‘Speak for yourself.’
Do you ever have the urge to say these words when someone makes a universal pronouncement with which you disagree?
I wanted to say it the other night to a man whom I met via friends, who had insisted that people in England were concerned that the face of England, its population, will be completely unrecognisable in twenty years time. Completely taken over by foreigners, he wanted to say but did not, and not foreigners of Greek or European extraction, but mostly from the Middle East.
You can guess the rest.
I wanted to say, look at your self. When your parents arrived in Australia some fifty years ago they would have suffered the same derision for being different, for coming from the Mediterranean.
Why’s it so terrible to be different? Why the pressure to be the same?
I feel the impulse run through me, too.
Take for instance, my latest preoccupation with the female body and why we women do things to ourselves to conform to some perfect ideal, even if it kills us.
In my tenth year of school I spent time as a boarder, which meant for months on end my body barely saw the light of day.
We boarders dressed in almost darkness with a pitcher of water on our side table and a face cloth with which we swabbed down our more sensitive parts before covering ourselves from top to toe.
In those circumstances it mattered not to me that I could not shave my legs or my underarms, though I had started the practice a year earlier when, at fifteen, I decided to follow in my older sister’s footsteps and turn my legs into the supple, shining silk-like radiant things I had seen in the new advertisements directed at women in 'need of ' shavers for the fairer sex.
At boarding school no one worried about shaving legs or underarms, until it came time for the school dance.
My older sister who had left home by then and was studying at teacher’s training college picked me up after school one day and we travelled into the city to Adele Formal Hire where we were able to select a gown for me to wear. It was in polka dot black chiffon over a satin lining. The dress covered my legs to the ankles, but was sleeveless in a respectable manner. The nuns would not tolerate anything less. No visible cleavage, no plunging back lines, nothing suggestive of the female body underneath, only arms, legs and head visible.
You could not see my legs, but after five months in boarding school, my underarms had sprouted a fine black layer of growth. I took to them with fingernail scissors during the three days each week when it was my turn to take a bath. Boarders were rostered for separate bath times three times a week, and once a week hair washing on Saturday mornings, lined up at the basins.
In the bathroom there was daylight or in the early evening an overhead light that enabled me to see my body, at least in bits. There were no mirrors. Mirrors were not allowed in the bathrooms, too likely to tempt the bodies that travelled through.
One of the older nuns had told us that in her day, girls had to bathe in mid ankle length petticoats so that they could not see their naked bodies while bathing so as to resist temptation.
The things women must do/did to resist, not only their own desires, but the desires of others.
So my preoccupation at the moment with the nature of women’s bodies - how we preen them, how we attack them, how we strip them of excess, how we try to whittle them into an acceptable and universal shape, how we try to hide them, how we cover them to make them look the way we imagine others might want, the way we want ourselves - hit me hard when I saw a YouTubeclip of women who had undergone mastectomies, nipplectomies or other forms of surgery that have left massive scars on their otherwise ordinary bodies.
To see these images is confronting and most of all for me the thought that some of these women may have elected to have their nipples removed.
Why would they do this? For health reasons, in the case of cancer I can understand, but the other reasons, I’m at a loss to understand.