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The Body Issue: We are so gross up close

By Elizabeth Sargeant

To see the full issue, visit our microsite here

The first time I ever passed out was in Grade 1.

There was a medical fair in my elementary school gym and local doctors and nurses stood behind booths presenting their ‘unique and interesting’ fields of medicine.

I remember a section about caring for babies, where a pediatrician showed students how to hold one properly using a doll. I remember kid-friendly pamphlets everywhere, a big fake skeleton that showed how thick a femur is and, off to the right corner, a table of liquid-filled jars.

Out of curiosity, I approached the biggest glass jar—filled with odd, floating, yellow-ish discs and looked up at the man in the white coat behind it.

“What’s in here?” I asked. “Knee caps,” he responded.

Then I collapsed.

It’s so funny to think about that scene now, as if I was one of those 19th-century women clutching my chest and fainting at the slightest emotional shock. But it really did happen. I couldn’t handle the truth that the human body was disgusting to me. Learning about this terrifying, leaking, yellowish secret upset me so deeply, I could not bear to stay conscious.

The rest of the day was spent in my grandparents’ backyard, sipping on ginger ale and trying not to think about what I had learned: that the ugly was inside of me. I was actually really gross.

I wish I could say that was the last time the human body sent me into a spiral.

I’ve collapsed getting my blood taken, thrown up from seeing someone get vaccinated, sat in halls during high-school dissections and just a few weeks ago, had to lie down after seeing my roommate get a nose bleed.

I also wish I could say I think the human body is so magical and beautiful, but that would be a lie.

The human body sweats and bleeds and smells and eventually shrivels. There’s nothing really ‘beautiful’ about it, but that doesn’t mean we have to look away. It’s all part of being a human being. We are kind and loving souls, but our vessels are a squishy sack of blood and bones. Gross.

Maybe this special issue is exposure therapy. In a world where everyone looks flawless online—with perfect noses, slim stomachs and sleek hair—we end up forgetting the humbling fact that we are squeamishly disgusting creatures.

Harry Styles has definitely sharted at least once. A baby has definitely puked all over Kim Kardashian. And Kate Moss has those gnarly knee caps (that once made me faint) inside of her. No one’s insides are prettier than anyone else’s because we are all human.

It is human to have thick body hair, to bleed through pants, to sweat through shirts, to break out, to watch your legs grow stretch marks and for your stomach to expand. To hide these facts is to hide what makes each of us human.

After reading The Body Issue, I hope you see that the portrayals of bodies we’ve been exposed to in popular media are barely bodies at all. They are all the pretty parts without the realities that keep us alive and functioning.

Seeing an actress breastfeeding, a model with cystic acne or an influencer existing in a plus-sized body shouldn’t be revolutionary—it’s just humans being human.

Of all that you get out of this raw and goofy and kind of yucky issue is that we are really so gross up close. And that’s kind of cool.

Don’t look away—I’m learning not to.

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