GROWING up, I always had the idea that my body and me were two separate things. Instead of my body being me, I felt that I was a spirit trapped in the shell of my body. When I die, my spirit will finally break free from the earthly body I have and be free to enter heaven.

Yet, every Sunday, I had been proclaiming through the Apostles’ Creed that I believe in the resurrection of the body – that after the resurrection, I will have the same body (except for imperfections) that I had in this life. This truth set me on a journey to understand more about my relationship between my body and me. 

At 12 years old, I started going through puberty. I remembered being singled out by a teacher after physical education class. She pointed to me, commented on my growing breasts and demanded that my mother buy me a bra immediately since my breasts were starting to show. All my classmates turned to gawk at me and I felt so ashamed. I did not know how to react but to quickly turn away from their stares. But I felt small and ridiculed.

Looking back with the eyes of an adult, I now understand that my teacher was not just singling my body out but that she was singling me out. If she had simply commented on my backpack being dirty, I would not have felt as vulnerable as I did when she pointed to the size of my developing breasts.

When I was 17, I allowed myself to be in a relationship where I was constantly engaging in inappropriate touch with my then-boyfriend. To me, physical intimacy represented love. If we loved each other, it was only normal that we kissed and explored each other’s bodies, right? I felt that my actions were okay as long as we were not harming anyone else. Whenever we met, our conversations would quickly transit into physical touch. I kept thinking that we were a couple and so our ‘love’ for one another could justify our behaviour.

Yet, I always left our meet ups feeling unclean and less than. I began to realize that our inappropriate touching was affecting something deeper, more internal and was not just something external to me. My body was not something external to me. It was as if my body was sending signals that I could not allow my partner to access the intimate parts of my body without the proper marital intimacy due for such access.

Culturally, we do not point out that “Jane’s body has a flu” but rather “Jane has a flu”. In certain areas of life, we are aware that the body and the person are one and the same. Yet, in other areas of life, sometimes we think of our bodies as property we own, as external to us, like our backpacks or wallets. We fall to the fallacy of dualism, encapsulated by the phrase “I think therefore I am”.

Sometimes, we believe that our bodies are controlled by our minds. If our bodies are simply something that we own, something that the mind controls, then we would be free to use it in any way that we wish as long as the mind says so. But I have come to realize that I am my body, and everything that my body does is imbued with meaning – like how I felt so affected when my teacher singled me out for developing breasts. My body communicates a deeper language and is not just some possession that I can use as I wish.

When we say that our body is sacred, we say that our body stands for us; the actions of our body stand for our actions. Friends, if you find yourself artificially splitting the mind and the body, don’t lose heart.  This thought might be ingrained in our culture, but remember – it is not “my body is mine”, but “my body is me”!

 

Pearlyn Neo is a graduate of the School of Mission organized by LiFE-ICPE Mission Sabah in 2019. A perfect day is one where she is having great conversations with friends around the world and beating the time-limits of escape rooms.