Much of the early talk in the Bell Hooks discussion focussed on body-image. I have not paid attention to my own image, and I want to consider why that is before considering what the panel said.
First and foremost when considering body image it is necessary to look into one of Buddhadasa’s maxims. He described all of Buddhism as “removing attachment to the 5 khandas”, despite apparent differences he claimed that fundamentally all Buddhisms tried to do this. Whether that is true or not, in this discussion it is important to note that one of the khandas is “body” – not being attached to the body or body-image.
In terms of society I was born fortunate although I have not always taken advantage of that good fortune. I was born a white heterosexual male, and in terms of the system this is an advantage. I do not subscribe to the manosphere, and whilst there is sometimes advantages to being in a minority these are small by comparison. At the same time I am just six foot, have no disabilities, in terms of mainstream it is all easy for me. In terms of appearance there is nothing lacking that would make me feel the need to focus on image despite others doing so.
At university I was shameful. My hair was long. To begin with I never kept myself clean, and I can’t remember about washing clothes – nor can I remember buying them. I drank all my grant so maybe that was why. After leaving uni the suit was a requirement so I got one, I somehow had shirts and ties, and washing them was never a priority. I suppose I only began to easily manage this when a maid became a requirement with my overseas teaching jobs; it was something that was not important and I was able to get someone else to do it within my budget.
I remember ties. As a teacher one is always expected to be “smart”, trousers shirt and jumper was enough for me to begin with. In my first job I taught in a working-class mixed race school and the students were always talking about clothes, I can remember feeling some pressure and did respond a bit. In the second school came the ties. I moved out of London, and the school had a tie policy although I was not told that in interview. It was common-place to wear a tie for interview so they never said …. until afterwards. I had an ongoing battle with the head who was a bully. I was the union rep and he misused his power not to promote me. At one stage he gave the excuse to my HOD that I did not follow school policies – the tie. I gave way in the end, but then there developed other excuses not to promote me. In the end he gave me a bonus when I was forced to resign from the union. In my leaving speech I gave him a present – my ties, and when I went over to him everyone said he looked petrified presumably he thought I would give him the smack he deserved (that had never crossed my mind – seriously). After that I taught in Africa and wore safari suits, and fellow teachers in shirt and tie thought I was overdressed. Nearly 7 years later I changed jobs and never gave a thought to shirt and ties, I became comfortable with matching shirt, tie and tie-clip. Now I wear shirts and shorts, black tie at funeral, and wonder why I got dragged into the tie issue. I have sometimes bought clothes for fashion – but rarely.
My image does not matter but 10 years ago I had a health issue – GERD. Over the years I was always overweight sometimes more than 20kg. This started with booze but didn’t stop when I gave it up. A natural health doctor suggested macrobiotics, and I follow a version of that to this day. For the first time my body matters because it is the product of fitness and healthy eating, and I watch my weight accordingly. At the moment I am 8kg over BMI, and not fit because my swimming has tailed off. This observation is not attachment to body, one religion describes it as “taking care of the body of the householder”. When I evaluate my body image I don’t see it as important, and wonder why it is important to others.
In Bell Hooks’ panel discussion I have a great deal of difficulty relating to Janet Mock and her glam. First and foremost society should respect her decision, and this ludicrous US toilet situation that led to the Fani interview discussed in Gender and Genitalia is crazy. She has the right to be who she wants to be without infringing on others. Ladyboys are readily tolerated in Thailand, they are relatively common-place (in each village). I remember a conversation with a gay friend. I had just visited Penang and stayed in a hotel near a tourist street – Julia Street. In the evening I walked past prostitutes – not unusual to see prostitutes on Asian streets near tourist hotels, and mentioned this to the friend. He advised me to be careful as they were ladyboys and had a reputation for luring clients and robbing them; he was not critical of this practise as if their crime could be tolerated.
But I do not understand the fixation with clothes. Janet wishes to portray herself in the image of a beautiful woman, but to me such stereotypes appear to be part of the patriarchy. Tell me why I am wrong but it seems to me that she is even more conditioned. I celebrate her desire to be Janet but as Bell Hooks asked would she be celebrated as a writer if she were not discussing the fashionable trans? Janet is beautiful, Beyonce is beautiful, Muslims can be beautiful, why the need for the glam?
Body-image is an integral part of patriarchal conditioning of women. The conditioning fashions women to appeal to male desire whilst at the same time filling the coffers of BigFashion. Within the conditioned framework such statements of intent as Beyonce’s and Janet’s show an element of control but in terms of conditioning they appear to me not to show detachment. I am unsure where they would stand in the mature model, whether awakening can be considered to have occurred – awakening from conditioning.