Archive for the 'Bodily modification' Category

March 27th 2015
Move over freshman fifteen: make (lots of) room for the sabbatical ten.

Posted under Bodily modification & class & Gender & happy endings & local news & the body & weirdness & women's history

rodriguezdress

A Narcisco Rodriguez dress that looks surprisingly comfortable.

I’ve been talking with a number of the other long-term fellows about the amazing fact that many of us have managed to gain weight while on sabbatical. Here we are, in Southern California, with its lovely weather and year-round fresh produce at local farmer’s markets several times each week, and we’re getting fatter! We’re getting fatter as we walk and bike to the library, and as we do yoga in the Chinese garden twice a week together (with classes taught by me and another fellow), and we’re all of us–or most of us, anyway–getting heavier!

Most of us live in places with winter cold and summer humidity in our real lives, and most of us drive a lot longer and further on a daily basis in our work commutes. Then there’s all of that day job tedium of teaching, meeting with students, and committee work that gets in the way of our running, walking, hiking, biking, and yoga, or what have you.  Women and men alike have remarked on this unhappy side-effect of our residency here.

What is up with this?  Continue Reading »

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March 10th 2015
Everything changes, part II

Posted under American history & art & Bodily modification & European history & jobs & local news & technoskepticism & unhappy endings

Today’s post is part II of a meditation on skin and ink inspired by Flavia’s recent adventures in body art.  Part I is here.

Last week, the curator of literary manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Sue Hodson, gave a small group of readers a tour of some of the literary manuscripts from the collections that reveal the different ways in which writers wrote–some revised as they wrote in longhand or on a typewriter (Jack London and Charles Bukowski), others clearly didn’t save their drafts as their work was printed in clear, neat, meticulously spaced tiny letters on the page (Wallace Stevens).  That was fascinating–it made me long to see the famous Mark Twain papers collected here.

More fascinating for the historians among us–or at least for me–was the conversation we got into about preservation issues.  Hodson pointed out that the most durable and long-lasting materials for literary and historical texts are some of the oldest technologies like vellum and other parchment, whereas the newer technologies and media for storing information were some of the least stable and most ephemeral.  In general, she said, the further you progress in time, the less stable the archival materials become.  So, seventeenth and eighteenth-century paper made with rags is a much more stable information storage medium than cheap nineteenth-century paper made from wood pulp, and that wood-pulp paper is more durable than a great deal of later twentieth-century media. Continue Reading »

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March 9th 2015
Everything changes, part I

Posted under American history & art & Bodily modification & European history & the body

So many European medievalists and early modernists have Latin tattoos that I’m now declaring that this is A Thing. (I know: I’m probably the last to notice!) First, we have the example of the late, great (in bloggy terms) Squadratomagico, whose tattoo is on the back of her neck & which I have met in person (scholar, neck, tattoo, and all.) Then when I got to the Huntington, I noticed that a medievalist here has a mid-thirteenth century quotation from a manuscript tattooed on the inside of his left forearm.

Finally, we have Flavia, who has celebrated her fortieth birthday and her retirement from the job market alike by getting a Latin tattoo, also on the inside of her left forearm. Her tat says “Omnia mutantur, nihil interit,” or “Everything changes, nothing perishes,” which is a thought so lovely that it makes me cry. Of course it’s from Ovid’s Metamorphoses–what else?  (Why the inside of the left forearm?  I get the inside part, as it’s more protected from the sun and other injuries, but is the choice of right versus left merely a personal one or dependent on right- or left-handedness?)

I asked my tattooed Huntington colleague if he thought so many of his medievalist colleages had tattoos because medieval scholars in particular are accustomed to ink on skin through their work on vellum documents and manuscripts.  (Vellum is a fine parchment made from lamb or kid skins, and is among the oldest paper-like technology we have for recording and preserving information.)  He agreed that this might be an interesting connection, and also said that it’s pretty popular for people to get textual tattoos these days anyway.  He also connected his tattoo to a major life change–in his experience, winning tenure, whereas for Flavia it was her fortieth birthday. Continue Reading »

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February 5th 2015
The Vagina Dentatalogues

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & students & technoskepticism & the body & women's history

Just go read Elizabeth Reis on the Mount Holyoke College non-production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues at Nursing Clio:

Intersex activists have coined the insightful slogan, “No Body is Shameful®,” to draw attention to the shaming and forced cosmetic adherence to the idea of a “normal” body. Of course, here they are talking about people born with atypical sex development, like the one in 5000 infant girls born with MRKH Syndrome [Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser (MRKH) Syndrome]. Since the nineteenth century, girls born without vaginas have endured the surgical creation of such anatomy. This reconstructive “corrective” surgery, described eloquently here by Esther Morris Leidolf, in a narrative she calls the “The Missing Vagina Monologue,” has never been done for the pleasure of the girl, but as her physician bluntly explained when she was only thirteen years old: so that she “could have a normal sex life with her husband.”

