Breasts, Backsides and the Table of Equality


Photo 2016-06-09, 1 14 21 AMby Tina Osterhouse@TinaOsterhouse

The first time I was called into the pastor’s office for wearing something inappropriate, I was 17.

I started going to a large community church right after my parents’ divorce. I had recently unashamedly given my entire life over to God and was radically committed to finding Jesus everywhere I went. I was also slightly bent out of shape over my parents’ split, out of money, and mildly neurotic. I loved theology. I could talk about God for hours.

I ended up in that particular youth group because there were cute boys, and because I had a few friends who went there. The church was a wonderful place for me to discover God and ask hard questions. We hiked, went to Mexico, went camping on the Oregon Coast, and I snuck off with boys to make out. Someone looking at me from the outside could easily have summed me up with the typical statement of she’s looking for love in all the wrong places, and maybe they were right.

They were also wrong. I had found love in the person of Jesus and was diligently trying to sort out what that meant among God’s people.

One afternoon, while I was wandering the halls of the church, one of the pastors called me into his office. He was the coolest pastor I’d ever known. I sat in front of his desk and we chatted for a few minutes and then, as cool as ice, he mentioned two particular times in the past six months when I had worn something that seemed too revealing, too scant. I had shown my cleavage and my backside in inappropriate ways. He wondered if I wanted the boys to notice me. He hoped to set me on the straight path of modest clothing.

I apologized. Took responsibility.

I also cried. I left the office sick to my stomach, worried about what everyone else thought of me, worried that maybe everyone agreed with him. I wanted to hide. I wanted to rage, but mostly, I wanted that particular pastor to know how much I loved Jesus. I wished he had noticed me instead of my clothes. I wished he’d noticed the good things about me, the parts of me that were trying to so hard to belong and find God in all the confusion of adolescence.

A few years went by. I sailed around the world as a missionary. I preached the gospel to hundreds. I loved God with more fervor and excitement than I knew how to contain, and I ended up on staff at the same church several years later. It was a good church overflowing with people who loved God with reckless abandon.

I weighed about 110 pounds, was newly married, and was trying to navigate what all that meant. Sexuality was so confusing. I’d spent most of my teen years trying to turn off the hormones, not go too far with a boy and yet far enough so he’d keep me around. Then one day I signed on the dotted line, made a few vows, and all of a sudden, we could do whatever we wanted to do. And God deemed it sacred and holy.

That was when another pastor called me into his office. I needed to be aware of how my clothing was affecting the men in the office. Just earlier that day he’d caught a man checking out my backside because my black dress pants were too tight. He wouldn’t disclose the name of the man because it wasn’t about who. This was about me. It was about temptation.

I gulped. I wiggled in my chair, tucked my hair behind my ears and wished I could crawl into a hole and disappear.

It got worse. He pointed to my shirt and told me that the only thing he wanted to do was stare at my chest, because it was a v-neck. This was my fault, too. I wore the wrong shirt.

As a young woman who adored Jesus and found him the most loving man ever to walk this earth, I was horribly confused. I was also ashamed.

But out of love and deference to him, I did exactly what he expected me to do. I apologized. Took responsibility. Promised to be careful about my clothing from then on. And I was.

I was even more careful to make men the center of the story. In all things. To be thoughtful of them and their weaknesses, to let them be the ones in charge and tell me who I was supposed to be, what I was supposed to wear, when and where I was allowed to preach, and how I was allowed to do ministry…

Many years have gone by along with lots of debates and arguments, questions, wonderings. Heartbreak. Lots of taking responsibility. I’ve read articles on yoga pants, articles about bikinis, the importance of modest swimsuits, how we as women should be careful not to cause men to stumble, to not draw men’s eyes to our bodies.

I have wanted to ask a question …

When are you going to take responsibility for your own eyes and value me as a person made in God’s image? How long will it take for you to see the me that goes deeper than her breasts, than the curve of her backside?

I would love to have a real conversation about beauty and vulnerability, about creativity and our authentic, intrinsic value.

Then, after we’ve talked about all those things, after we’ve met at the table of equality, if you want to talk about shirts and trousers, about breasts and backsides—we may.


About Tina:

Tina is passionate about living deeply and authentically. Through fiction, blog posts, and creative essays, she writes about ordinary life and the way God meets us in our everyday circumstances and creatively weaves the sacred into them. She studied ministry and theology at Northwest University, most recently lived on thirty acres in Southern Chile, and finally returned to the Seattle area in June of 2015.