Saturday, August 24, 2013

The things we do to our bodies

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?   


Birdie said...

My daughter is 15 and we often talk about what women do to their bodies so we can fit in and feel normal. Will it ever end? I like to think it will but my guess is that it won't. Sadly, it appears to be getting worse. As long as we have the Meg Ryans and Portia de Rossis as our heros it will never change. I mean, these women are (society's) definition of beautiful to start with. Then they get surgery. They can say all they want that they feel pressure but they are the ones creating the pressure.

River said...

Am I the odd one out here? I see the beauties on screen and in magazines and have no wish at all to have surgery to look like them. I know that their beauty is unique to them and my face and body may look very different but it has its own beauty.
The ones who have had face lifts and botox until they are unrecognisable are to be pitied. I recently saw a photo of the "new and improved" Meg Ryan and didn't know who she was until I read the caption.

Jim Murdoch said...

When I was four or five I went to see my friend Andrew. (He has a mention in Stranger than Fiction although his entirely fictional grandfather dominates; besides I changed the surname.) I was refused entry because the doctor was there. Andrew’d got a bead stuck in his ear and … and I’m sure this is my memory playing tricks on me … I have an image of the doctor there in the hall digging the thing out of him and the boy howling, tears blinding him. There must be some truth there because the memory has stayed with me for fifty years. I looked up Andrew a couple of years back and he’s a professor of mathematics at a major university. My single abiding memory of him, however, will be those few moments although I do have a couple of photos of him.

Bodies, eh? I have to say I’ve never had much interest in mine. Mostly it offends me. It aches, leaks and crumbles. It refuses to behave. That said I’ve never had any desire to modify it or even interfere with it more than necessary. In that respect I’m not much of a sensualist; I prefer intellectual stimulation to physical. A body is a necessity that has to be dealt with and cared for. Mostly it’s an inconvenience and it’s been a long time since it evoked any curiosity in me. And much the same goes for other people’s bodies although I have written about them:

      John Thomas

      When she first let me look
      all I could think of was an open wound.
      Not that I'd ever seen one
      so I don't know why I should think that.
      All very Freudian if you ask me.

      I've heard sex can be a religious experience
      especially the first time
      what with all that passion and blood
      though I still don't see
      why Thomas had to push his hand inside.

      But maybe I understand a little.

I don’t have a tattoo—my daughter does (a Celtic ‘arrow’ in the small of her back)—nor have I ever had anything pierced—for a few years my daughter sported a nose ring which I HATED but I bit my tongue and eventually she grew up—nor have I had or would consider (unless I was badly disfigured in an accident) plastic surgery. I’ve certainly never had any desire to wear makeup and I’ve never been attracted to women who do. I knew a girl once, a singer in a band, whose face was always caked in the stuff—she literally walked around with a mask on—and I hated it although she was a lovely person under it all. I don’t even decorate my body with jewellery. Carrie bought me a chain for our eleventh wedding anniversary—I only remember that because it has the number 11 on it—and I wore it for a while but it’s been sitting on the set of drawers beside my bed for a good year now. I don’t consider a watch jewellery and I only wear mine when I go out anyway.

I do find the story of the little princess interesting. It’s a nice poetic image. I can feel it rattling round in my head as I write this. Maybe something will come of it.

Anonymous said...

My work has brought me in contact with the cosmetic phenomena and I will continue to be amazed by people's perceptions and complete lack of reality or heeding of advice.
As for the current trend of shaving body hair, especially from the genitals, I find this incredibly confusing when there is so much outcry about child pornography and abuse and yet people are being encouraged to make their bodies look like 10-12 year olds?
I see this as nothing more than a vacuous industry upsell where there are no morals or values.
Karen C

PhilipH said...

Botoxed physogs of (mainly) women are so easily noticeable that it makes me wonder why these people go for it.

Freakish faces. Trout pout lips. A human alien almost.

Vanity gone bonkers.

M said...

Oh my, where was Susie Orbach speaking? I adore her and am devo I missed hearing her speak. I'm sure she was wonderful.

When I was about 6 or 7 I swallowed a little orange button. I remember that moment it suddenly went down my throat. My parents didn't seem all that concerned but I thought I was going to die for a good few months (clearly I take things too far).

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