Sunday, September 23, 2012

Of chastity, tattoos, and the Powerpuff Girls

Ten years ago I wrote something for Woman Today magazine which I later placed in one of my blogs. That blog contains some of my published work and I'd love to add more, which I can't do, unfortunately. I forgot my password for that blog.

So in 2002 I was asked to write a piece on chastity, which I nearly turned down. Who wouldn't find such a topic daunting -- particularly if the aim is to come up with something formative, uplifting, and sound and not merely entertaining, a chance for self-expression, or a go at (mis)leading readers into dismissing the notion of chastity and related values as outdated or unrealistic? Well, with much encouragement from my editor, I did accept the assignment. Here's the result:

When chastity is a funky tattoo

That title up there is probably the only instance where you'll see the words "chastity," "funky" and tattoo" in the same sentence. Unless you're thinking along the lines of "Be funky, so get a tattoo and while you're at it, forget chastity as well."

Or maybe "Choose getting a funky tattoo over living chastity."

Or simply "Get a funky tattoo -- and what's chastity anyway?"

You, girl, may be nodding and suppressing a smile over that last line, either because you totally identify with the sentiments in it, or because you can just imagine today's MTV generation asking such a question, and you understand why they are absolutely clueless about something like chastity. Whichever it is, you have to admit that hearing the word "chastity" can be like taking a trip back to the time of Leopold, the Duke of Albany, if it doesn't conjure images of cloistered nuns first.

Billboards and pop icons
"Just look at all those billboards. Is it surprising that people are so used to the idea of getting sexual or, at the least, to the idea of nudity?" a friend casually remarked as the prevalence of the topic of sex among ordinary chitchats and countless magazine articles figured into our conversation.

"If you see pictures of women almost down to their underwear everyday -- or barely clothed men and women in seductive stances, you eventually acquire the attitude. Sex know, it's cheapened. Like it's always there, in-your-face -- know what I mean? Tapos pati ikaw, without your knowing it, malamang magiging gano'n na rin ang attitude mo."

She does have a point. Constant exposure to the sight of half-naked people does have a way of numbing the senses and erasing such concepts as modesty and purity from our sensibilities. I mean, if I spent hours watching Jennifer Lopez or Britney Spears music videos everyday, it's very possible that chastity would be wiped out from my vocabulary (and my memory) by the end of the first week.

But then this is not about J. Lo or Britney and their treatment of human sexuality or their lifestyle choices; this is about us ordinary people and how we look at ourselves, and about the choices we make based on the kind of self-image we have.

Saying 'yes' and not 'no'
It took a good friend to help me understand the meaning of what it is to be truly chaste in modern times. "Chastity is something positive. Think of it as saying 'yes' to something instead of 'no' to certain things," she explained. When I found myself attracted to a pleasant and professionally prestigious man who seemed (to my ears, at least) to say my name with a special warmth, and whom I also discovered was married, I wondered where the 'saying yes' part had gone. It sure felt like I was saying 'no' to moments of wonderful conversation, 'no' to potentially blissful memories in the making.

Okay, that's just the sarcastic side of me talking, grumbling over the loss of possible emotionally satisfying moments. I knew, after the initial disappointment, that my decision to keep anything from developing and to forget about him was a choice to say 'yes' -- uh, but to what?

Well, I don't know exactly, but saying 'yes' then never felt so exhilarating and so congratulatory! It was the kind of feeling you get when you know that you did the right thing, even if it's difficult. Maybe it was 'yes' to happiness -- authentic happiness.

Whatever it was, that 'yes' made me feel brave: as if I were a Powerpuff Girl in disguise, and nobody but me knew about it. Yep, that was it, except that there was nothing cutesy, cartoonish or crime-busting about the power I began to feel then. It was just a quiet strength on which to anchor my heart and the core of my womanhood. Think of it as having, say, a funky tattoo etched on some obscure part of your body, and only you know about it. It is amazing how a woman can draw enormous spunk from a silly adornment acquired simply for vanity's sake (which is generally what a tattoo is perceived to be).

Chastity indeed began to seem to me like an everyday concept, not like some "up in the clouds" outdated notion for those who are out of touch with reality, or some word you'd utter with pursed lips or a pretentiously sweet smile.

But hey, how many of us are going to find ourselves being drawn to men who are unavailable? Okay, maybe a lot (especially if you belong to the 30+ category and no Mr. Wonderful is in sight. Or maybe your Mr. Wonderful is starting to seem like Mr. Wonderless?), but wearing chastity or purity like a badge of courage comes in handy in the most ordinary situations, far from the complications of getting involved with married men.

The tsismis factor
For instance, I must admit there were times that keeping a pure outlook became a struggle. In some circles, cracking kinky jokes and gossiping about the who's who in pre- and extra-marital affairs are standard fare for small talk. When I kept silent rather than participate in fanning the flames of intrigue, and when I whipped out "hey, I like your shoes, where did you buy them--?" while teasing in various shades of green went on, the responses were varied. Some appreciated it; others didn't.

But always it gave me (and continues to give me) a sense of joy, knowing that I acted on the strength drawn from the idea of my cool tattoo, that I said "yes" each time. Put simply, I held on to my principles and I felt good about it.

Then somewhere along the way, I also discovered that matters pertaining to sex are just a wee bit of what purity is really all about. There's such a thing as being pure in one's intentions -- the motivations, in other words, behind the things we do. I began to be concerned as I learned about this virtue more deeply. Wait a minute, am I being sincere when I talk to people? When I do the things I do?

Strength, self-worth and the tattoo
So it's really not hard to see that matters about sex and things pertaining to, say, malicious criticism and 'dubiously motivated' action are interrelated, since purity in all its forms -- purity of heart and intention, modesty, decency, chastity -- are all tied together. The great thing about it is that taking care of one aspect also helps you grow in the others.

The thing is, nobody imposed this way of thinking on me, just like the way nobody forced me to once regard immodest dressing as an assertion of one's strength (that's what fashion pages project, right?). Just like the way I toyed with the notion that giving yourself completely to a man who is not your husband is okay as long as there's love (I probably watched too many Hollywood movies of the wrong kind). Just like the way I assumed that laughing at jokes about private parts and bedroom activity was the most logical thing in the world (pure ignorance here). I do understand how maxims like "If you've got it, flaunt it" and "If it feels good, do it" can work their messages subtly on impressionable minds. No need, then, to cram down one's throats such principles.

So, don't believe me right away when I say that chastity is for each of us who knows the worth of the innermost recesses of our being. Don't be convinced at once that modesty doesn't automatically mean donning turtlenecks and ankle-length skirts, and that it translates to the thoughts you entertain, the things you say, and the way you act. After all, it took me a while to grasp these things.

What matters is that you figure out the worth you place on yourself, how much respect you have for your whole being. This, Powerpuff Girl, will determine what you hold dear and let you see the funky little tattoo that's already there. You probably just had to believe that you had one all along.

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