Recovering the Imago Dei for Girls: Practices of an Embodied Pedagogy

This post is part of a series called Recovering the Imago Dei for Girls, which focuses on seeing and naming the image of God in girls. For a general introduction to the series, read this post.

Navigating body politics with girls is no small feat. We want girls to love their bodies as an extension of the imago Dei within. So, we want a theological anthropology that is liberating. However, with several million-dollar enterprises built on making girls not accept their body, where to do we even begin? One answer is making sure that your youth ministry embraces an embodied pedagogy—that is, a teaching and ministry philosophy—that helps girls feel comfortable in their bodies. In order to honor our embodied identities, I propose six principles for using an embodied pedagogy. This is not an extensive list, but a beginning list to center the conversation. This list worked within my context, but in each context, those in the group should create their own list to address the need of their community.

1) Self care is how we honor our Divine self worth.

We must care for the body that houses the imago Dei. The answer to a culture that over emphasizes the appearance of the body is not to ignore the body entirely. Instead, we ought to focus on a healthy body and listen to our bodies.

2) We must appreciate our bodies.

We live in a culture that does not teach us to appreciate our body. Women and girls, especially, are constantly being told that more needs to be done to make our bodies closer to “perfect.” Our bodies are treated as shells that need to be painted, renovated, reinvented, but not necessarily appreciated for what they are or what they do. In an embodied pedagogy, there is no body shaming. All analogies that use the body should be positive or neutral, but not negative.

3) We celebrate the great tradition of using our body to praise God.

Christians have a long tradition of embodied worship. Many people position their body differently for prayer, reading of scripture, singing, and other aspects of worship. Within Black Christian traditions especially, there is a longstanding history of embodied worship though dance, whether it be liturgical dance or dance celebrations. This tradition honors the body by realizing that it is a great tool of expression and has great potential for praise. An embodied pedagogy takes cues from an embodied worship and uses the body as an expression of learning. In learning environments, we can do more than sit. We move and demonstrate concepts with our bodies.

4) Know that you control the use of your body.

There are many societal messages that tell women and girls that their bodies exist for the aesthetic and physical pleasure of men. Unfortunately, there are Christian messages that echo these societal messages and tell girls and women that their bodies belong to their fathers until they belong to their husbands. An embodied pedagogy is mindful that girls ought to always be in control of their bodies. No girl or woman should ever feel that the use of her body is under the dominion of someone else.

5) Spaces must welcome all body types.

We must care for the body that houses the imago Dei. The answer to a culture that over emphasizes the appearance of the body is not to ignore the body entirely. Instead, we ought to focus on a healthy body and listen to our bodies.

I echo one of Dori Baker’s embodied pedagogy principles from Doing Girlfriend Theology by saying that bodies must be comfortable. Bodies that are made uncomfortable are made to feel like they should fit a particular mode. In the setting of a learning environment practicing an embodied pedagogy, the physical space should be welcoming to a variety of body types and concerns.

6) We honor the body. We neither shame it nor treat it as a separate entity or something to be tamed.

We ought to be in partnership with our bodies. Our flesh is not something that we need to be afraid of, distance ourselves from, or be in tension with—even when it causes us pain. It is difficult to love a body that causes you pain. But we work with our bodies, not against them. An embodied pedagogy provides room for caring for our body in pain and keeping it out of pain and teaches girls to honor their body.

This embodied pedagogy works best when rooted in community. Whether it be fellowship between women and girls or community-wide conversations where we talk about these issues. Come up with your own list. How do you help girls in your ministry feel comfortable in their own skin?

For more on embodied pedagogy, please read Dori Baker’s Doing Girlfriend Theology, the work this post builds upon. If you’d like to learn more about Dori Baker, look at her website.


Annie Lockhart GilroyRev. Annie A. Lockhart Gilroy, Ph.D. has worked with youth as a teacher, coach, and youth minister for almost two decades. She earned her PhD. in Christian Education and Congregational Studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and her M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Her dissertation focused on the role of imagination in youth ministry, especially with girls from poor and working-class families.

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