I was at Barnes and Noble, scouring the cultural studies section (the goldmine for books about our current food system and food culture), when I stumbled upon a little book called Bodies, by Susie Orbach. I didn’t have to read the back to know it would sing to me, as my profession deals with helping other people change their bodies.
Orbach makes many very striking observations about culture expressing itself through people’s bodies, and how everything from body language, to tattoos, to fashion, to personal space, to comforting touch is a result of an over-arching body culture. Today, more than ever before, our bodies are in the forefront of culture (not merely subtly embedded in it).
You see fashion magazines, weight loss shows, billboards, commercials, super make-over shows, models, mannequins, athletes, posters, cosmetics, hair dyes, razors, tweezers, protein powders, skin creams, oh-Jesus-the-list-goes-on-and-on, ad infinitum… everything on the market seems to be some kind of body altering scheme or device.
What happened? When? Why did we become so body obsessed?
Her answer (or at least what I surmised): the body was once a tool for production. We used to wash our own dishes, make our own clothes, dig our own holes, mow our own lawns… and then technology got the best of us.
We’ve all heard this before. Of course labor-saving technology altered the course of our lives.
But it also altered the course of our body culture.
The body, once a tool for production, is now the object of production. We didn’t seem to have any other choice.
Should that be considered so bad? What’s wrong with being healthy, trying to look good, trying to stay young?
Nothing, except you must remember that your body is inescapable. It is wholly and completely personal to you, and experientially inaccessible to anyone else. Culture is constructed; it is subjective, somewhat arbitrary, and pliable. The body, however, is not; it is tangible, measurable, and difficult to alter, especially in trying to keep with the speed of culture. This inability to conform rapidly enough–if at all–inevitably leads to frustration and stress.
Why do you want to alter your body? Is it a game? A cultural experiment? Is there any practical reason for doing so?
I try to teach others that the body is a vessel. It has to take you from one point to the next, and endure through time. It has to work for you. If it is healthy, it will work well, and you will feel well; don’t think for a moment that body chemistry does not affect brain chemistry. The two are inextricably linked.
Try to go back in time. Take a technological step backwards. Put your body back to work. Feel how useful it can be. Make it, once again, an object for production.