Mammal shaming

It often seems to me that human acceptability has everything to do with the hiding and restraining of the mammal part of the self. I find this doubly true for women, where body hair is not acceptable, body fat must be removed, faces must be painted in order to pass muster and until very recently, grey hairs must be dyed a more acceptable colour. All the various liquids that the female body produces must be hidden or lied about, and in adverts some will be replaced with inoffensive blue fluid.

If there was a time when I wasn’t ashamed of my body, I do not remember it. Being teased about my appearance is one of my early memories. Being clumsy, awkward, not fast enough or co-ordinated enough dominated my early school days. When I was about ten, some of my peers took me aside and said they’d seen a thing in a soap opera where a plain-Jane character was transformed by a perm and some makeup, so there was hope for me after all.

At least in matters of appearance, I have limited control. Too tall, too broad, too solidly built, too prone to laying down fat, and certainly too furry – all I can do is mitigate. I could never have been a beautiful, willowy elf maiden, starting with these proportions and this face. As a child I fantasised about having plastic surgery to fix all the many things that were wrong with me, but a steel allergy makes that unthinkable.

The trickier bits are the things an animal body does and wants. It gets hungry, but I learned early that to express hunger is not ladylike. It doesn’t want to sit down quietly for hours when it’s told to, does not want to push past exhaustion to keep working, again, and it revolts against things that frighten it. Walking on ice, learning to cycle and to swim were hard battles in my childhood, not least because I was so mistrustful of my unreliable body. It doesn’t handle heat and cold well, it wants to be warm, to be comfortable, to rest for longer, not to have to get up and push this morning, to sit in the sun for a bit. It has appetites that are best not spoken of, because that would be vulgar. This body fears and craves affection in about equal measure.

It is possible, I suppose, that other people feel similar things under their better constructed veneers of civilization. The vast majority of people I encounter seem to dress and act the part far better than I do. I am an awkward, hairy mammal, as unlikely and comedic as a chimp in a dress. I walk through the world feeling like a Stone-age visitor, not able to keep up with everything a modern human is supposed to do and be. All too often this leaves me hating the skin I wear, this awkward lump of a self that I shuffle, shamefaced through my days with.

It is also possible, that if I ever felt safe in just honouring that mammal self and taking care of what it wants and needs, that I might not be so mired in despair so often. Exhaustion breaks me regularly, because I ignore the need to stop. Other needs, and wants that manifest in my body are so uncomfortable to me that I find it hard to think about them, much less say, or act on it. Faced with high heels, lipsticks, diets, hair removal and all the other norms and expectations, I feel lost, frightened, wanting to crawl back into my cave and be some other sort of animal.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Mammal shaming

  • Linda Boeckhout

    My guess is indeed a lot of people, especially women, share your sentiment, more than you might think by just observing them. Some people are perhaps better in keeping up appearances…
    In recent years I have managed to become more accepting of my own body and its limitations. As a teenager and young adult, I felt much more uncomfortable. I was always on the good looking side of ordinary, yet I often felt unattractive, never making the grade. Living in this culture does that to you… It was the very mammalian experience of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding that reconciled me to my body. Now, even as I get older, I still see my shortcomings but also celebrate its achievements, and listen to it more carefully. It often knows best.

  • Robin

    Until recently the gay media was fixated with shaven, polished, sculpted men who looked more like hairless plastic mannequins than mere mammals. The recent popularity of the bearded bloke rectifies that somewhat, though most of the photographed role models are still impossibly handsome.

    • Nimue Brown

      I wonder if this is because the same underlying assumption about who the ‘consumer’ is, are at play here. I’ve heard arguments that beauty is often constructed to exclude, requiring things that are only available to the wealthy – not least the time for the preening… so there’s also the possibility that this is about keeping the peasants in their place, and not letting us get ideas that we might actually be fine, and acceptable as we are.

  • Jenny Colley

    Again, you summed up so much of how I feel.

  • curlydogs11

    Wow, this touched me in so many ways. My words of support could only be: Hopefully, as you grow older and wiser you will recognize that your physical makeup is good – maybe only for you, but it is good. You are still alive, the body parts work – albeit a bit wonky at times, and the brain is magnificent. You will learn to accept what you now feel are your shortcomings – they aren’t, trust me, but at present you do believe they are. I’ve walked this path you are on, but I’ve now outgrown myself. I’m older now, still overweight, still riddled with osteo-arthritis, but I now love myself – and friends tell me I look younger, I hold myself with more pride and my love for others shines through…this too can happen to you…just let go, love yourself and just be you! You are dearly loved by many.

  • curlydogs11

    Nimue, no one else’s opinion matters – it is all in how you perceive yourself, close your eyes and ignore their comments, they are envious of what you are inside. I’ve seen pictures of you and YOU are beautiful! Truly! Believe in yourself and others will follow….

  • Léithin Cluan

    I relate to a lot of what you say here. This, and other things you’ve been posting recently, are the kind of thing I’d like to explore in an ’embodied spirituality’ way.

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