Archive for the 'Bodily modification' Category

September 24th 2009
Food, identity, and personal virtue

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & childhood & class & Gender & Intersectionality & race & the body & women's history

vanillaicecreamI have colleagues who have written articles and books on food history.  I don’t consider food history one of my main subfields, but I’ve learned a lot from food historians, and their work has been incredibly useful to me as a historian who works on the intersections of ethnicity, religion, gender, and identity.  I’ve learned a lot recently, for example, on the consumption of dog meat by Native peoples in the Americas, and how Wabanaki people might have survived on gathered foods in the Maine woods, winter and summer.  (If you find yourself in need of a North woods cure for scurvy, I’m your gal.)  The pretext for all of this Survivor Woman:  colonial edition research is that I’m writing some book chapters about a little girl right now, and I’m interested in her food ecologies because I think food would probably have been something of urgent and pressing interest to her, especially because I’m coming to the conclusion that she was probably hungry more often than she wasn’t.   

All of this seems connected to Anglachel’s “A Taste of Things to Come,” a personal essay about food, social staus, and identity.  Here are a few excerpts, but you should just read the whole thing:

I think a lot about food.

I think about what it was like to grow up not being able to afford the kind of food “normal” people ate.I think about cans from charity. I think about having to shop at cut-rate food stores, buy day-old (“used” in my family’s lexicon) bread, have only non-fat dry milk on the shelf, cheap off-brand margarines on sandwiches, big cans of peanut butter we had to stir to keep the oil from separating, and lunch boxes that had books in them because sometimes there wasn’t lunch. I think about a mother too far gone in depression to care what she served her family. I think proudly about eating Hamburger Helper because I could make it myself and have it ready when Dad got home. I think about the way our meals improved as Dad finally got seniority at his job and his pay inched up. I look at the pantry shelf and wonder if I’m hoarding again.

I think a lot about food.

I think about the varying quality of produce between the IGA, the Trader Joe’s the Ralph’s and the Henry’s Market where I live. I remember, living in New York as a grad student, walking around Balducci’s, eyeing the perfect red bell peppers, then sighing and going to D’Agostino’s or the A&P.
.       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .      

I think about the way in which grocery stores and shopping lists become political markers of having “made it.”

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23 Comments »

July 2nd 2009
Dr. Str!pper T!ts, I presume?

Posted under Bodily modification & Gender & technoskepticism & the body

NOTE:  This post was edited from an earlier version.  My apologies for those of you who might have come back here in the past few hours and found this post had temporarily “disappeared.”
Here’s one for all of the laydees out there in Historiann Nation:  Have you ever considered elective cosmetic surgery?  Now, don’t panic:  because of my natural beauty, enhanced only by vigorous exercise and protected vigilantly against the sun on the high plains desert by SPF 30+ at minimum, I’m certainly not considering “having some work done.”  I’m just wondering if educated, successful women such as yourselves have either thought about plastic surgery or have had it done. 

The reason I ask is that I have heard stories recently about highly successful professional women (that is, in professions nowhere near the entertainment industry) having serious plastic surgery–as in, massive breast implants and obvious facelifts.

Continue Reading »

43 Comments »

May 2nd 2009
Bob Somerby watches MSNBC so you don’t have to!

Posted under Bodily modification & Gender & wankers & women's history

That Keith Olbermann–what a classy, classy guy.  Will someone please explain to me how incredibly “progressive” this is?

Be sure to read the actual words the corporate hireling said: “Our number-one story: Miss California now being accused of using performance-enhancers.” (To watch the whole segment, click this.)

As many readers already know, this whole thing started when [Carrie] Prejean was asked to state her view on same-sex marriage. She stated a view slightly to the left of Barack Obama’s (and Al Gore’s, and Hillary Clinton’s). She therefore had to be trashed on the progressive TV shows which endlessly kiss that president’s keister. Thereby attracting the demo, of course, which these programs exist to stalk.

