What happens when your body doesn't look how it's supposed to look, or feel how it's supposed to feel, or do what it's supposed to do? Who or what defines the ideals behind these expectations? How can we challenge them and live more peacefully in our bodies? Shameful Bodies: Religion and the Culture of Physical Improvement
explores these questions by examining how traditional religious norms and narratives are tacitly embedded in the construction and pursuit of physical improvement in contemporary western societies. Examples include self-help books, magazines, and advertising. Such norms and narratives support commercial and self-help discourses that promote a pain-free, flab-free, wrinkle-free, socially privileged, unencumbered body as normative for every
body. Religious and commercial ideologies that incite conformity and control call us to go to war against those parts of our flesh that refuse to comply with the cultural ideal and encourage us to feel ashamed of our physical particularities. This shame is not a natural response to bodily girth, illness, chronic pain, physical impairment, and/or signs of aging. Rather, Michelle Lelwica shows it is a religiously and culturally conditioned reaction to the commercially-fabricated fantasy of physical perfection.
The painful prevalence of body shame indicates the need for new ways of thinking about embodiment - ways that affirm the unique beauty, goodness, dignity, and wholeness of every body, without exceptions. While Shameful Bodies
critiques the religious and cultural norms and narratives that perpetuate external and internalized judgment and aggression toward “shameful” bodies, it also engages the resources of religions (especially womanist Christian theologies and Buddhist thought/practice) to construct a more affirming approach to the diversity, fragility, and impermanence of embodied life.