During this Olympic pandemic year, observing what people do with and to their bodies is endlessly fascinating. Many of them seem like purely personal choices but I’m not so sure!
Athletes describing what they have been putting themselves through during the lockdown period and before are particularly impressive: the early rising for rigorous socially-distanced training while everyone else is sleeping, the sacrifice of opportunities of areas in non-sporting areas of life, the commitment to special diets while others are celebrating or bingeing, the risk of injury. Serious priorities have been established for years.
Then there are the people at the other end of the spectrum who have been eating their way through the pandemic on a high-fat, high-sugar diet while watching various screens. People working at home within reach of the fridge and the biscuit tin are reaping the results! One friend told me he was slowly drinking his way through more cups of coffee with full-cream milk and sugar than he had realised! The threat from the obesity pandemic looms not so quietly in the West.
A third group I read about in The Observer this week are people who have invested in ‘pandemic tattoos’. As someone who grew up in an age when tattooing was a practice for punks and gangs, I learned a lot. Academics who study the tattooing population suggest an enormous range of reasons why people choose to have needles poked in them in specific patterns. Many people, it seems, see body art as a means of asserting one’s identity and reducing body anxiety – or connecting with a lost loved one. In some studios, it seems, you can even ask for a loved ones ashes to be mixed with the tattooing ink. It recorded the findings of a survey that found that 28% of those who had tattoos regretted doing so!
You never know, of course, but I doubt whether Jacob Rees-Mogg (JRM or The Mogg, as he is known!) is the tattooing type! The leading Brexiteer, now leader of the House of Commons, is someone with very few political views or qualities that I admire other than his civility to political opponents. On a radio political discussion last week, I heard him say that cream, butter, milk and steak ‘are the mainstay of his diet’ and that he ‘tries to persuade his children to eat the greens on his behalf’. He ‘washed it all down with a few statins’, he said, (presumably to treat the effect of such a diet on his cholesterol). His speech was made in Yeovil – an area almost synonymous with the British Dairy industry. Regardless of ‘five a day’ fruit and veg campaigns from health campaigners, JRM was clearly using his body and lifestyle to win agricultural workers’ votes.
The personal is the political, so they say. So maybe the Mogg wasn’t the only one using his body for political purposes. Maybe food, exercise, tattoos and a good many of things we do to and with our bodies are beyond the purely personal. Maybe each of them is also a small political statement.
If you don’t believe that, look at the attention paid to the Olympic medals table!