Tim Rushby-Smith: December 2011 Archives

Ain't got no body.

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Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that this posting is just an excuse to stick up some pics of my tattoos, now they are finished. In a way you're right, but there is a point to this, I promise.

When the 'to ink or not to ink' discussion comes up, there is often an anti-tattoo argument that goes along the lines of, "Yes, but think what they'll look like when you're old and sagging..."

I've never fully understood the point that this line is supposed to make, because by then you'll be... well, old and sagging. I can see the sense in making the choice of any permanent body marking with care. Having a lover's name, or a portrait of your favourite pet is a risky strategy. They may dump you for another who offers better cat-food, or you might split up with said lover.

Equally risky is the 'under the hairline' option. Yes, you can grow your hair long to cover up the artwork, but the prospect of going bald is stressful enough without worrying that low tide will uncover the moniker of some obscure thrash metal band named after a venereal disease.

Our image obsessed culture puts everyone under pressure to conform/perform, and leaves the majority of people feeling out of step with unrealistic expectations. With the veneration of youth, everyone gradually falls further and further behind anyway. There are times when I struggle to understand how we reached a point where people desperately throw money at their no longer compliant bodies and go under the knife, or stain themselves with orange dye to give the appearance of imminent skin-cancer.

What makes it all the more absurd is that we have arrived at a point where looking like you have had plastic surgery is considered preferable to aging. People who would rather paralyse their faces until they resemble death masks, than look like they have been alive for a while.

 But when it comes to matters of body image, it is safe to say that spinal cord injury pretty much blows many such trivial concerns out of the water. With legs like a pair of over-sized pipe-cleaners, and a constant 'sitting down' profile around my middle, I am hardly feeling vain these days. Clothes don't hang right, my cuffs are always covered in 'something from my wheels', my hands have calluses big enough to file my nails on. Sure, I have bigger arms and shoulders than before, but I also have thighs like balloons full of treacle.

But I'm OK with all that. Coming to terms with never walking or running again makes one's appearance seem trivial at first. Then, during rehabilitation, one learns how to compromise and the importance of making the best of what's left. I still care about how I look, but over time I am getting more comfortable with living in my own skin. I've just embellished it a little.


P.S. Should you be wondering, the picture tells my story: it is a play on the traditional rhyme recited when magpies are sighted: One for sorrow (the bird closest to my broken spine). Two for joy (an Australian magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen, for my Australian wife Penny. Three for a girl, for my daughter Rosalie. Four for a boy, for my son Felix.
As the next two would be five for silver and six for gold, me being nowhere near a place in the British Paralympic team means that I am unlikely to go any further with the whole ridiculous idea.

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