During the week on Radio National I heard the story of Princess Alexandra Amalie from Bavaria. She lived for forty nine years from 1826 to 1875.
One day when Alexandra was in her twenties her parents became alarmed at the strange sideways walk she had adopted to climb the stairs. They called her in for a talk and there she told them how when she was small she had swallowed a glass grand piano whole. She worried then if she were not careful she might bash into something and the piano would shatter.
The story has stayed with me all week. As a delusion, as a state of mind, as a way of imagining a person’s internal world.
Cruising through Facebook the other day I saw the shadowy xray of a man’s penis and read the caption below which described how this man had inserted a fork up into his urethra. You can see the fork in the xray opaque against the shadowy grey of his xrayed flesh. Someone commented below that it was a good thing that the man had inserted his fork handle-side first.
In my social work days I heard that it was not uncommon for people to arrive in emergency with all manner of objects inserted into their various orifices, particularly their genitals.
The worst I ever did as a child was to shove a small bead up my nose. I was watching television and fiddling with this bead which I had found on the floor. I tested it for size in one of my nostrils and before I knew it had slipped from my touch. I did not feel it roll through my nostril back down my throat but I expect it went through to my oesophagus and down into my stomach.
I never saw it again but that is not to say I did not panic about its presence. I told my mother who told my father. My father examined my nose for good measure and decided to do nothing.
If it had been my child I imagine I’d have taken her to emergency for an xray to be sure the bead was not lodged in her lungs, but times were different then. It took more than a bead in the nose or belly to get you into hospital.
Most of the awful insertions into body orifices we hear of these days are those performed as part of some perverse sexual practise and their meanings range from fetishistic behaviour all the way along to sadism. And of course it is one thing to do it to yourself, another to do it to another, particularly if that other is unwilling or a child.
The things we do to our bodies…
I went to hear Susie Orbach speak on the topic of bodies earlier this week and she too is aware of the ways in which our bodies can be colonized by others more powerful, for example by the so-called beauty industry for the purpose of extracting money from us.
In another radio program Orbach’s interwiewer, Natasha Mitchell at one point referred to the cosmetic surgery possibilities on offer as being given choices, but Susie Orbach reckons it’s more like a tyranny of choice.
For example for young women who feel compelled to shave off their pubic hair in order to match some ideal that has been established in their minds.
The same applies to the recent rise in women who have surgery to correct the size and shape of their labia, as if there is anything wrong with their labia in the first place.
Susie Orbach talked of how she had visited a number of cosmetic surgeon’s websites and in one she saw a series of labia, one after the other, all shapes and sizes. Wonderful, she thought, so much diversity in bodies, only to read a little further on that each of these labia was 'wrong' in some way.
They were considered aesthetically displeasing, at least to the cosmetic surgeon who advocated a shape and size along the lines of what I think of as ‘MacDonald’s labia’. Prepubescent.
Thus it seems corporate interests encourage us to go back in shape and size to our childhood selves, as though our hairy and angular, lumpy, squat and variously shaped adult bodies are no longer desirable.
Susie Orbach also talked of Botox mums, those who use so much Botox that their faces lose their ability to be expressive. Researchers reckon the babies who look at their Botoxed mums get confused. After all babies look to their mothers or primary caregivers, whoever they might be, for emotional signs first registered on their faces.
If none are visible or if they are distorted through the Botox grin, a face stretched to rid it of its wrinkles into a mask, then how can a baby begin to find himself in the mirror of his mother’s face.
And so I think back to the princess and her glass grand piano. Is hers part of a confusion of existence that she wound up feeling huge and fragile like a glass baby grand such that it stopped her moving about and made it hard for her to play?