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History That Hasn’t Happened Yet: Every-Body Hurts, Sometimes.

I worry about bodies. I worry about my own. I worry about the bodies of friends.

It seems odd to worry about something so ever-present. Something so disgusting because yeah, bodies are pretty fucking gross. The human anatomy can single-handedly consume things, produce liquid – or maybe children, reject things, grow hair, grow hard, grow old and decompose, all by itself. But what’s even more perplexing to me is not the function of nose hair, but the way we’ve come to think about our bodies not for these physical anomalies but what they represent to us.

The ‘idea’ of our bodies wreaks havoc with our imagination and self-perception. This physical assessment of ‘what we are’ didn’t arrive with Photoshop and fat-shaming, it didn’t sneak in with the therapy-inducing 21st century: it’s been there from the beginning.

As soon as Adam and Eve were aware they had sexual organs, people became wary of what their bodies said about them and what their bodies meant. Sure, the message changed, but the practice of judging your own bag-of-bones according to a wider rhetoric stayed the same.

Should a tanned, emaciated woman be a Victoria’s Secret model? Because she was considered of lower class and poor in 19th-century France for working outside.

Should that ‘plus-size’ model wear such revealing clothing? Because they were selling Wate-On, a product to avoid being skinny, up until the 1960s with ads remarking: “easily help you look better by adding desired pounds”.

Should we idolise Beyoncé for being a curly-headed goddess? Because other African-American women were told to bleach their skin and straighten their hair for most of the 20th century.

The concepts of what bodies are and what they should mean are rendered a little less pervasive when we consider how different they have been seen by people throughout different times in history. They have been things of possession during slavery in Egypt, they’ve been the object of medical experiments in Nazi Germany, they’ve seen objectification, sexualisation, reverence, virginal holiness, and embodied power, weakness, beauty and strength. The list should do more than remind us that views of the body have changed throughout history: they should show how so much of what we feel about ourselves is imaginary, a façade, what they want you to think.

The past shows us that people aren’t going to stop telling you what your body is and what to do with it any time soon. But doesn’t it make you feel a little better to know this has all happened before? The human body as an ideal has always been in flux. History isn’t sure if your thighs are too big or too small, too long or too short, too pale or too dark. History doesn’t know if that moustache is a symbol of masculinity, prestige or post-adolescent wankery. History can’t make up its mind.


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