Ooh gosh I have been a slacker, nearly a month since I posted. Ah well, I’ve been busy, c’est la vie.
So one of the things that’s consumed my time is a class I’ve been preparing on the history of fashion. Because I’m drawn to the absurd side of life, I ignored matters such as the revolutionary invention of polyester, and instead focused on things like an out break of syphilis leading to a craze for wigs; and laws concerning the length of pointy shoes (2ft for noblemen, 1ft for merchants, and a miserly 6 inches from the peasants…. in case you were wondering).
We covered a range of topics such as high heels and g-strings for men, Henry VIII’s outrageously over sized cod piece and demonstrating how hard it is to get into Spanx. (Oh and I also had the students bind their toes, try on crinolines, high heels and period piece corsets…. I’m expecting a phone call querying my methods at some point in the near future.) Eventually we got to head binding. Head binding is a method of compressing an infant’s skull so the soft, unfused cranial plates become elongated, almost cone like. The reasoning behind it seems to be a combination of wanting to augment intelligence, and becoming closer to whatever spiritual sources you believe in. Head binding, by the way, has been carried out in one form or another on every continent bar Australasia.
One of the students asked if the children were given a choice….given that this practice is carried out on very young children it’s reasonable to assume not. There was an aghast silence in the room so then I asked them, “Well, how would you feel about a society that takes children around the age of 10 or 11, and attaches tight metal bindings to their teeth that they can’t take off for two years, and then every two months painfully tightens the bindings, forcing these body parts to grow in a different direction?”
There was more silence, and then a quiet, “Huh..I never thought of braces like that.”
It seems like braces for kids in the USA are almost mandatory, it’s not a question of if, but when. People will tell you, “I need them because I have crooked bicuspid that will cause problems later on if I don’t have it fixed.” Or they’ll say things like, “If your bite is off it can be really bad for you.” But honestly, there’s a bit of truth stretching going on here, for the most part those problems are basically cosmetic. A perfect bite will not stop you from grinding your teeth in your sleep, nor will it prevent you from guzzling soda and being idle about flossing. Crooked teeth can sometimes be caused by poor spinal alignment (so an osteopath friend of mine tells me); but it doesn’t work the other way, crooked teeth don’t cause rubbish posture. Whilst obviously there are cases where people have trouble eating, talking, excessive drooling etc.. due to their teeth, these are rarities, and the vast majority of braces are fitted in order to get perfect straight teeth when it’s not essential.
Now at this point in the conversation I normally have half the room telling me exactly why it is a matter of life and death that they, or their children, have braces. So let me make this clear, I’m not saying braces are wrong. I am not going to tell you what to do with your teeth, apart from keep them clean because halitosis is a problem you can’t help but share. Ultimately they’re your gnashers, no one else’s. Instead I’m trying to point out that today’s culture is not far removed from others throughout history and across the globe. We put our kids through something painful because we believe it to be necessary … but it probably isn’t.
This reminds me of a conversation several years ago. A colleague of mine was utterly shocked when I revealed that in the UK the majority of men are uncircumcised, it’s only performed as a religious practice or a medical last resort, (you know, since we don’t live outdoors in a dry desert climate with no running water and those kind of circumcision friendly environments). Visibly disgusted he asked me how do they keep everything clean, I responded that, not being a penis owner myself I couldn’t be sure, but I’d heard a rumour that soap and water were involved. He flared his nostrils at me and pouted, “Well it just seems barbaric!”
…call me crazy but I reckon that the folks who elect to NOT slice a piece of skin off a baby are lagging behind in the barbarian stakes.