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.