To say that I struggle with a poor body image is an understatement. Influenced to a large extent by my disability, which apart from the sight challenges Albinism creates, my inherited condition includes as a feature, a lack of Melanin in my skin. I hate this time of year, when temperatures and the UV index rise together; when almost everyone I know tans and turns golden. A voice tells me over and over again, that other healthy, happy folks get to frolic in the sun, to work pleasurably in the garden, to kayak and play on the water, while I must cower in the shade. If I fear the sun and the damage it can do to me (I had a malignant melanoma removed in 1992), others get to play with an easy conscience while I must stay in the shade, so often alone.
So what else about my body bothers me? I have always considered myself to be fat, a very unhealthy description. Of course, my physicians, X-Ray technicians and personal counselors would never say this to me now — it would be considered unprofessional and punitive in today’s medical climate. So imagine my surprise to receive a few days ago the image below from a longtime friend and clergy colleague, a picture taken in Dawson City, Yukon in June of 1984. Appearing trim and youthful, even then I thought myself to be fat. Why, oh why, O devious voice, do I keep listening to you, Still Crazy even after all these years?
Now if I lived on an island as a solitary, with no opportunity or need to interact with other humans, there would be no problem. “Party on” would be my anthem, with no need to keep up appearances or to compare physiques. When however one enters into an intimate relationship with another person, things change. Kathie and I have enjoyed wonderful physical intimacy over the years. Amidst this however the question arises for me occasionally, am I attractive? I jokingly remind myself that’s why we turn out the lights. Emma Thompson said the same thing in an interview with Stephen Cobert recently on The Late Show. She said all sorts of wonderful things in a wide-ranging conversation plugging her new movie, Good Luck To You Leo Grande a two-person dialogue which takes place mostly in one place, in her bedroom. Kathie’s hairdresser says this movie is the best he has seen in years. I trust him, because “only your hairdresser knows for sure.”
Emma Thompson is no stranger to intimate film stories. In Wit, she portrays renowned professor, Vivian Bearing (who is an authority on the Poetry of John Donne) who is forced to reassess her life when she is diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. We follow a very poignant story through to her last living moments. If Thompson faces death in one instance, with Leo Grande she faces life, full-on, starkers. Now in her early 60s acting naked is a new experience for Thompson. Other women such as Sidse Babett Knudsen, star of the Danish political drama Borgen refuse to perform nude. “It just takes things over” Knudsen says. With Cobert, Thompson explains how she is able to perform fully naked having wrestled her own physical insecurities to the ground since her early teens. While it is hard to believe that Emma Thompson has any physical insecurities (let us recall the plunging necklines of Much Ado About Nothing as we plumbed the depths of Shakespeare’s couplets) let’s remember that most if not all our body anxieties are not rational. We humans are complex multi-faceted beings. To see, is to know, is to feel, is to be alive in a wonderful mix . . . until we mix it all up, if you know what I mean. A few minutes into the interview Thompson provides some advice:
I started hating my body at about fourteen when I think those neural pathways are kind of well carved into my soul. I know we laugh, but I think about all those eight-year-olds out there who are saying “I don’t like my thighs.” I say to them: “Don’t waste your time.”
Don’t waste your life’s purpose worrying about your body. This is your vessel; this is where you live. There’s no point in judging it, absolutely no point.
Thompson could well have quoted St. Paul, one who certainly had a mixed up relationship with his own body. The First-Century Evangelist urged his readers to cultivate a positive body image in an ancient pre-social-media world:
Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
True confession time. I am a huge Emma Thompson fan and can’t wait to see Good Luck. Another confession, with many photo artists including Edward Weston, I admire women — their form, their style, their wit and their humour. I hope I can find time to watch Good Luck soon, with Kathie, on the recommendation of her hairdresser, Christopher. Sounds like it could be a good date movie. See what happens.