Ha-ha!  Millionaires with poor news judgment using their platforms to mock a relatively unimportant person because she’s a young woman with breast implants.  (How exotic in California, especially for someone who competes in beauty pageants!)  Now this cutting-edge journalism:  calling a beauty queen “dumb and twisted,” “a human Klaus Barbie Doll,” a “ding-dong,” and “not just a boob, but a fake boob.”  Continue Reading »

15 Comments »

April 17th 2009
Just “Ask Amy”: you’re an idiot, pal.

Posted under Bodily modification & Gender & jobs & students & weirdness

Speaking of bodies that are marked categories, here’s an interesting letter to “Ask Amy” in the Denver Post this morning:

Dear Amy,

I am a student in a Ph.D. program.

I have a female professor who is pregnant. At first she was hiding it, but now she’s wearing maternity clothes, and it’s pretty obvious.

However, it’s really starting to frustrate me that no one will talk about the fact that she’s pregnant except behind her back — she is the white elephant in the room.

I want to congratulate her and ask her when she’s due, but I don’t want to be the first one to acknowledge it. Others estimate that she’s about six months along.

Any ideas? — Want to Say Congrats

Here’s Amy’s extremely sensible reply:  Continue Reading »

24 Comments »

March 20th 2009
A l’Agrandissement du Temps Perdu*

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

caryatid*Or, On the Enlargement of Things Lost.

In an essay about breast reconstruction after a double mastectomy, “Replacing Things Lost,” Amy DePaul offers a fascinating glimpse into the technology of breast reconstruction and the cultural expectations that go with it.  She writes that in her first meeting with the plastic surgeon, he asked her, “What is your current bra and cup size, and what would you like to move up to?” as though it were self-evident that she would want to emerge Phoenix-like from a mastectomy with larger breasts:

No, I thought. No, he didn’t just imply that I am an obvious candidate for breast augmentation, though some might argue that I was. I looked at my doctor and then my husband, both of whom studiously avoided eye contact with me. . . .

I finally managed to stammer a response to the bra inquiry (“It’s 34, um, A”) and said that no, I’d pass on the augmentation. My answer seemed to surprise my doctor (“Oh” was all he could say at first), and then he mentioned that I might want to mull this matter some more and perhaps confer with my husband on the decision. But my mind was pretty much made up that day in the office. The inescapable fact is that I resist any attempts by others to “improve” me. My husband, for the record, never tried to talk me into augmenting. He is a very intelligent man. Continue Reading »

17 Comments »

March 16th 2009
“LOL! You’re fat!” Self-hating self-promotion and the future of the G.O.P.

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & Gender & nepotism & women's history

meghanmccain

Meghan McCain

24 year-old Meghan McCain was one of the few bright spots of her father John McCain’s presidential campaign last year, and she’s deeply concerned about what she sees as the Republican party’s lack of message for young people.  (And personally, I think she’s right–although it’s not like the Democrats have all that many prominent young leaders in their camp, either.)  Well, 44 year-old talk radio host Laura Ingraham has decided that a trenchant critique of Megan McCain’s ideas is beyond her, so she has resorted to name-calling, as in, McCain is “too plus sized to be a cast member on the television show The Real World.”  Nice.  Well, this is what you get when you advance the eminently sane argument that Ann Coulter is a nutter, not to mention an ineffective spokesperson for selling the G.O.P. to the younger generation:  ” I find her offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing all at the same time. . . . if figureheads like Ann Coulter are turning me off, then they are definitely turning off other members of my generation as well. She. . . appeal[s] to the most extreme members of the Republican Party—but they are dying off, becoming less and less relevant to the party structure as a whole.” 

