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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Friday, September 28, 2007

entry arrow12:43 AM | Tummy Talk

"Omentum" was the word I learned—or at the very least relearned—today, from Oprah. Truth be told, when I heard the term mentioned on television this morning, the word immediately sounded familiar, a possible relic from my forgotten days as a hapless physical therapy student exploring the nether regions of human anatomy and physiology. Some random things from our past always seem to cling to a kind of lasting memory. From that time, I remember most the Circle of Willis (because of Bruce), and now omentum.

Then again, it also sounded like a synonym for kinesis—something fast, perhaps, but not so much: in other words, “momentum” without an “m.” But I’m making a joke, of course, and the omentum, if you must know, is really that strange web-like tissue that blankets the digestive tract, and is basically the home of all those fat cells that soon make their presence felt as a tummy gone haywire. I’m talking beer belly here. Love handles, if you will. The blubber. Your own natural rubber tube. The stigma of anybody’s dream of a fit existence. My life story, really.

In Oprah, Dr. Mehmet Oz, who happens to be the talk show queen’s surgeon of choice (he has the medical brilliance and the telegenic air that make him wildly perfect for daytime’s sludge of domestic profundity), was showing off the difference between the omentum of a fit person—something resembling a large handkerchief which has gone through too many rinse cycles in the washing machine—and that of an abundantly bellied person, which was horrifyingly constituted of a mass tissue resembling a small yellow parachute crinkly with age, and blobbing like a threat. Dr. Oz says: “The omentum is the fat organ connected to your stomach that’s only purpose is to catch and store fat. When the fat is stored in your stomach, your body has easy access to it. The fat then creates an inflammatory process that irritates your arteries and puts you at risk for blocked arteries.” The show-and-tell in Oprah garnered the requisite gasps of horror and fascination from the studio audience, and we were all quickly entertained and taught.

On my bed watching the show, I quickly felt around my own belly, and acknowledged the painful truth: what do you do when you feel around yourself, and encounter not a six-pack, but a beer keg? Everybody’s answer usually hover around three choices: (1) we live with it as a kind of secret shame, fondling like a horrible pet, and hiding it in ingenious use of wardrobe, (2) we live with it with a complete sense of denial, or (3) we live to defeat it and sweat it for days (months even) in some God-forsaken gym, hoping very much to recapture that elusive past when we were young, and our stomachs were flat, and we had no idea that the one eternal battle we might have to contend with the rest of our lives was the Battle of the Bulge. Sometimes I tell myself, if I had known at 18 years what I knew now at my age, I would probably have stayed away from the temptation of cake and soda, like they were the plague. But, like the saying goes, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Our adult life is basically penance for all the lost opportunities and the encountered headaches of youth. Once upon a time, I began drinking too much Coke—and now I am reaping what I had sowed. My Mark cheerfully reminds me with this, whenever he can: “A minute of heaven in your mouth is a lifetime of hell around your waist.” He is 24, wise beyond his years, and is twig-thin. I envy him.

I am 32 years old, like the agonizingly fluctuating average of my waistline. (Sometimes it is 34, and sometimes it is 31. Sometimes when I reach 30 inches without cheating with the tape measure, I go out to celebrate—and the next day, I’m back to being 34. My wardrobe is increasingly littered with shirts and pants I can never really be sure I could fit in, day in and day out. The arbiter of this is the possibility of no buttons popping out.)

It’s not shallow to contemplate all this. The belly can be our own profiler or biographer, and it acts as a barometer for the state of our health. How many articles have we read about the link of heart disease and diabetes with increasing girth? How many magazines have we pored over to tell ourselves firmly that the idea of beauty is punctuated by a washboard stomach? It is the locus of our personal demons, and is the visible battleground measuring how much we kowtow to temptation, and how much self-regard we possess to be able to get off our butts and finally do some physical exercise. To think the otherwise would be to wallow in self-deception: you know you want that lovely, elusive flatness.

Which is why I completely enjoyed Eve Ensler’s The Good Body—her take-off from the wildly successful The Vagina Monologues, this time giving voice to the cultural battles we wage over the rest of our anatomy.

The play, presented by the New Voice Company and Silliman University’s indefatigable Cultural Affairs Committee (headed by the brilliant Susan Vista-Suarez) last September 21 at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium, was the last offering for the first cultural season of the academic year—and proved that Dumaguete City remains the Philippines’ distinctive cultural center of the South, having the cojones, really, to bring in a fearless dramatic work that is not a shadow of clichéd theater but rather something that has a powerful message embedded in its unconventional staging. After the success of the Manila Symphony Orchestra’s well-attended concerts (two galas and a matinee) earlier this month, the boast is not really empty. (The MSO enjoyed their Dumaguete stay so much that renowned conductor Helen Quach chose to come back to Dumaguete several days later to bask in the memory, as well as in the pleasure of our beaches.)

In The Good Body, Eve (played to comic perfection by Monique Wilson) encounters several situations (and people, among them Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, actress Isabella Rossellini, a generously-bodied Afro-American woman named Bernice, two Indian women at the gym, and three Afghan women contemplating the eating of ice cream) that will shed some light on her preoccupation with her belly. The result is a dramatic work that is powerful, although uneven—starting with a comedic high that is so promising, it is almost sad to note the diffused and didactic finish. Then again, who can ever top the tone and power of TVM? Our memories of that play and our expectations of Ensler’s oeuvre only serve as a major hindrance to our appreciation of a play that dares to tackle such varied subjects a dieting and Botox, fashion magazines and skinny women, and the way we torture ourselves to bring forth out of our own physical selves society’s idea of a ”good body.” We learn that the process can border on the murderous.

While the play slaps us into realization on how we deal with the subconscious politics of our bodies, it does not force us to take sides, only to be careful and to be aware.

So now I have a choice: I look at myself and ask—do I accept who I am and just let go, or should I wage a bigger battle for the body I long for myself, mindful that this so-called longing may often be a result of a societal conditioning? The choices are hard, and dwell in the grays. For now, I choose only to pat my errant body part, and sigh….

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