Rant 6 December 2002: Magic machines and gift horses

“People need to understand that for the average bunch of us who don’t have those special booster-rocket genes, we still have a remarkable set of genes that would get us to our mid-80s in good health. However, instead of taking advantage of those genes, we fight them with bad habits, obesity, and bad diets.”

—Thomas Perls, Harvard researcher into longevity

When I was a kid, I read just about everything I could get my grubby little fingers on.

One of my favourite books, which I read over and over again, was I Am Joe’s Body. It was a collection of short articles which had appeared in Readers’ Digest (shudder), and each one was about a different body part: I Am Joe’s Liver, I Am Joe’s Brain, and so on (the wimminfolk were granted I Am Jane’s Uterus).

The articles featured chatty body parts who would discuss, in the first person, who they were and what they did. I particularly loved the throat, who demonstrated an air of affronted dignity over being considered “just a piece of garden hose”.

If our bodies could speak to us, what would they say?

For many of us, they would probably say something like, “Stop abusing me, you dumbshit, I’m trying to do my job here!”

Whenever I travel, I experience bodily dissociation. During the process of traveling, the body is a nuisance to be taken care of.

One is always thinking about where to be able to pee next, that one has furry teeth from drinking the cruddy airplane coffee, pushing food into one’s eating orifice as fuel, trying to ignore the ache of sitting in an uncomfortable seat, etc.

One of my greatest fears involves getting food poisoning on vacation and having to spend eight hours of turbulence locked into an airplane bathroom while my insides explode.

Once I arrive at my destination, it’s like my head suddenly remembers it’s connected to something with needs and a personality of its own, who needs love and attention.

Many of us, however, retain that sense of bodily alienation.

Bodies are separated from thoughts, and regarded as something like a clunky old station wagon which is ugly but functional for carrying around children and groceries. When I speak to clients who are struggling with body image and healthy behaviour, the root of it seems to be some kind of body alienation.

I don’t want to get all psychobabble here, so I won’t go into my crackpot theories about mind-body duality, but I want to point out one thing which might make us change our views about our bodies.

Our bodies love us, and want us to stay alive and healthy as long as possible.

Our bodies are very functional. They want to do what they think will benefit us the most, even if we don’t like what that solution is.

Your body doesn’t hate you because it puts on fat. Your body loves you and wants you to stay alive in the next famine.

Your body doesn’t hate you because it hurts when you hunch over a desk for eight hours; it loves you and wants you to know that you are placing stress on it, so it signals you that you are doing something damaging.

At all times, the body is trying to do the best it knows how.

What is a good body?

It’s not necessarily one that shows up on the best dressed list for the Oscars, or struts down the catwalk, though it can be.

All bodies are good bodies in that they contain the potential to perform little miracles every day.

Nobody has yet invented a perpetual motion machine, but your heart is able to beat and beat and beat and beat, millions of times a year, every year of your life.

Our bones are stronger than most artificially created materials, including concrete.

We can sneeze at over 100 miles per hour.

Bodies six feet tall and hundreds of pounds can balance on two relatively tiny little feet, an accomplishment which has yet to be replicated by robot builders.

There are many more factoids like this about the human body, which reveal it as a wonder of engineering.

I was in the delivery room for my sister’s labour and had a crotch-cam view of the baby emerging.

Nothing you read can prepare you for seeing an actual baby come out of someone’s body.

You start off thinking, “Geez, I don’t know if I really want to be looking at my sister’s privates”, and then suddenly you’re thinking, “HOLY FUCKING SHIT, THERE’S A GODDAMNED BABY COMING OUT!!! WHOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

And you’re watching that vagina like it’s the freakin’ Super Bowl played by naked clowns on fire. Dig this: some humans can make other humans in their tummies. How freaking outstandingly neato is that?!

I’d like to say my sister was thinking deep thoughts about the miracle of birth at this moment, approximately 2 minutes after my nephew was born, but from the dopey grin on her face, she’s more likely thinking, “Ohhhh painkillers yesshh…”

The best part of it is, all of us get one of these amazing machines (well, not all of us get the baby-growing ones, nor use the baby-growing feature on them, but that’s cool).

We might not be able to afford a swanky car or big-screen TeeVee, but all of us get a fascinating, awe-inspiring machine for our very own.

Why, then, do so many people balk at properly paying its upkeep?

We take the time to put oil in our cars, wipe the food grease off our dishwashers, upgrade our computers. Why is it so hard for us to “find time” to take care of the most important machine of all, a machine which works better the more you use it, a machine which is self-maintaining and self-repairing?

Perhaps one reason is that we have lost the sense of wonder about our bodies that they deserve.

Culturally, we define “good bodies” by how they look, not what they do. Or how they feel.

But think about it.

What if you defined your body in terms of its ability and potential?

What if you stopped bitching and moaning about how you lost the genetic lottery because you don’t have rippling abs naturally, and started thinking about how you won the genetic lottery by virtue of being alive and able to read this?

You know how many mistakes can be made when you’re trying to organize a bunch of things or people all at once.

Imagine trying to organize millions, billions of things just right, every time, in order to create a human from bits of inert proteins. Those proteins all had to tango together in order to make you.

If you’re fighting your body, stop. If you’re treating it right, keep doing so.

Bring the old girl some flowers every now and again, tell her you love her.

Now go and hit the gym. She’ll thank you with stronger bones, better posture and balance, a zippier metabolism, and a host of other things.

Enjoy your gift!