McCain is correct–the G.O.P. has a major youth problem, and based on conversations with my students, jumping up and down about gay marriage and Bill Clinton’s sex life in the 1990s is, shall we say, not the way to go, my friends.  The majority of people in their twenties don’t even understand, let along share, the animosity towards gay people and gay marriage that motivates the older end of the Republican base, and please recall–even 29 year-olds today were only eighteen when Clinton was impeached.  For better or worse, they just don’t care about the signal event that made the careers of right-wing pundits like Ingraham and Coulter.  Continue Reading »

26 Comments »

February 6th 2009
Friday round-up: we ain’t got the do-re-mi

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & European history & Gender & jobs & local news & unhappy endings & women's history

cowgirlguitardoremiI am so glad other people are writing interesting things and posting them on the open-source, non peer-reviewed world wide timewasting web today!  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to click the following links and enjoy the wisdom, mystery, and pathos of it all:

When women are unemployed and looking for a job, the time they spend daily taking care of children nearly doubles. Unemployed men’s child care duties, by contrast, are virtually identical to those of their working counterparts, and they instead spend more time sleeping, watching TV and looking for a job, along with other domestic activities.

.        .        .        .        .         .        .        .        .        .

Historically, the way couples divide household jobs has been fairly resistant to change, says Heidi Hartmann, president and chief economist at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.        

Do tell!  Anyway, I’m off to find those tail-scalpin’ scalawags, for probably only 80 cents on the dollar.  Ride hard, but don’t put your horses away wet, friends.

4 Comments »

December 26th 2008
Your tax dollars at work–at sexy fun (for some)!

Posted under Bodily modification & Gender & unhappy endings & women's history

Pay no attention to these people!

This morning, the Denver Post print edition ran an excerpted version of this Washington Post story published yesterday:

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.

For U.S. intelligence officials, this is how some crucial battles in Afghanistan are fought and won. While the CIA has a long history of buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has prompted the use of novel incentives and creative bargaining to gain support in some of the country’s roughest neighborhoods, according to officials directly involved in such operations.

Riiiiiight–because we invaded Afghanistan back in 2001 in order to restore traditional patriarchal control of Afghan society?  Well, that’s not how they explained it at the time.  But, hey–men of all nations can bond over the sexual domination of women!  “Uncle Sam” is just doing what works, eh?  (As the headline in the Denver Post reads, “It’s the little things that sway Afghans.”)  Later in the Washington Post story, a veteran CIA officer explains, “You’re trying to bridge a gap between people living in the 18th century and people coming in from the 21st century. . . so you look for those common things in the form of material aid that motivate people everywhere.”  Well, only half of the people, at most.  (Funny how that works!)

Handing out viagra to Afghan chieftains is explained not as the sexual exploitation of women regardless of consent, nor as sex trafficking, but as a way of doing business with a distinguished history:

Among the world’s intelligence agencies, there’s a long tradition of using sex as a motivator. Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer and author of several books on intelligence, noted that the Soviet spy service was notorious for using attractive women as bait when seeking to turn foreign diplomats into informants.

“The KGB has always used ‘honey traps,’ and it works,” Baer said.

It’s just sex, right?  Sex is sexy fun for everyone!  Well, at least for the people the U.S. government cares about–not necessarily for the women involved, but clearly they don’t count. 

I liked it better when President and Mrs. Bush pretended to be feminists and told us that we were invading Afghanistan to liberate women from their burkhas.  Good times, good times.

11 Comments »

December 21st 2008
Bad apples, and how they ruin it for the rest of us

Posted under Bodily modification & book reviews & jobs

This weekend’s This American Life radio program was a bellyfull of Christmas candy (including the accompanying stomach ache) for the writer and readers of this blog.  The program, “Ruining It for the Rest of Us,” opened with an interview with researcher Will Phelps Felps, who conducts research on “bad apples” in the workplace (aka bullies), and how they can take over an office culture.  His conclusions?  The bad news is that bad apples can single-handedly commandeer a workplace culture and drive it into the ditch.  He hired an actor to play one of three “bad apple” types:  the bullying jerk (who attacks and insults people), the slacker, and the depressive pessimist. 

