Can you re-make yourself from the outside in?

Last night I watched the first episode of Queer Eye at my daughter’s insistence and I watched it through determined to open my mind to a new way of seeing the world. What I saw I disliked. Not because the five gay men who make up the cast aren’t delightful people who exude a certain energy that has its appeal but because I felt there was something essentially dehumanising and humiliating about taking a 57-year-old truck driver out of his home for a week and gussying him up, both his home and his clothes, his all over bodily appearance to render him more attractive to others, particularly to the woman in his life.

It struck me as such a construction. Given I recognise that all television entertainment even documentaries and real-life shows are all constructions, why would I think otherwise?

Still I kept thinking about all the money that went into reviving this man’s wardrobe, his house and his love life. They did it all in a week, with much cooperation from him.

At least, they didn’t try to make him lose weight or alter his complexion radically. Tom, our made-over man, suffers from Lupus, hence his skin is dry and red.

Prior to his makeover, Tom hid behind a shaggy pepper grey beard that covered the bottom half of his face and a baseball cap that covered the top half of his face and balding head. Only his blue eyes peeked out from his ruddy complexion.

It was clear he was a man who was loved within his community, a man with friends although he was lonely at night after work, after three failed marriages, one daughter who lived nearby and a grandson whom he treasured. He tended to sit in his favourite poo coloured recliner and watch television.

His favourite meal was Mexican nachos and some sort of tequila mixed with Meadow Dew over ice concoction that he clearly enjoyed, but which his five minders found revolting.

In the series, the five make over artists are each ascribed a role, one in clothes, one in design, one in diet, one in culture – whatever that means – and one in grooming.

I did not enjoy this series because it focussed on the appearance of things even as they argue that to give up on your appearance is to give up on yourself and they’re right to a degree. Not just on your appearance but on looking after yourself.

Tom repeated this mantra: ‘You can’t fix ugly’.

It was this statement and the efforts the five guys made to reassure him it was not true that left me again troubled.

I think of ugliness as very much in the eye of the beholder and also something that can reflect our inner state.

When I feel bad inside I feel ugly on the outside and it has nothing to do with the actual aesthetics of my face or body.

It’s a feeling, which is not to say there’s no such thing as ugliness or beauty. There are things that reflect both, but people are people irrespective of their appearance and if we get hooked on merely improving the appearance of things we fail to recognise what lies beneath.

Maybe that’s the point of this show, to get below the surface into what lies beneath but I sensed a missing element, the true complex state of mind of all these people.

Naked

The idea of nakedness has long enthralled or appalled me. From the masterpieces of the Dutch masters with those half-dressed women draped over chaise longue, surrounded by cherubs, babies or interested men, to those dreams in which I find myself half dressed, no skirt or underpants, those dreams in which I find myself fearful of exposure or discovery.

I watched a Youtube clip the other day where the film makers arranged for a young mother breastfeeding a small baby to sit on a park bench in the middle of a busy street somewhere in America.

They filmed her and watched and waited as passers-by saw fit to insult the woman for her disgusting behaviour. Men and women alike.

Even when she responded, ‘I’m just feeding my baby,’ they said she should be doing it in private.

And then, by way of contrast they chose another beautiful and well-endowed model to sit on this same bench with her breasts half exposed. This time although people passed by and many looked – one man even came over and began to chat the woman up – not one of them threw insulting language her way.

The point of the story?

Well they then placed the two women side by side on the same bench and waited. They also propped a male type of minder against a fence nearby and when people stopped to insult the mother feeding her baby, this male minder asked the question:

‘Why is she, the women with the low-cut cleavage okay and she, the breast-feeding mother not?’

The typical response from the one or two they recorded – both men I observed, ‘She’s hot,’ referring to the full breasted model, but ‘She’s disgusting,’ referring to the breastfeeding mother.

So, nakedness in all its many forms can trouble us. It’s not nakedness per se, the nakedness of a new born, of a small child in a bath, though.

It’s the prurient eyes of adults, some adults, including the distorted minds of the paedophiles who can fast shift that naked innocence of childhood into something else, something to be exploited.

And it’s not long after we get into double numbers in age, ten years and over that we begin to feel uncomfortable about being seen naked.

So, nakedness is clearly connected to the sexual.

My analyst once told me that a father who walks around naked in one family, or a mother or any parental figure who walks around naked in one family, might signify very little given the intent of their nakedness. Comfort, convenience whatever but in another household, such as my own, a father sitting in his chair in the loungeroom stark naked carries a heavy weight.

The weight of exhibitionism, as if like a peeping Tom he draws pleasure out of disturbing his children and his wife by his nakedness.

This then in contrast to the folks who take themselves off to nudist camps.

I suspect the motivation behind nudist camps are many and varied but some of them might well be as seemingly innocent as wanting to go back to nature, so called, of waning to go back to the way things were for us when we were born. Wanting to be free of the pressure of clothing, even though clothing is a great help when it’s freezing cold and you’re in danger of hypothermia and death if you don’t rug up.

And there you have it, a potted history of nakedness, though I left out one essential point here and that is the imbalance between those who are naked and those clothed. And the way this reflects something of our misogynistic world today.

Those men in suits who look on at the naked woman in the garden from that famous painting of Suzanna and the Elders.

As Hannah Gadsby points out in her famous ‘Nanette’ performance. What was wrong with women in these centuries that they could not do up their blouse buttons and so found themselves with one breast popping out inadvertently?

Even writing this risks censure and titillation, the topic itself so troublesome. Most likely because it brings out the vulnerability in us all.

The Nazis stripped naked the Jews on their way to the gas chambers, for all sorts of complicated reasons, like wanting to get at their valuables, but also, I think to disarm and humiliate them, wanting to render them like cattle on their way to her slaughter.

Nakedness is inevitable for us humans, but it’s also loaded.

 

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