Is it Normal for Human Beings to have a
Love-Hate Relationship with their Bodies?
[Which of the three views of the body, stated below by C. S. Lewis, seems healthiest to you? If none of them please you, can you think of one that does?]
Man has held three views of his body. First there is that of those ascetic Pagans who called it the prison or the “tomb” of the soul, and of Christians like Fisher [Bishop John Fisher’s head was chopped off by King Henry VIII in 1535] to whom it was a “sack of dung,” food for worms, filthy, shameful, a source of nothing but temptation to bad men and humiliation to good ones. Then there are the Neo-Pagans (they seldom know Greek), the nudists and the sufferers from Dark Gods, to whom the body is glorious. But thirdly we have the view which St Francis expressed by calling his body “Brother Ass.” All three may be—I am not sure—defensible; but give me St Francis for my money.
Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, lovable and infuriating beast; deserving now the stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body. There’s no living with it till we recognise that one of its functions in our lives is to play the part of the buffoon. Until some theory has sophisticated them, every man, woman and child in the world knows this. The fact that we have bodies is the oldest joke there is.
C. S. Lewis (from The Four Loves)
It never ceases to amaze me how so many of my patients continually complain about the size and shape of their feet—they are either too big or too small, too wide or too narrow, too thick or too thin, or just plain fat and ugly. I have never understood why so many people hate their feet, or the feet of others, and I probably never will.
The only person I ever met who thought his feet were beautiful was my Uncle Harold. One evening, during a formal cocktail party at his home, he summoned me to his library, sat down, removed his shoes and socks, and put his feet up on his desk. He then pointed to them with the big fat cigar he was smoking at the time.
“Is there something wrong, Uncle?” I asked him with concern. I assumed he had a problem and was seeking medical advice.
Uncle Harold chewed on his cigar for a minute, then said proudly, “Beeeautiful, aren’t they. I just wanted to show you, since you probably see only ugly ones in your office”. . . He may have been slightly inebriated, but to me he was a breath of fresh air. I only wish my patients would feel the same way about their feet, rather than constantly running them down.
Glenn Copeland (from The Foot Doctor)
In the queerest way, pleasure and disgust are linked together. The human body is beautiful: it is also repulsive and ridiculous, a fact which can be verified at any swimming pool. The sexual organs are objects of desire and also of loathing, so much so that in many languages, if not in all languages, their names are used as words of abuse. Meat is delicious, but a butcher’s shop makes one feel sick: and indeed all our food springs ultimately from dung and dead bodies, the two things which of all others seem to us the most horrible. A child, when it is past the infantile stage but still looking at the world with fresh eyes, is moved by horror almost as often as by wonder—horror of snot and spittle, of the dogs’ excrement on the pavement, the dying toad full of maggots, the sweaty smell of grown-ups, the hideousness of old men, with their bald heads and bulbous noses. In his endless harping on disease, dirt and deformity, [Jonathan] Swift is not actually inventing anything, he is merely leaving something out.
George Orwell (from Politics vs Literature)
Marriage [according to Bertrand Russell] was an unlivable institution because it demanded “intolerable intimacy.” He implied not so much the wear and tear of different, or competing, personalities as the growing offensiveness of knowing everything about the partner’s aches and pains and physical fusses and bathroom habits. In agonizing over it, Russell seems to me to be expressing the morbid sensitiveness of the uncured puritan, of Swift with his despairing cry: “Celia, Celia, Celia shits.” If he had ever been confronted by the proposition, I think Russell would have been abashed to explain how a practicing gynecologist could ever remain in love.
Alistair Cooke (from The Lord of Reason)
Alone among the animals [Man] feels the need of averting his thoughts from the root realities of his own bodily being; of hiding them as in the presence of some higher possibility which creates the mystery of shame. Whether we praise these things as natural to man or abuse them as artificial in nature, they remain in the same sense unique. This is realized by the whole popular instinct called religion, until disturbed by pedants, especially the laborious pedants of the Simple Life.
G. K. Chesterton
How idiotic civilization is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?
