This isn’t about the superficial layer.
It is about the body and its endless ability to amaze.
Last year, I photographed my friend Ilona making a tattoo. At the end, she told the woman she couldn’t work out for a few weeks because the sweat could damage the tattoo. I later mentioned this to a student sweating in class who had a fresh tattoo, and she said she’d never heard that before.
In November I took a short trip to Puerto Rico and spent hours upon hours swimming in the ocean. I tanned really quickly, instead the gradual tan I acquire in NYC summer. When I got home to dry, cold New York (to a Noreaster, in fact), I went to a sweaty yoga class. After, I went to an opening with a friend. At some point, I looked down at my arms and they were covered with gross little white bumps, the likes of which I had never seen. In a few days, they burst and turned into the regular old peeling skin we associate with a suntan gone wrong. When the same thing happened on my legs after a good sweat a week later, I realized the little bumps were created by drops of perspiration under the skin, which later popped open.
It reminded me of Ilona’s advice. I could see how the same process could affect a new tattoo.
I showed my teacher. Though at first it was clear he thought I was a crackpot, when he actually saw it he was fascinated. “Thank you for showing me that!” he enthused.
While I’m by no means a physiology nerd, the body is endlessly fascinating. I especially like to watch (and sometimes photograph) how it heals. I considered making a little list of my favorite books on the body, but it’s pretty eclectic, so I’ll just name a few. My beloved rolfer gave me an old edition of the 1930s book The Thinking Body by Mabel Todd. Anna Swir’s book of poetry, Talking to My Body (see below). And Gandhi’s Body by anthropologist Joseph Alter, who was about 15 years ahead of Mark Singleton but lacked the audience.
I Starve My Belly for a Sublime Purpose
I starve my belly
so that it learns
to eat the sun.
I say to it: Belly,
I am ashamed of you. You must
spiritualize yourself. You must
eat the sun.
The belly keeps silent
for three days. It’s not easy
to waken in it higher aspirations.
Yet I hope for the best.
This morning, tanning myself on the beach,
I noticed that, little by little,
it begins to shine.
You know, on days when I’m cranky, I ask myself if all of this yoga and meditation is worth it, if I’m really any better off than when I started. I then remember something like how much I used to think about what I ate, what I should eat, how much and when, and what my body looked like. I didn’t consider how I felt. That was denied. I rarely think of that, anymore. I just eat what I want, when I want. If I don’t want to eat or drink too much, it’s because I don’t want to feel gross. The denial of food is a denial of life and of the body. Trying to find spirit by denying matter can only take you so far. Seeking through the body is far more fun.
“I am not an intellectual, I write with my body.” ~Clarice Lispector