Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Body as a Site of Competition

The Sumerian god Ningizzida was the patron of ...Image via Wikipedia

I just finished watching "The Biggest Loser" and opened up my reader to find this post by Horace at To Delight and Instruct. Although I personally judge myself and compare my body to others', I'd never thought of how the medical profession might contribute to this. Horace describes the way his doctor compares his vital signs to his wife's. And then says this:
That we think of even vital signs in this hierarchical way suggests to me the degree to which we are willing to judge, rank and hierarchize based on simplistic measurements and perceptions of bodies that are constructed in complicated and multi-functional and multi-contextual ways strikes me as, at the very least, symptomatic of a cultural conditioning to view the material body as a legible marker of subjectivity, and on a more sinister level, a somewhat more conspicuous and perhaps even vaguely conscious effort on the part of the medical community (and even more, of the medical tchnology and pharmaceutical industries) to transform physical flesh into a value marker, with ideological, moral, and capital value.
I never worry about going to the doctor, mostly because I get the same kind of praise that Horace and his wife do. My vital signs are good. My weight is good. But I do hate going to the dentist because I never floss enough. I get shamed on a regular basis. You know, why doesn't the dentist just clean my teeth, and unless there's an obvious problem, leave out the condemnation altogether. I imagine that people with non-teeth-related health issues feel the same way I do about going to the dentist. As a result, I don't go to the dentist as often as I should and I'm sure the same happens for others when it comes to doctor's visits. And what a shame. And it is a terrible thing to shame someone when they really haven't done much wrong. Maybe they're trying hard. Certainly, the doctor can't get into the complexities of their health situation in a 15 minute appointment.

I think Horace's post hit a nerve, too, because we've been discussing cosmetic surgeries of various kinds in our class and this whole issue of the body as something that our values are written on has come up again and again. It's interesting to see the same issue in a slightly different context.
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