Category Archives: Body image

The permanent marker

I’ve never really understood tattoos. I find it hard enough to commit to a month long metrocard, so the thought of being permanently branded with the kind of illustration that most people gave up drawing when they were sixteen fills me with fear and dread. The fact that you pay through the nose for it, it hurts like hell, and you can only get rid of it by having your flesh roasted like a nice piece of pork belly is neither here nor there.

For some reason, however, it appears that my deeply-held opinion is of little interest to the vast majority of Americans. Hard though that is to believe. Federal legislation passed shortly after MC Hammer’s brief flirtation with success demand that anybody wishing to have a hit is required to have at least one strap tattoo in order to be eligible for chart entry. And if you’re in the grip of a midlife crisis, but can’t afford a Ferrari (or the child support payments when your wife finds out about your affair with Mindy, the pneumatic blonde from the local hardware store), a tattoo is the choice du jour. Because, as we all know, tattoos look really great the older you get.

One thing I’ve noticed though is that women have tattoos in vastly greater numbers in New York than they do in London.

I’m not talking about the tiny pictures of hearts, snakes or stars that some women pick to decorate their lower back, shoulder or posterior. These are, after all, the bank charges of the body decoration world – mostly kept hidden until it’s way too late to avoid them. I’m not sure why these people don’t just buy a nice new piece of jewellery instead, thereby avoiding spending an hour in the company of a Hell’s Angel named Barry. But each to their own. I’m sure Barry’s actually a really nice guy who genuinely loves his mummom.

No, I’m talking the full-on murals that probably took a team of seasoned painters and decorators six days working around the clock to pull off. The kind of design that would make Sandra Bullock start sharpening her newly-bought collection of kitchen knives. No piffling stars or hearts here – just increasingly elaborate designs that suggest the work of a troubled youth who had run out of space to doodle and picked on the next available material that came to hand.

Favorite designs that I’ve seen on the ladies of New York include the complicated tattoo necklace (I presume she had alternative skin available for the times that the necklace didn’t accessorise properly with her outfit), and a frankly inexplicable design on the back of both knees. Although nothing really beats the trailing ivy that sloped from one woman’s foot, all the way up her leg. The fact that the shrubbery appeared to emerge from between two toes, implicitly suggesting that the ivy had incubated in some kind of fungal growth, clearly was of no concern to her.

Thankfully, some New York women take a much more practical view of tattoos. Taking the subway home last night, I witnessed a woman whose back of her hand featured three tattooed boxes, each a quarter inch in size. I pondered deeply on the strange simplicity of the design. Could it be some reaffirmation of the power of three, or a symbolic representation of the father, the son and the holy ghost? Or maybe she was simply halfway through the eventual design, with the initials of a loved one soon to appear within the boxes, maybe in an unnecessarily elaborate brush script?

Then ten minutes into the journey, she took out a pen and scribbled ‘pick up dry cleaning’ next to one of the boxes. In New York, it would appear that romances come and go, but checklists are truly forever.

Rushed off my feet

As anyone who is well acquainted with me will tell you, I have a bit of a problem with feet. However gloriously pedicured or preened your feet are, I’m guaranteed to recoil in horror at the mere sight of them. And don’t even think about asking me to touch them.

In fact, feet are probably the only good supporting argument that creationists have on their side, as clearly they were invented on a Friday afternoon, shortly after a higher being had invented the pub, lager, and a means of turning sand into something which could conceivably hold a pint of ice cold liquid. Faced with such temptation, it’s not surprising that he/she didn’t attain the levels of achievement involved in – say – the lungs, and instead used bits of material left over from fashioning the hands and elbows, and decided it was ‘good enough for the moment’.

As anyone who has ever done interim repairs to their home will readily testify, botch jobs have a tendency to become permanent if they work – hence us being stuck with feet, a body part so ugly that it makes the scrotum look like a design classic. And all because of the pressing need for a cold beer and a packet of cheese’n’onion flavour crisps.

