Beaches Bodies and Elisabeth Elliot

by Stephanie Logan

Recently there has been reporting that famed purity culture guru, Elisabeth Elliot, was less than honest in her writings about her relationship with her first husband, the missionary martyr, Jim Elliot. The information is not entirely new but is disturbing, nonetheless.

In another life, Elisabeth Elliot was one of my heroes. I suppose many women in my generation who were raised in fundamentalist or evangelical churches might say something similar. Then, many of us within the homeschool movement raised our own children on her writings and ideals.

I listened to her radio program daily through college and in my early marriage. As a matter of fact, everywhere I went I scanned the dial for Christian stations and often locked in on the one that ran her program. Even after she retired, I found a station that played old episodes of Gateway to Joy, rather than listening to Nancy Leigh Demoss after she slid into Elisabeth’s seat.

Elisabeth was very firm in her views of just how much skin a woman should show when in public and she became the public voice for Christian modesty and female sexuality for generations. I remember well one of her broadcasts when she was describing a lunch meeting that she had at a beach, and how she was unable to concentrate or enjoy her meal because of all the scantily clad people proudly “schlepping” by her table. She talked with open disgust and self-righteous assumptions, as if she knew the minds and intentions of those who had passed by.

Reading the new reporting stirred my memory and so yesterday, I pulled out an old journal and looked up some entries that I wrote while on vacation in Aruba in 2021. My writing had centered on how Elisabeth Elliot had influenced me.

Spending a week at a resort in the Caribbean after more than a year of pandemic turmoil was fantastic! But there was something consuming my mind while there. I noticed a big change in my thinking since leaving the church.

During my lifetime, I was surrounded by people who thought like Elisabeth. And my body was a near constant topic of derision in my family. As a child I was mocked for my skinniness. As a young teen I was mocked for my physical development. Then as a young adult, I was mocked because I was a curvier build than my mother. My bra size was a far too frequent topic of conversation. Growing up, my body was a source of confusion and shame to me.

And so, I was comfortable in college I first heard Elisabeth and her admonishments to cover up that body and, then later, easily adopted the views of the Christian homeschool movement. In my thirties, I refused to even wear swimwear for a handful of years and then when I did choose to venture into the world of beaches and swimming pools again, I wore suits with substantial skirts and high necklines that were rather heavy in the water and took forever to dry. But I was fine with the annoyance and discomfort because I had become one of them through and through – obsessed more with how much skin was showing than with how I treated my neighbor.

But by 2021, after more than three years outside that system, my mind and whole body had relaxed, and I was able to enjoy the beach and water as I once had as a young child.

There is an ideal about resort life presented on TV, film, and in commercials in America, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect once I got to the real thing. But I didn’t see (at least enough to notice) that perfectly shaped woman with an even more perfect tan in her bikini and her perfectly tanned partner in his Tommy Bahamas. With Aruba’s significant European influence, the reality was quite different from our American Sandals Resorts image.

View from the bar on the beach, personal photo

Just outside the resort there was a great little open bar that served food at meals, and it became our spot. Almost every morning we took a leisurely walk to that bar and ordered a substantial breakfast and then watched the turquoise waters and the pelicans and Caribbean pigeons and the people walking by. I wondered at their variety: young, old, middle aged, Dutch, German, French, Carib, Canadian, American, and as I watched, I found myself able to view them without judgement.

As the equatorial sun toasted their skin, they walked, not schlepped: some with canes or strollers, others with toddlers on their hips or lovers on their arms. Resort guests with old joints slowing their movements or long limber limbs seemingly gliding along were headed to the beach, or breakfast, or just taking a morning stroll. Some were gorgeous specimens, and perhaps they knew it, but most of us were mediocre to downright unattractive and completely content with our lot.

On our last full day there we took a morning snorkeling cruise – something I recommend everyone try at least once. On board were a few Arubans and perhaps an equal number of Americans. Many were Dutch, German, and a couple from Brazil. It seemed all the Dutch women wore bikinis. It didn’t matter whether they were young or old, stout or trim, rolling or sculpted, shaved legs or hairy, and their partners sat beside them as if unfazed by it all.

Some sat demurely by themselves and others sprawling with a drink in their hand. A group of middle-aged women, bearing all the signs of their age and motherhood, perched on the netting at the bow discussing pandemic politics with their American counterparts.

We ate and drank and bumped fists and my partner made acquaintance with many. I donned the ugly snorkeling gear and eagerly jumped into the sea and spent a couple of hours swimming and bumping into others in the water with nothing but joy and peace and the excitement of a child who was watching the urchins creep along the bottom or imagining the lives of the people from the shipwreck beneath me.

Personal photo

As we gathered on the deck for the trip back to the dock, I realized that just four years prior to that event, I would not have been able to enjoy it. I would have been self-conscious, self-loathing, and, therefore, others-loathing. I would have been so concerned about what others were thinking and seeing that I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on the real value – the people and the experience itself.

On the last morning, as we sat at breakfast, I watched a barrel-chested older gentleman in a speedo and his equally aged wife take a stroll on the beach. They appeared to be new arrivals and were vigorously discussing what they were seeing as they gestured toward the beautiful water. And I realized that my mind had totally shifted. I was able to view these two people as human beings enjoying what days they have on this planet. And I thought, why should the young not enjoy their youth and the pleasure of the warm sun and sparkling waters and ocean breezes? Why should the older ones not enjoy the same thing without the judgement of others? They have surely earned it.

What right did I ever have to think otherwise?

Former Evangelical homeschool mom and one-time missionary and pastor’s wife, Stephanie Logan, aka Snicklefritz, writes from her life story and four decades of experience in the evangelical movement. Her views and stories are her own.

Copyright © 2023


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