Walt Whitman, c. 1860, Author Matthew Brady, Source Library of Congress (PD-Age)
“The man’s body is sacred and the woman’s body is sacred, No matter who it is, it is sacred…”
– Walt Whitman, “I Sing the Body Electric”
The great American poet, Walt Whitman, was roundly criticized for publishing those words. Whitman’s landmark Leaves of Grass, the book containing “I Sing the Body Electric”, was initially ignored by the public then viewed as controversial. The poem – dealing as it does with the human body – was labeled obscene .
Whitman celebrates the body, in all its physicality – the stomach, the lungs, the bones and marrow, the heart, the bowels, and the rest. The poet speaks of apprentices, laborers, farmers, firemen…even slaves. He praises infants, girls and boys, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons.
What Whitman concludes is that the body is an expression of the soul. “And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?” he asks.
The question is worth considering.
A Temptation to Sin
“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
– Gnostic heresy 
Christians often view the body as a temptation to sin and nothing more. In this view, the body is a sort of overcoat to be used, beaten into submission, then discarded.
Abuse victims understand that outlook far too well. Often, we despise our bodies. In an effort to distance ourselves from the abuse, we distance ourselves emotionally from the flesh which was subjected to such pain and humiliation.
Emotional distance becomes our refuge. We hide our bodies in drab and shapeless clothing; disguise them in layers of fat; or cut them as punishment for the unforgivable crime of serving as targets for our abuse.
Abuse and Sexuality
Because of that alienation, it can be extremely difficult for child abuse victims to reconnect to their sexuality, as adults. Some of us never do. We carry that secret shame as long as we live – a “defect” for which we feel somehow responsible, though it is as much a scar of our abuse as any other. Continue reading