I could be content that we might procreate like trees, without conjunction, or that there were any way to perpetuate the world without this trivial and vulgar act of coition; It is the foolishest act a wise man commits in all his life, nor is there anything that will more deject his cooled imagination, when he shall consider what an odd and unworthy piece of folly he hath committed.
The boy who first revealed to me the facts of life was clearly a Protestant, since he seemed to have read a little scripture. As the hair-raising news of human reproduction assaulted my scandalized ears, I resorted to the only defence available to me. “Well,” I rounded on him, “maybe that’s how Protestants do it . . .”
The Gnostics and Manicheans held man’s nature to be purely spiritual and his connection with the body to be in itself an evil and the source of all evil. Hence their idea of salvation involved separating man’s true nature from its material envelope or prison—the return of the Alone to the Alone.
I find distasteful the traditional idea of Christianity which preaches the resurrection of the body. Frankly, I see my body as more of a limitation than a virtue, and I will be glad to be free of it rather than having to continue to cart it around. I prefer to believe that souls can exist independently from bodies.
M. Scott Peck
Not many people have bodies that satisfy them: and those who do find that their bodies don’t remain in that condition for very long. When you consider the disappointment, frustration, humiliation and outright pain that the average body inflicts on its owner, it’s not surprising that Manicheaism (the doctrine that the body is evil and that the true man is entirely spiritual) never entirely disappears.
I’ve gone through stages where I hate my body so much that I won’t even wear shorts and a bra in my house because if I pass a mirror, that’s the end of my day.
[Has it ever struck you as outrageous that all our knowledge and our understanding, all our desire and ambition, all our joy and our anguish depend on a fragile and faulty system of blood, flesh and bone weighing roughly 70 kilograms?]
It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognize that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom, whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body.
Always prided myself on my reasoning faculty and my stoic materialism. I don't have a body, I am a body. Yet consciously and regularly acted as if this was not true, or as if an exception would be made in my case.
Christopher Hitchens (fragmentary jottings from Mortality)
More Thoughts about the Body
A trembling in the bones may carry a more convincing testimony than the dry documented deductions of the brain.
The body never lies.
Flesh goes on pleasuring us, and humiliating us, right to the end.
[George Bernard Shaw] looked forward to a time when, in the course of evolution, ecstasy of intellect would replace sexual passion.
Michael Holroyd (biographer)
If man attempts to suppress the animal side of his nature by a sheer effort of conscious will, nature finds a hundred unexpected and unpleasant ways to take its revenge.
If the mind, that rules the body, ever so far forgets itself as to trample on its slave, the slave is never generous enough to forgive the injury, but will rise and smite the oppressor.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It is quite clear that the body must be recognized and the soul kept in its place, since a little refreshing food and drink can do so much to make a man.
Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.
Man is the sole animal whose nudity offends his own companions, and the only one who, in his natural actions, withdraws and hides himself from his own kind.
In all our [seventeen year] marriage, except for the act of making love, we never casually viewed each other undressed. If a trip from the shower to the closet were necessary, a towel discreetly placed belied what had happened only a few moments before in bed.
Mary Tyler Moore (from her autobiography, After All)
O! dreadful is the check—intense the
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again;
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.
If I had the use of my body, I would throw it out the window.
Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds.
St Teresa of Avila
Unless the flesh is guided by the spirit it seeks only self-gratification.
Fr. Michel Quoist
Our own physical body possesses a wisdom which we who inhabit the body lack. We give it orders which make no sense.
The way he treats his body, you’d think he was renting.
The body is a bundle of careful compromises.
Nobody expects to trust his body overmuch after the age of fifty.
We are not ourselves
When nature, being oppress’d, commands the mind
To suffer with the body.
King Lear (King Lear)
Man is an intelligence in servitude to his organs.
You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.
C. S. Lewis
The trouble with having a body is that people know it’s where you hang out and you don’t get any privacy.
Why should a man’s mind have been thrown into such close, sad, sensational, inexplicable relations with such a precarious object as his body?
The mind’s first step to self-awareness must be through the body.
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