Monday, 19 November 2012

On not being Peter Stringfellow....

Here's a riddle for you:

I have 5 different people working for me, and yet do not work. What am I?

Or to make it even stranger:

I have 5 different people come in every week, most of whom I take my clothes off in front of. What am I?

The answer isn't Peter Stringfellow, nor am I an earner of money from pursuits in the horizontal position (though as the only thing I truly excel at all the time is lying down maybe I should consider it) but that i am disabled and need a lot of help with day to day things that most people do without thinking about it. 

Every week social services pay me money, so that I can employ people to help me with all the things I find difficult - getting dressed, having a shower, writing, getting me drinks and lunch etc.I get the choice of whether to employ an individual, or whether to have it through an agency. They both have their upsides and downsides. If I get someone I'd choose myself, then I can get someone I like and get on well with, but if they are ill, or they leave, I really screwed. An agency means that I'm never quite sure who is going to turn up, they tried to keep it regular people but if someone is ill then they cover it with someone else. But in the end i I chose an agency. 

This means that I have to go from saying hello to someone for the 1st time, to taking off my clothes in front of them and letting them wash my back and legs. I used to find it difficult, but having done it for a while now I quite happily strip off in front of people I've only just met. In a way this is quite freeing, this assurance that of all the people I have had no one has gone “my God, look at you!". I have the 100 carers-and-no-ones-screamed-yet, stamp of approval. Partly it's easy because most of them are in their 40s and 50s, and not the most beautiful people in the world. I imagine I'd feel differently if a young pretty woman came in and I had to take my clothes off in front of her.

But partly it's also the carers themselves - they are so used to people taking their clothes off in front of them that they don't bat an eyelid about it, and they're being comfortable about it makes me feel comfortable. I think that in our culture, nudity is generally associated with sex. We have been conditioned for nudity to be associated with sex. Just the way that some people react women breastfeeding their babies in public, even though this is obviously a completely un-sexual thing, shows this. As does the way people react when women wear things that revealing. 

And even when men do do things that reveal their body, people's reaction is entirely different. The way that women were photographed at beach volleyball, not to mention the fact that they were obliged to wear bikinis, unlike the men who could wear T-shirts, all show how for women nudity and sexualisation are inextricably linked in society. It is so accepted that within a daily newspaper there regular appear topless photos of women, in a "would you like some tits with your bacon roll sir' sort of way. 

I'm not going to go on a long feminist rant about it, although I could do, but I feel lucky to be given the opportunity to be naked, and not be judged for it, and for it not to be seen as a sexualised thing.  It's been good for my self-confidence, then no one has run screaming out the room, and given me more assurance in my body, and comfort in being naked. In the end it really isn't a big deal to take your clothes off in front of someone else unless they make it so. 

Unless we regularly have the experience of being naked in a nonsexual context, then it is hard for women, and hard for society, to break the link between sex and women's bodies. And it is hard to get past the photosshopped insanely perky breasts and concave tummies of magazines to the truth of what women's bodies are like,  unless they're actually seen

So go on, get your kit off.  For the sake of feminism. ;-)

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