle by which it came was anything but Christian. 

Jules van Schaijik

#9, Oct 17, 2015 5:04pm

To ThePuritanbyChoice: 

Well I am a puritan. Sexual attraction is a distraction, plain and simple.

Okay then. It seems there is no point in further argument.

Katie van Schaijik

#10, Oct 17, 2015 5:12pm

TheCatholicbyChoice wrote:

Well I am a puritan. Sexual attraction is a distraction, plain and simple. The husband's reaction was glorious, no argument there. However, the vehicle by which it came was anything but Christian. 

Puritanism is inconsistent with Catholic teaching, and directly opposed by the Theology of the Body.

Sexual attraction is not a "distraction" in marriage; is it at the heart of conjugal love and the married vocation.

To identity sexual attraction with lust is a grave error. To accuse a wife of pornography for have pictures taken of herself as a gift for her husband is seriously unjust. 

If I had my copy of In Defense of Purity handy, I could quote some scathing passages against puritanism by von Hildebrand. 

Katie van Schaijik

#11, Oct 17, 2015 5:16pm

I wonder if you've read the section in Love and Responsibility where Karol Wojtyla writes of the husband's responsibility to try to bring his wife to orgasm.

I wonder how that squares with your idea that sexual attraction is a distraction in marriage. 

TheCatholicbyChoice

#12, Oct 17, 2015 6:16pm

Katie van Schaijik wrote:

I wonder if you've read the section in Love and Responsibility where Karol Wojtyla writes of the husband's responsibility to try to bring his wife to orgasm.

I wonder how that squares with your idea that sexual attraction is a distraction in marriage. 

1.) I wonder if this wife has possession of the Negatives from this photo shoot. If not, her naked body is on someone's hardrive or file. Her naked body, at the click of a button, can be viewed. 

2.) I'm not even gonna dignify that "orgasm" statement with a response. 

Katie van Schaijik

#13, Oct 17, 2015 10:29pm

Who said her body was naked?

You know that Karol Wojtyla became John Paul II, the Pope and the author of Theology of the Body, right? He evidently didn't think it undignified to write about female orgasms. 

Katie van Schaijik

#14, Oct 21, 2015 10:53am

Jules found me the passage I had in mind. It begins on page 272 in our falling-apart copy of Love and Responsibility.

Sexologists state that the curve of arousal in women is different from that in man—it rises more slowly and falls more slowly...The man must take this difference between male and female reactions into account...There exists a rhythm dictated by nature itself which both spouses must discover so that climax may be reached both by the man and by the woman, and as far as possible occur in both simultaneously.

...Non-observance of these teachings of sexology in the marital relationship is contrary to the good of the other partner to the marriage and the durability and cohesion of the marriage itself.

If marriage were exclusively about child-bearing and child-rearing and sacrifice and suffering, why would he write this? Simultaneous climax isn't necessary for pregnancy. A woman is capable of bearing many children without ever climaxing.

Clearly, the future Pope sees sexual pleasure and satisfaction as objective goods in marriage.

Josh

#15, Apr 7, 2016 10:15pm

Hi All! First post. :)

I will always remember listening the the Arch-Theologian- Servant of God Father John Hardon speak on Sexual Pleasure in Catholic doctrine. He always spoke so precisely on all matters of faith; and in terms of what was authentic and what was in error, that when he spoke clearly on the necessity to affirm and receive as a great good the gift of sexual pleasure: it was really resonating.   

Jules van Schaijik

#16, Apr 8, 2016 2:30pm

Welcome to the site Josh!

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