The good news is that leadership by another person can counteract the effect of the bad apple.  This person doesn’t directly confront the bully, but instead asks questions, engages team members, and works to diffuse conflicts.  (This happened in only one group, however; in every other test case Phelps Felps ran, the bad apple dominated the group, and the other group members took on the bad apple’s characteristics.)  This segment is only 5 minutes long, and it’s right at the start of the program, so if you’re interested in workplace bullying issues, click here to listen for free.  By the way, the This American Life website doesn’t list Phelps‘s Felps’s name or his affiliation, and my efforts to try to locate his research with EBSCOhost databases and the google have failed.  I’m not sure I’ve even got his name spelled right (and in fact I didn’t, as you can see from the edits above.  This is bad form, This American Life.  Any time you interview a researcher, you really should at least provide hir name and affiliation on your website, if not also link to hir publications.)

The program’s main feature was an exploration of a recent outbreak of measles in San Diego caused by a family who refused to vaccinate their children.  The story features an interview with an anti-vaxer who is friends with the family that brought the disease to San Diego, which sickened dozens of children, and with a woman whose 11 month old son was a victim of the outbreak.  If this woman’s description of measles doesn’t lead everyone listening to run out and vaccinate their kids, then I don’t know what will.  The ultimate message of the program is that both the anti-vaxer camp and the pro-vaxer camp are utterly entrenched in their rival views of medicine and science.  However, these camps are hardly morally equivalent:  one camp is actively punching holes in herd immunity, which puts at risk infants too young for the vaccine as well as people whose immune systems are compromised.  Moreover, the anti-vaxer camp’s beliefs are utterly evidence-free and based on magical thinking. Continue Reading »

33 Comments »

December 4th 2008
Thanks, stranger, and welcome little stranger

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

I can’t tell if I admire Alex Kuczynski’s honesty in “Her Body, My Baby,” about her experience with a woman who bore her genetic child through surrogacy, or if I am disturbed by it.  (It’s probably both–via Corrente.)  Her story is familiar–elite thirtysomething career woman and older husband (who is himself on marriage #3 and trying for baby #7) can’t make a baby, so after years of struggling with infertility, they investigated hiring a surrogate to carry their genetic child.  I know that surrogacy is an option available only to the wealthy, with uterus rental rates and associated expenses going for $40,000 to $70,000.  But did she really have to work in all of the allusions to the vacation homes in Idaho and Southampton, N.Y., in addition to the Manhattan apartment?  This splendid isolation seems to have contributed to being surprised and impressed that her surrogate had a computer and knew how to use it:

WHEN WE CAME ACROSS Cathy’s application, we saw that she was by far the most coherent and intelligent of the group. She wrote that she was happily married with three children. Her answers were not handwritten in the tiny allotted spaces; she had downloaded the original questionnaire and typed her responses at thoughtful length. Her attention to detail was heartening. And her computer-generated essay indicated, among other things, a certain level of competence. This gleaned morsel of information made me glad: she must live in a house with a computer and know how to use it. 

It’s as though the world that 85% of us inhabit was a foreign place to Kuczynski.  Patronizing, much?  She seems overjoyed that her surrogate has a college degree, and that two of Cathy’s three children are in college (the other is 11, so there’s hope yet.)  Other parts of the essay are less cringe-worthy and are very insightful, such as her description of the polite fiction maintained by the bio parents and the surrogate and her family that no money is changing hands: 

The fees to the surrogate would be paid out in monthly installments, not in one lump sum at the end. In this way the surrogate would be reimbursed for her monthly gestational responsibilities even if the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. No money ever changes hands directly between the intended parents (I.P.’s in surrogacy speak) and the surrogate. All the money goes into an escrow account set up by Brisman’s office, and a third party pays out the monthly fees. I.P.’s and surrogates are discouraged from discussing money. This is partly to remove the air of commercialism from the proceedings.

.          .           .           .          .          .           .           .          .          .   

