Despite vehement protests against religious bodies that “interfere” with intimate personal choices, public figures love to use snippets of scripture or doctrine that seem to lend credence to their outlandish behavior. Usually, such attempts at justification prove their shallow understanding of both the vocabulary and principles of religious conviction — but they certainly make for entertaining headlines.
The Confused Notion of “Body as Art”
The latest example of this trend adds titillation to the usual theological mockery, as one of the foremost bikini models claims that her own career is a manifestation of John Paul II’s theology of the body. Joanna Krupa takes delight in noting that the high priests of fashion and the Pope of Rome have joined to marry the sacred and the mundane, so that human bodies (like hers) can be marketed worldwide for pleasure — both in the eye of the beholder and in her voluptuous bank account. That seems to make everyone a winner!
“Interestingly enough, these days,” she chirps happily, “you see nudity and toplessness in almost every critically-acclaimed movie, and whenever I pick up a French Vogue , I see bare breasts, and French Vogue still sets the standards.” Ah, yes, the honored critics and the revered standards. She deftly ties it together with the makings of a creed: “[T]he fact is Pope John Paul said, since we were born naked, it is art, and it’s just showing a beautiful body that God created.”
A direct quote from any papal document to that effect would have been a little too much to ask for, but she may have stumbled onto the Cliff Notes version of his Angelus messages of a couple decades ago. It’s her effort to baptize cutting-edge raunch, but of course it falls grievously short of the mark. John Paul II did mention the beauty of the body, but nakedness as a good was limited to our brief shining moment before The Fall. “In the state of original innocence, nakedness…did not express a lack, but represented full acceptance of the body in all its human and therefore personal truth” (TOB, 14 May 1980). Unfortunately, that innocence isn’t with us any more, and our disordered passions mandate regular trips to the mall to drape the body appropriately.
Imagining an Alternate Universe
Krupa’s simplistic view of the “body beautiful” hearkens back to Brooke Shields’ blockbuster, The Blue Lagoon (1980) — dubbed a “natural love story.” That film set out to give flesh to Margaret Meade’s thesis that cultures which haven’t attached shame to nudity and sex exhibit a healthier, more wholesome appreciation of carnal pleasures. And yet, people conveniently forget that Meade’s Coming of Age in Samoa was more wishful thinking than accurate anthropology, for original sin was truly present on that remote island — despite the pretty waterfall and Hollywood rewrite.
The same John Paul II who insisted that original unity between man and woman was an extraordinary gift also reminded us forcefully to guard that gift from objectification and abuse — a factor that even Adam and Eve recognized immediately upon falling from grace: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons” (Gn 3:7). Tan lines were a mandatory part of life east of Eden, though with the new work ethic that accompanied their change in status, they may have been too tired to notice.
We cannot glean much personal information about Krupa from this short interview (and strangely I find that I don’t have much of a drive to find out more). Suffice it to say that it doesn’t appear that she thinks much of the Church’s teachings on marriage and procreation, for neither are a part of her landscape. She says she’s “always been in committed relationships,” which is a peculiar contradiction in terms. Either committed doesn’t mean committed, or her sense of fidelity comes with an expiration date.
So where else does her theology on nudity and beauty lead her? Her apostolate is to other women, so that they might have “bikini-ready” bodies just like hers. Again, her limited understanding of the Church’s teaching hasn’t provided the depth necessary to consider how such a use of the body leads to the objectification of women and the temptation of men. Being attractive on a beach or the deck of a boat hardly exemplifies the personalist ethic, which promotes each person as a subject, capable of deep love and extraordinary generosity. In that vein, the complete gift of self would seem to exclude parading about as eye candy for the casual admirer, but rather compel one to live a life of modesty, integrity and receptivity to the other by means of authentic love.
Her theology is also remarkably deficient on the moral law, for she neglects to take seriously John Paul II’s ubiquitous reminders to live in solidarity with others, which requires each of us to look to the authentic good of our neighbor. Solidarity would rule out those transient sexual relationships — no matter how “committed” and would exclude offering her image to men as an occasion of lust. A quick Google search of her name indicates that such occasions blanket the Internet and news stands world-wide, not to mention those “visuals with a pulse” on beaches everywhere — courtesy of her body-perfecting apostolate.
The beauty of our original nakedness that Krupa uses to justify her disordered mission is actually a signpost to the deeper truth that man and woman were created for communion and being channels of new life. John Paul II writes, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience love and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it” (Redemptor Hominis 10).
More importantly, her boiled-down theology ignores the reality that we are persons and settles for the warmed over lie of the day — that we are merely individuals. Reducing the beauty of persons to a base herd of individuals provides us with no accountability, no constraints — and no dignity. The dignity of persons, who are in the image and likeness of God, rests in our inherent freedom, which is what distinguishes the “body as sex toy” from the “body as temple of the Holy Spirit.” The body must be treasured as a sacrament, bearing within it “the interior freedom of the gift — the disinterested gift of oneself” (TOB, 16 Jan 1980).
Restoring Honor and Dignity
Concupiscence — our tendency to sin — is not insurmountable, although it is always with us. God is also with us, and His grace is sufficient if we turn to Him in humility. Jesus waged a battle over sin and won, and teaches us to imitate Him in the virtues that will rebuild communion. “Victory over that discord in the body… can and must take place in man’s heart. This is the way to purity, that is ‘to control one’s own body in holiness and honor’” (TOB, 4 Feb, 1981). Thus, the shame that accompanied our fall from grace must be channeled towards a joyful modesty and prudence in our approach to human sexuality.
So although Fox News trumpets the “dog bites man” headline that this wildly successful nude model is “Inspired by John Paul II’s Theology of the Body,” she is simply one more confused soul who wants to spiritualize a very earthy vice. Just as Satan quoted scripture to Our Lord in the desert, the wider culture has a penchant for wrapping its sins in fake piety. God willing, an errant, salivating fan might look this theology thing up, thinking it will confirm his every desire — only to be transformed by those words that lead us to more beauty than the editors of French Vogue ever imagined. Let’s pray for such a miracle.