Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for October 24th, 2009

Our bodies, ourselves 14

Posted on October 24, 2009 by jimparedes

(The Philippine Star) Updated October 25, 2009 12:00 AM

My body — which is well over 50 — continues to amaze me. I am thrilled that I am still strong and can travel and do tours that involve lots of movement and other physical activity.

The human body is a many-splendored thing. It is where we reside while we are alive. It is the locale from whence emanates our unique point of view about all aspects of life. It is the housing by which our spirit takes form and has a human experience. I have a sturdy house that seems to be aging nicely.

Some people look at their bodies as temples, as sacred places where spirit resides while they live on earth. They treat their bodies with great respect and care, and nurture them with life-enhancing ingredients and practices. They do not smoke, hardly drink, and they exercise and eat well. Many of them do yoga, tai-chi and other exercises that calm and harmonize body and mind.

I, more or less, fall into this category. I do not smoke, barely drink and do my best to eat and sleep well, and do some exercise.

There are people who think the opposite — that the body is a nightclub, a great big tent for sensual experiences. They have an “anything goes” attitude that includes drugs, alcohol, smoking, constant bingeing on rich and delicious but unhealthy foods, perennially late nights partying and just indulging their bodies. They are also too lazy to exercise.

There are some others who look at the body and all its needs, urges and wants as something to be controlled or even denied. They are the ascetics who deprive themselves of earthly joys that the body craves for, as part of spiritual practice.

It does not matter which among these three types you are. However you regard your body, it is something that you have a very personal relationship with. You are your body and your body is you, and its very condition can determine how you feel about yourself.

As I write this article, I am in the US which, in the eyes of this Third World citizen from the Philippines, is home to many of the world’s most obese people. It is both amazing and alarming to see so many super-sized human beings everywhere. The figures show that something like one in five Americans is obese.

I do not mean to sound facetious or condescending in any way but I often wonder what it is like to be 100 pounds overweight. I travel a lot and dragging a 50-pound suitcase around is hard enough. I try to imagine what twice my luggage would be like if it was evenly distributed around my body and I carried it 24 hours a day. When I see morbidly obese people (that’s the medical term for the really fat) trying to fit into tiny airline seats, or lining up to go to the toilet on a plane, I can’t help but wonder how uncomfortable they must be to be maneuvering in the world “wearing” the bodies that they have.

In the Philippines, we do not see that many overweight people. We also do not see being fat as much of a problem as it is here in America. My sister Lory, a US citizen, once pointed out how kids who appear in food, vitamins and milk commercials in the Philippines are obese. She wondered why we do not see the irony of using them as models when obesity is a health issue. It is as though, to the Filipino mind, a fat kid is a healthy well-fed kid. We need to reexamine that mindset.

As a photographer who has taken lots of pictures of artists and models who are quite beautiful and physically appealing, I can attest to the confidence most of them exude during pictorials. For many of them, their physical attributes define much of who they are. And yet, while they project confidence in pictures, what is amazingly mysterious is that many of these beautiful women, pretty as they are, can be self-deprecating about their bodies.

They often express this during pictorials. Sure, they know they are pretty, but there is a deep-seated dissatisfaction, and even a self-loathing at times about their self-perceived imperfections — their “big” arms, their “overweight” look, their imperfect body parts, etc. They always find something to complain about. I have noticed that a great number of very beautiful women who probably go about their everyday lives being ogled at and admired often underrate their looks and thus can be unhappy about how they see themselves.

There is also the cult of youth that the world seems obsessed with which demands a perfect body. And when I scan through magazines, and look at pictorials of the famous in Hollywood, I am struck by the “uniformity” of their beauty. While they are pleasant to look at, I know that they do not reflect the world’s inhabitants, by any measure.

Despite the high standards set by media, not everyone will meet, much less have social access to “perfect” people whom they will end up marrying and living with happily ever after. It will take maturity and acceptance of this fact before one can put less emphasis on physical beauty and see other more desirable and enduring qualities among the majority of the population who are less than physically perfect. To put it more truly and philosophically, it is with the spirit that we have true eyes that can see the other in a more real way.

My daughter Erica has lots of tattoos. So does my son Mio. I have been thinking of getting one myself. From conversations with my daughter and son, I know that getting tattooed, which some may see as a form of disfigurement, is all about self-enhancement and vanity. But there are others who are disfigured not through self-induced and glorified body piercing and tattoos but with real physical scars inflicted by life.

I think of the many women who have had mastectomies due to breast cancer. There is something beautiful about them despite the so-called “imperfection” that cancer has foisted on their bodies. They have an inner beauty that shines and transcends and even overshadows what is visible to the eye. Their trials and how they came to terms with them have made them inexplicably radiant.

When I saw my wife Lydia’s fully shaved head after she was diagnosed with cancer, I thought she was achingly beautiful, with her strength of character shining beyond the vanity she had to give up.

A brilliant advertisement in Sports Illustrated magazine said it all: “Scars are tattoos with better stories.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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