Monday, June 11, 2007

Nice legs

A funny two-part article at the Guardian on which of their own body parts people love or hate most.

Here's Lionel Shriver:

Curiously, my legs are the part of my body with which I am most prone to identify, yet which I am also most prone to objectify. If they are me, the best of me, they are also my responsibility. They are innocent, a gift. I am their protector, as we are all our own protectors - both owner and possessor, custodian and ward.

It would be safer to write about some part of my body of which I feel ashamed, some lesser bit of meat to throw to the lions, a sacrifice for our mutual sport. I could mock my teeth, which stain so badly after a single cup of coffee that they might have been unearthed from an archaeological dig (self-deprecation is such a sure route to endearment in this country that when anyone plays that manipulatively humble card, you shouldn't trust it). But I will be brave. My legs are lovely.

And not because I'm athletic. The most fetching parts of our bodies came that way in the box. I am merely fortunate. The sculptural rhythm to these narrow ankles, full calves, and slender knees is not of my making. (Since the fundamental shapes of all our bodies are neither to our credit nor our fault, it's peculiar that we ever conflate our looks and our selves.) After all, when someone else is generous and tasteful enough to give you well-proportioned wine glasses for Christmas, the appropriate response is gratitude, not arrogance. So for me to submit that I was blessed with fine stemware is not a boast. All that falls within my power is to ruin them - to drop the glasses on the floor.

As their guardian and master, I put them through their paces. I take them running a nine-mile course every other day along the Thames. I hook them into the pedals of my bicycle and send them churning off to Hammersmith, when my publisher would have been more than happy to send a car. I set them bouncing comically through 3,000 jumping jacks in front of the Channel 4 News. They do as they're told. They rarely complain. They know that I have their best interests at heart.

I live in constant terror that something will happen to them - that Master's briefest inattention in the vicinity of a bendy bus will destroy at a stroke these faithful servants that have for decades spun me up the Alps, jogged me alongside the Mediterranean, and whisked me down airport hallways just in time to catch the plane. I sometimes have flash, nightmare visions of these thighs, pallid and melting in a wheelchair, or cut off just below the pelvis and reduced to stumps. Foolishness of course, but I've prayed after close-calls on my bike that if I have to have a serious cycling accident, please let it be fatal. Even typing 'cycling accident' makes me superstitious, and I'm tempted to delete.

My aim occasionally to do justice to these sturdy twins explains my seemingly uncharacteristic fondness for high heels. A girly predilection for me, but yes, the higher the better. Stilettos curl that delectable accenting comma under the calf, tense the front thigh, and realign the pelvis. You never get that effect flat-footed, as any woman knows.

Sure, my legs will fall apart - plump, crenulate, and dimple. But they will fall apart over my dead body - or attached to it. Indeed, that's the other vision. I did have that bike accident. I'm on a slab. A morgue orderly takes a sly peek as he pulls up the sheet. 'Pity!' he mumbles. 'Nice legs.' As an epitaph, mercifully short, and not half-bad.


  1. Isn't it funny? I know exactly which body part I hate the most but dont know if I could ever write about it (too repressed English?).
    I bet you could write a compelling piece on this theme, too.

  2. Yes, and I can't say that I have one I love the most! Although on a slightly oblique tack I would say that my voice is very integral to my sense of self, and that an accident that seriously damaged or took away my voice would be very difficult to reckon with (more, I think, than having a leg amputated or something like that!). I would have to teach my classes by typing maniacally & having the words pop up on a screen at the front of the room! Fortunately I am a very fast typist...

  3. Possibly not having a part one likes the best is a "woman thing" - as I don't have one, either!
    Now that I have met you, I venture the opinion that you sound just like you write, which is very nice: articulate, fluent, confident with a good touch of humour (and speedy, goes without saying on this blog).