Written in October 2008

This last couple of weeks have forced me to be even more aware of my body than I usually am – which, as I’m a fairly normal woman, is pretty much.

I had a week off which started with a trip to the doctor that I couldn’t bear to put off any longer. Turns out I’ve got some form of tennis elbow – or ‘floor layer’s elbow’ as I prefer to think of it. Later that day, I very stupidly twisted a muscle in my back so a pain-killer cocktail was called for to give me a good day out at the seaside on Day 2. So there I am, walking on Brighton Pier. I take one bite out of a stick of rock and my tooth breaks. Actually not painful as I’d broken the same one so many times before that it’s more filling than tooth but still, my tongue wouldn’t leave it alone so I soon got an ulcer. Day 3 came and I couldn’t move. Hot baths, ibuprofen, paracetamol, codeine and a blanket on the sofa – total waste of a day (except I did get to re-read Comet in Moominland). Day 4 necessitated a trip to the dentist and as I was lying there trying to think about anything other than the fact that there was a drill in my mouth it occurred to me that I do an awful lot of harm to my body on a regular basis.

I constantly feed it crap. I rub it, scrub it, pluck it and coat it with chemicals (although not as many as my friend who recently pointed out that in the previous 24 hours she’d put over 30 different potions on her body). To top that off I do almost no exercise. Over the years I’ve abused it to the point of ridiculousness. I’ve fallen off bikes and scooters; up kerbs and down stairs. My body’s covered in scars from an assortment of ‘incidents’ – mostly my fault – and almost always has at least one bruise blossoming somewhere or other. Basically, when it comes to my body, I’m a lummox.

So as the drilling went on, I started to think about dogs (always the best thing to think about whenever stress levels rise). Dogs eat all sorts of crap yet I’ve never heard of one breaking a tooth. They jump all over the place but whoever saw a dog with a broken nose or even so much as a bruise? They run around on all surfaces yet the tips of their nails never seem to snap off painfully. And when was the last time you saw a dog clutching his head screaming for paracetamol? Sure, they get run over some times but it seems to take quite a lot to damage a dog. Human beings are total wimps in comparison.

On the tube home I started looking around me and playing a dog version of the tube game (for those who don’t use the tube: ‘If that person were a ………, what …….. would they be?’), and after I’d gone through the half-dozen people in my carriage, started to think about what dog I would be. No doubt I’d be a mutt. I’m built a bit like a Labrador; hair like a Springer Spaniel; intelligence: maybe a Jack Russell, and temperament: definitely a wilful terrier of some sort.

The thing about dogs though is that they don’t obsess about their bodies like we do. Letterboxes and hoovers maybe but self-image, no. I guess they have it easy in that they’re not surrounded by patisseries and supermarket aisles stacked high with sweets and biscuits like we are but still, I’ve never seen a dog turn away from a biscuit with a “no, I really mustn’t…” look on its face? Plus they don’t view a run around the park as exercise, it’s just fun.

So why is it just us humans who treat our bodies so badly yet are still so fixated with them?

People constantly point the finger of blame at the fashion magazines, but I don’t really think it’s them or those people who obsess to the point of absurdity and then project their bizarre ideas onto the rest of us (such as pube topiary and finger nail extensions). I blame the person who invented the mirror.

If mirrors hadn’t been invented, none of us would know what we really looked like. Maybe this is the reason why dogs aren’t concerned with image. If they look in a mirror, they don’t realise* it’s themselves that they’re looking at. And if you don’t know what you look like, you probably aren’t that bothered what anyone else looks like either. And besides, us humans with our over-inflated egos would probably just assume we were one of the better looking people anyway.

*This is just a guess – I’m sure Stephen Fry could point out otherwise.

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