Right now I am in a certain northern Ontario town giving a talk about medicine and art. After touring me around all day, my lovely host dropped me at a fancy new gym beside the grocery store. I paid $15, got changed, and then went into the spacious, well equipped weight room, feeling rather pleased with myself. A staff member suddenly appeared, informing me that I was breaking an important club rule. ‘Tank tops are not allowed,’ she said, staring at my sleeveless attire, emblazoned with the words Olympia Las Vegas 2010. ‘You have to wear a t-shirt.’ ‘What?’ I chortled. ‘How else am I supposed to show off my guns?’ (I said this as if I was joking but the message was factual. I often pretend to lie while boldly telling the truth. It’s kind of my thing.) The heavily-clothed staff member was not amused. ‘Some clients could be intimidated,’ she stated. I had never before thought of my shoulders as intimidating, even offensive. I suddenly remembered visiting the Vatican and various churches in Rome, where bare shoulders are forbidden. God knows what you’re wearing, you brazen hussy. And so does Angelica, the anti-armpit Nazi.
Are my shoulders unclean? Perish the thought. Those who know me well understand (and accept?) that I live on the margins of OCD. Not the hand washing 100 times a day kind, but the everything must be in its place kind. I clean secretly, when no one is looking. But only in my own home, not in my office on campus (it holds no interest for me), or my partner’s car or even his office. I don’t care if your house is clean; in fact, I will like it better if it is not. What a breath of fresh air. Or exotically stale air. However, if you want me to help you find better storage solutions or rearrange your furniture, by all means please ask. For I have already been drawing up the blueprints. I just can’t help myself. All that wasted space over the closet in your foyer…oh how I think of it fondly. While sitting in your living room I am fantasizing about throwing all your crap in the garbage, or at least sponging it down. Even as I enjoy your normalcy, I consider how I would live it differently. I figure this is my way of asserting control after experiencing a powerless childhood. Every morning I drink two cups of lemon water (more about that below), I tidy everything, plump the pillows, and walk the perimeter of the condo, just like my cat does whenever she wakes up. I like this reassuring feline ritual. It keeps me calm.
About the lemon water: it is part of my new diet, e-mailed to me by the diet coach I hired last week. You will likely be hearing a lot more about her, and a whole lot more about food in the near future. The Queen of my Regime advised me to start with a refreshing cleanse in pill or powder form. Wanting to get my money’s worth, I immediately complied, visiting the natural products store. The salesman recommended a ‘starter cleanse,’ called Renew Life. He cautioned that I would be nauseous for the first few days and should always be near a bathroom. Ugh! I exclaimed. How unpleasant. Then again, maybe this will be a good section in my Feminist Figure Girl book. After all, who doesn’t love to read about intestines and feces? Aside: rhetorical question alert. I am now in the second week of this new cleansing ritual, which focuses on my innards instead of my surroundings, but nothing much is happening. I was not nauseous at the beginning, nor did I begin spewing toxins out my every orifice. At least not that I noticed. I already eat a ton of fibre–my breakfast consists of wheat bran mixed with protein powder and boiling water. Eat it up, yum! My colon was probably already shiny and clean, like a glistening marble counter top. Or at least like the scratched white formica one in my unrenovated kitchen.
I simply don’t consider my body unclean. Not one single part of it, and certainly not my guts. Who came up with this idea that we are riddled with toxins and other nastiness, and require a periodic purging? Wait for it…yes…this idea was commonsense during the early modern period, when people underwent bleedings, steamings, slicings and dicings, and ate certain male ferns to expel the excess humours within. Sometimes a giant tapeworm would come out too. Just ask Louis XIV. I know his worms still exist somewhere at Versailles, perhaps in jars covered with dust in the corner of a dungeon. Just give me a broom and a magic eraser and I will take care of that right quick.
The concept of hygiene was not invented until the nineteenth century. But manners began to increase during the late medieval and early modern period, or so says sociologist/historian Norbert Elias. Rules about blowing your nose in a hanky instead of your fingers, not chatting up the neighbours while taking a crap in the bushes outside, and not dipping your spitty fingers in the salt cellar (may they be palsied!) were not about preventing disease. They were about distinction, about appearing to be better than others. Cleanliness is historically and culturally contingent. During the early modern period, propriety was linked with wearing spotlessly white linen; taking a bath was not necessary and could dangerously open up all your skin holes. Not a good idea.
What does it mean to be clean today? Bodybuilders talk about ‘eating clean,’ which entails downing chunks of chicken with sweet potatoes, or some other high-protein, low-fat, low glycemic index combination. Add some ephedrin, GH, and anavar and you have a complete meal, all shiny and clean like Saturday bath night. For bodybuilders a clean body is lean, with no excess food showing on the outside or clogging up the inside. Eating clean can also require consuming the same things over and over again. Monotony breaks the association between food and pleasure, revealing it to be nothing but muscle bulker. I am not yet there but I should be by March. I will also be very angry.
Speaking of anger, I would like to end by introducing you to another female character in my life. She is a very professional professor; well dressed, nice hair, handbag and even management skills. I will call her Vampira. For during the pro boxing matches last weekend, she began to shout for blood. ‘I love to see men rolling in blood on the floor!’ she confessed. Oh Vampira, you are a dirty bird.