My perception is admittedly clouded by the two ingrowing toenails I had to have removed when I was at university. If there is to be a male equivalent to the pain of childbirth (short of using rusty shears to slice off the aforementioned scrotum to exhibit it in the V&A or MOMA), it’s the agony you experience when you’ve had both big toenails sliced off with a scalpel, and the anaesthetic starts to wear off.

Aside from the ‘Nam style flashbacks to the pain (‘you don’t know, you weren’t there, man’), the procedure left a lasting mark on me – one perfectly normal toenail, and another that grew back stronger, harder and more determined than ever never to be vanquished; the superhero of toenails, if you will.

Watch in horror as Meganail blunts your standard nail clippers! Look aghast as files are broken with one blow from Meganail!! Shudder with disbelief as you realise that Meganail might be the single living organism to survive all out nuclear attack!!!

Suffice to say that feet don’t do it for me, and I’m more likely to donate my design icon ballsack to ‘the people’ after my death than I am to subscribe to Peep Toe Monthly or whatever the shoe fetishist’s recognised trade publication is.

All of which makes my recent purchase of a pair of flip flops a little concerning. It’s a gross generalisation, but British men don’t really do flip flops. After all, they don’t accessorise particularly well with our bowler hats and tweed jackets. And given that a recent study showed that men from the UK have more hair per square inch of toe than any other nation on earth, feet are predominantly kept covered. And rightly so.

This leads me to the inevitable conclusion that I am becoming A Little More American Than I Am Strictly Comfortable With. Suddenly I’m wandering to the store on the corner with my feet on show for all to see, or eschewing my normal brogues-on-the-beach look for a little thong of leather between my big toe and curiously bigger, erm, toe-next-to-my-big-toe (my index toe?). It feels curiously freeing yet unmistakably wrong.

Fortunately, life has its way of restoring the natural order. Casting caution to the wind last week, I walked too far in my flip flops, and caused three inch blistered welts to appear on both feet. They’re still prone to bleeding now, and I can barely walk in normal shoes, let alone embrace my evil footwear demons.

Each time I look at my feet, I’m forced to acknowledge that I am British. May my oozing stigmata always remind me never to lose touch with my roots.

Making a (big) splash

We’ve just come back from a day of sunshine and splashing around at the New Jersey water-park Hurricane Harbour, making the most of the Labour Day three-day weekend. Imagine Alton Towers if all the rides were slides, and all the decorative tat had a vaguely nautical theme, and you’ll start to get close to imagining Hurricane Harbor.

[What is it that Americans have against the ‘u’? Was there a treaty issued shortly after the Boston Tea Party, banishing the letter from the kingdom, and forcing it to live out its remaining days as a hermit in a shanty town in Uruguay??]

Anybody who has ever had an even slightly negative body image should be forced to spend a day at an American water park. Those who know me well will know that I have a few issues about my weight – the main issue being that if I was swimming off the coast of Japan, I would be under near-constant threat of imminent attack from blood-thirsty fisherman with a penchant for blubber.

Yet in Hurricane Harbor, it’s possible for the average man to feel like he’s just been plucked from the pages of GQ or Arena, in comparison to the vast majority of the park’s male visitors.

This is, after all, a place where the main snack product available for purchase is the funnel cake. For the uninitiated, the funnel cake is like a giant donut which has been squeezed through a funnel to increase its surface area and fat content. People who manage to eat a full one can fully expect to see Norris McWhirter appear from the dead in order to proclaim a new world record for the amount of cholesterol consumed by one person in a twenty minute period.

And it doesn’t stop at the funnel cake either. The main food emporium at the park serves burgers, pizza, hot dogs or fried chicken, all with seasoned curly fries. It’s hard to believe that any meal at Hurricane Harbor comes in at under 1000 calories, and that’s before you’ve even begun to think about a large Coke. I asked for a chicken wrap, only to be greeted by the blank stares of staff who believed that the only two appliances in the kitchen were a freezer and a deep fat fryer.

All of this allowed me to swan into the water with all the confidence of Daniel Craig or that bloke from Lost who was also in the Davidoff ads. Obviously, now I’m back home, I’ve reverted to feeling like Les Dawson. Perhaps I shouldn’t have bought that third helping of funnel cake after all?