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Our current relationship with our bodies seems to me to be based very much on this idea of us being somehow separate from our bodies, in them but not the same as them. Furthermore it incorporates the same idea of the perfectible flesh that was at the heart of medieval and Victorian Christian thinking, although in two slightly different ways.

Firstly, there is the idea of the body as an instrument which must be maintained properly and led into correct habits so as to become properly pure and incorruptible. This is the low-fat, no dairy, wheat-free, spinach-and-spirulina smoothie, detox, yoga, vitamins, fish oil, organic, Pilates, acupuncture, Mediterranean diet, power-walking way of looking at things. Put the right things into your body and exercise it the right way and it will become a “right” body, it will do the right things and behave in the right way. In this model, it seems to me, the body is regarded rather as a loved pet; a large and slightly dim dog, perhaps, capable of being a valued member of the family, but requiring to be treated in certain ways in order to behave properly and avoid causing nuisance. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it does still very much regard the body as a separate thing.

The other way, which can and does easily co-exist, is the “body as object” model, in which the body is viewed primarily as a garment which enables the self to display itself in its chosen way, although if the chosen way is to be approved by society at large, it had better fit in with society’s ideas about what sort of garment is appropriate. I’ve already mentioned the many ridiculous ends we go to in the service of this model.

More tomorrow.