Martha Nussbaum: On Not Hating the Body

Martha C. Nussbaum in Liberties:

Human beings, unlike all the other animals, hate animal bodies, especially their own. Not all human beings, not all the time. Leopold Bloom, pleased by the taste of urine, and, later, by the smell of his own shit rising up to his nostrils in the outhouse (“He read on, pleased by his own rising smell”), is a rare and significant exception, to whom I shall return. But most people’s daily lives are dominated by arts of concealing embodiment and its signs. The first of those disguises is, of course, clothing. But also deodorant, mouthwash, nose-hair clipping, waxing, perfume, dieting, cosmetic surgery — the list goes on and on. In 1732, in his poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” Jonathan Swift imagines a lover who believes his beloved to be some sort of angelic sprite, above mere bodily things. Now he is allowed into her empty boudoir. There he discovers all sorts of disgusting remnants: sweaty laundry; combs containing “A paste of composition rare, Sweat, dandruff, powder, lead, and hair”; a basin containing “the scrapings of her teeth and gums”; towels soiled with dirt, sweat, and earwax; snotty handkerchiefs; stockings exuding the perfume of “stinking toes”; tweezers to remove chin-hairs; and at last underwear bearing the unmistakable marks and smells of excrement. “Disgusted Strephon stole away/Repeating in his amorous fits,/Oh! Celia, Ceila, Celia shits!”

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