This is the kind of violence that The Vagina Monologues speaks to, even though there are no intersex characters in Eve Ensler’s play. It doesn’t matter (though it would be a good idea!). Watching the play encourages us to appreciate the profound refrain, “No Body is Shameful,” whether we have a vagina, want a vagina, like vaginas, or just love hearing the word spoken rebelliously and repeatedly on stage.

I like Reis’s point about the surgical violence done to women’s bodies for men’s pleasure.  I know that many trans* people have embraced this kind of surgery as something that can make them whole or complete, but I sometimes wonder where the feminist critiques of allopathic medicine have gone sometimes in the trans* celebrations of the power of technology to alter people’s bodies through hormones and surgery. Continue Reading »

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January 24th 2015
A Letter About a Good Management under the Distemper of the MEASLES, at this time Spreading in the Country

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & captivity & childhood & local news & technoskepticism & the body & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

Mather1713measles

Because there are so many people here in California who are as hostile to vaccinating their children as many of Cotton Mather’s neighbors in Boston at the turn of the eighteenth century were hostile to inoculation, I thought I’d do a little research on three-hundred year old measles medical management.  There was no such thing as a vaccination or inoculation for measles then, so let’s see what Mather’s 1713 advice on nursing a patient through measles looks like.  (You can click on the link to see the full PDF of his pamphlet–it’s only four pages long.)

Mather offers loads of natural remedies for the symptoms of measles.  Above all, he is against the “pernicious Method of Over-doing and Over-heating, and giving things to force Nature out of its own orderly way of proceeding.  Before we go any further, let this Advice for the Sick, be principally attended to; Don’t kill ‘em!  That is to say, with mischevous Kindness.  Indeed, if we stopt here and said no more, this were enough to save more Lives, than our Wars have destroy’d,” 1.   Continue Reading »

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July 22nd 2014
Dietary advice from the eighteenth century: hold the cream after dinner & the rum at breakfast; have a tea latte!

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & the body

No, no, NO!

No, no, NO!

The Anglo-American tendency to see food as medicine (rather than a vehicule for pleasure) runs deep.  Reading eighteenth and early nineteenth century cookbooks and dietary advice manuals, all of a summer’s day (like you do), I came across this advice that made me laugh out loud (funniest part in bold):

CREAM,

By being too rich, is improper for weak stomachs, liable to turn rancid, and difficult of digestion.  Upon strong stomachs, which can digest it, it is very nourishing.

It is an unwholesome custom to eat cream or milk with apple-pies, strawberries, &c. &c. directly after dinner, if you mean to drink wine; for the wine ferments, coagulates the cream, and makes the whole mass hard of digestion:  and upon weak stomachs, such a mixture will promote sickness, vomiting, &c.  This I myself have experienced more than once.

–from Thomas J. Hayes, Concise Observations on the Nature of our Common Food, So Far as it Tends to Promote or Injure Health (New York, Swordses for Barry & Rogers, 1790), 22.

Continue Reading »

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April 1st 2014
Spring!

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & European history & fluff & happy endings & the body

zodiacman

Homo Signorum, ca. 1486, from Guild Book of Barber Surgeons

From The Husband-Man’s Guide (Boston, 1712):

April

In this month sow Hemp & Flax, pole hops, set and sow all kind of tender herbs and seeds.  Restore the liberty of the laborious Bee, by opening her hive.  Let Tanners now begin to prepare to get Bark, and the good Housewives mind their gardens, and begin to think of their Daries.  Now purge & bleed, you that need; for the use of Physick is yet very seasonable, the Pores of the body being open; therefore this and the last Month is th’ best time to remove and prevent Causes of sickness, and for speedy remedy in any extremity.  Let blood these two Months the Moon being in Cancer, Acquary or Taurus, but held to be extream perilous for the Moon to be in that sign which ruleth the Member where the Vein is opened.  So also it is held best to take Purges when the Moon is in Cancer, Scorpio or Pisces.  But an Oyntment or Plaster is best apply’d when the Moon is in the same Sign that rules the Member to which it is applicable.

As it says after one of its recommended decoctions for common human complaints: Continue Reading »

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March 30th 2014
Shorter Margaret Wente: porn fine by me, just leave it unexamined.

