Body Risks

The body risks began in earnest when she was eighteen, innocently; she was unconscious that she was risking anything. Sheila began with the high dive, carefully executed in diving class, back dives, jackknives, flips, and cartwheels from the board twenty-five feet above the pool. These dives were as thrilling as they were terrifying. Dives from high rocks into quarries, fifteen-foot dives from sand dunes, and jumps from cliffs into the ocean followed.

She hitchhiked the country. She thought she was careful and clever inquiring of the driver’s destination before getting into the car. The risks became numerous and more perilous.

There were the drug years. Cannabis affected her existence for years, alcohol numbed her rage, and L. S. D. trips from her third-story rooftop provided detailed hallucinations.

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Fortuitously, Sheila’s sexual promiscuity hadn’t included AIDS, but there were the abortions, three of them in as many years. Robberies at gunpoint and knifepoint, shoplifting, and the intimate, physical pursuit of thieves. Sheila had a history, perhaps a habit now, of laying her body on the line. She understood that she existed outside of the norm, that she didn’t fit in, that she would never be associated with the ideal; regardless of the products, she consumed. Sheila would always exist within the realm of the grotesque. 

The grotesque is associated with the lower bodily stratum, filth, mire, birth, death, menstruation, and menopause. The grotesque body is open, protruding, secreting, multiplying, and changing. It is identified with the low culture of the carnival and with social change. The classical body is closed, self-contained, monumental, symmetrical, and sleek. It is identified with the high culture of the Renaissance, with rationalism, and with the normalizing aspects of western culture. (Mary Russo, The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess, and Modernity”, [New York and London, Routledge, 1995})

Unlike the classical model of progress that corrects and erases mistakes, the grotesque leaves room for chance, for error. Grotesque as a bodily type is a departure from the norm and is recognizable in relation to the norm. The female is defined as separate from the normal male body. The phrase, female grotesque, is redundant because the female is always defined as opposite to the male norm. Female grotesque is an identity for both men and women. The phrase provides a space of risk. 

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