While no one volunteering to have our baby was poor, neither were they rich. The $25,000 we would pay would make a significant difference in their lives. Still, in our experience with the surrogacy industry, no one lingered on the topic of money. We encountered the wink-nod rule: Surrogates would never say they were motivated to carry a child for another couple just for money; they were all motivated by altruism. This gentle hypocrisy allows surrogacy to take place. Without it, both sides would have to acknowledge the deep cultural revulsion against attaching a dollar figure to the creation of a human life.

But, of course, surrogacy is work, and work deserves to be compensated.  I’m suspicious of some arguments against surrogacy that hide behind the “sanctity of life” and deny that we can put a price on it, because they end up being arguments that women should volunteer their uteri instead of being compensated for their time, trouble, and discomfort.  Speaking of which, I also liked the fact that Kuczynski admitted enjoying the fact that she avoided the advanced stages of pregnancy:

AS THE MONTHS PASSED, something curious happened: The bigger Cathy was, the more I realized that I was glad — practically euphoric — I was not pregnant. I was in a daze of anticipation, but I was also secretly, curiously, perpetually relieved, unburdened from the sheer physicality of pregnancy. If I could have carried a child to term, I would have. But I carried my 10-pound dog in a BabyBjörn-like harness on hikes, and after an hour my back ached.

Cathy was getting bigger, and the constraints on her grew. I, on the other hand, was happy to exploit my last few months of nonmotherhood by white-water rafting down Level 10 rapids on the Colorado River, racing down a mountain at 60 miles per hour at ski-racing camp, drinking bourbon and going to the Super Bowl.

Still, Kuczynski can’t get past the feeling that her obviously athletic and toned body has failed her, and the feeling that she is marked by it:

AS MUCH AS I TRIED TO FIGHT off the feeling, when I told others that I was expecting a baby — and this child was clearly not coming out of my womb — I would sometimes feel barren, decrepit, desexualized, as if I were branded with a scarlet “I” for “Infertile.” At the height of her pregnancy, Cathy and I embodied several facets of femininity. She could be seen as the fertile, glowing mother-to-be as well as the hemorrhoidal, flatulent, lumpen pregnant woman. I could be the erotic, perennially sensual nullipara, the childbirth virgin, and yet I was also the dried-up crone with a uterus full of twigs. She got rosy cheeks and huge, shiny stretch marks. I went to Bikram yogaand was embarrassed to tell the receptionist — in front of the pregnant 20-something yogini in short shorts — to pull me out of class in case my baby was about to be born out of another woman’s body.

Women are each other’s harshest judges when it comes to decisions about our lives.  To have a child or children, or not?  To create an adulthood around motherhood and mothering one’s children, or an adulthood that embraces other kinds of work beyond parenting (or indeed, avoids parenting without regrets)?  I’m not posting this so that we–you and I, my dear readers–can pounce on Kuczynski and feel for a few satisfying moments as though we are morally superior to her.  I’m posting this because I think it raises interesting questions about class, bodies, and commerce.  (Let’s remember that the New York Times is always publishing stories about white, upper-middle class women’s supposed selfishness and how it’s the ruination of the world, so we should be careful about not taking the bait.)

Honestly, the most disturbing part of the article was when Kuczynski, in an aside, notes that Cathy’s 20 year-old daughter, a college student, “had been an egg donor to help pay her college tuition.”  Also, “Cathy told me that her motivations were not purely financial, although she was frank about the fact that the money would help with her two children in college.”  This family may be an isolated example, but, I wonder:  are working-class and middle-class women and girls being driven to sell reproductive services in order to get themselves and their children through college?  If so, what does it say about what we value in women–their brains or their bodies?  Are women who use the latter to improve the former with the goal of finding work that doesn’t involve their reproductive organs being canny, or are they being used?

I don’t have any answers to these questions.  I didn’t consider selling eggs to get through college, but then, I didn’t have to.  Having and enforcing boundaries around one’s body is a privilege.

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