Posted under American history & art & bad language & Bodily modification & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & O Canada & students & the body & wankers & women's history

craftmasterHere’s my brief summary of Margaret Wente’s predictable, by-the-numbers shot at the academic study of pornography:

Provocative lede!  Bad puns.  Academics write only jargon-filled articles that no one will ever read.  Also:  the stupid feminists used to be against porn, but now they’re pro-porn, but they’re still stupid (duh).  Irrelevant academics can’t even make porn interesting.  But you should be very alarmed by this trend!  Academic research on porn will take over our universities!  This research is trivial and therefore all higher education is unworthy of public support.  All college students should watch porn, just not for college credit.

I don’t carry any water for porn studies here, but I also don’t think it’s the most irrelevant thing ever studied in an academic setting.  (Because the internetContinue Reading »

10 Comments »

February 28th 2014
What I learned from the comments thread at Tenured Radical

Posted under American history & bad language & Bodily modification & class & Dolls & Gender & GLBTQ & jobs & the body & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness & women's history

barbies31508

Why weren’t we on the cover?

Did any of you see Tenured Radical’s post yesterday about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue 2014, “Happiness is a Cold, Plastic Doll?”  This year it features Barbie on the cover, but the same old soft-core porn inside.

The point of TR’s post was to comment on the cultural significance of SI’s annual swimsuit issue.  She noted her confusion when she first saw it in the 1970s, a decade in which porn was pushing into the mainstream, and Playboy had come to her campus to take some photos for “Girls of the Ivy League.”  (This was 1978; recall that most Ivies hadn’t admitted women until the early 1970s.  Welcome to campus, ladies!)  TR writes that the swimsuit issue wasn’t porn, but yet it “wasn’t not porn, because everything was exposed except, as Monty Python would say, the ‘naughty bits.’”  And yet–

The women were definitely chosen for their porny qualities. No model was included who didn’t have (as they used to say back in the 1970s) a “great rack,”  or was not able to spread her legs, tip her butt up alluringly for potential rear entry, or cock her head back in that time-honored fashion that says, “Come and get it, Buster Brown.”

But like those who reject changing the name of the Washington Football Team, the swimsuit issue is spoken of as a tradition. Hence it is harmless, right? Wrong. The swimsuit issue is the porn that gets circulated in public, as if it were not really porn, which to me – makes it more sexist than the tabletop magazines that just say brightly: “we’re all about porn!” It’s the porn that gets delivered at the office, and it’s the porn that people think it’s ok for little boys to have, like the Charlie’s Angels and Farrah Fawcett posters that were so popular back in the day, because it helps them not grow up to be fags.

This is not what all but four or five of us commenting on the post learned.  Instead, several porndogs wanted to turn the comments thread on this post into a strange personal porny fantasy involving fetishizing women’s bodies and insulting feminists and feminism at the same time.  This is a fair summary of their threadjack: Continue Reading »

31 Comments »

February 9th 2014
Victorian Secrets by Sarah A. Chrisman (2013): perhaps some things are better kept under wraps.

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & Gender & the body & wankers & women's history

victoriansecretschrismanBecause of my clear fascination with historical shapewear and undergarments, a number of people have recommended that I read Victorian Secrets:  What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself by Sarah A. Chrisman (New York:  Skyhorse Publishing, 2013).  Although I am deeply interested in clothing and historical costume, and although I incorporate this kind of material culture into my work as a historian, I have never been tempted to become a historical re-enactor.  Ever.  Perhaps because of my utter disinterest in wearing historical clothing myself, I was eager to read Chrisman’s book, which is an autobiographical account of a relationship between a 30-year old woman  and her corset.  Chrisman is very insightful about the ways in which corseting herself forces changes in her body, posture, and wardrobe.  However, she is much less thoughtful about how the people of Seattle respond to her experiment in corsetry.

Chrisman and her husband Gabriel enjoy wearing real vintage clothing from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and she describes their growing involvement with the reenactor community in Washington state.  In wearing a corset, Chrisman reports that she was able to leave her tall, slouchy, not model-thin body behind and finally to feel at home in her body for the first time in her life.  Her breasts were relieved of the pressure of her bra straps, and for once her curves were flattering.  Furthermore, her corset limited the amount of food she could consume at any given time, removing another source of anxiety about her body:  “It was no longer a matter of biology, but of simple physics:  my stomach could not expand past the diameter of my corset.  If I started the day with my corset at twenty-eight, or twenty-four, or twenty inches, as long as I did not loosen it, I would have the exact same measurement at the end of the day, no matter what I ate or what I did in the interim.  I could eat until I was full at every meal,” (120-21).

However, Chrisman approaches her interests in corsetry and historical costume like a buff, not a historian.  And like many buffs, she displays an astonishing intolerance for any fellow buffs whose interest in historic costume isn’t as accurate as Chrisman believes it should be.  Continue Reading »

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