Bodie's Bodies

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Title: Bodie's Bodies
Creator: Miriam Heddy
Date(s): June 11, 1999
Medium: online
Fandom: The Professionals
Topic: body image
External Links: Bodie's Bodies/WebCite
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Bodie's Bodies is a 1999 meta essay by Miriam Heddy.

The topic: the character William Bodie from The Professionals, and body image.

It as part of a series at Fanfic Symposium.

Excerpts

There's a Swiss roll in the middle of the room. Now, the question that concerns us is: Does Bodie eat it?

Now, under normal circumstances, we would look to canon, which says, "He bloody well does!" After all, the Swiss roll is there, innit? If not Bodie, then who? If not now, then when? If a Swiss roll is in a flat, and Bodie doesn't eat it... well, then Bodie isn't Bodie, is he? And this isn't The Professionals.

Not very difficult, that. It's a matter of characterization. Canon. The little things we fans latch onto that tell us who these men are, and what they desire. And desire is a very important thing in fanfic, most especially in slash. Desire and appetites. Orality. Pleasure.

Am I turning you on yet?

In the kitchiest catalogs, the most embarrassing of novelty stores, they sell writing instruments that do a neat trick. Inside the top of the pen, there's a small, clothed woman. Turn the pen over, and the woman quickly and magically disrobes. Pens are interesting things to a slash writer, even one who uses a computer. They are phallic objects, of course, and we slash writers tend to be rather fond of phallic objects.

But these pens in particular are interesting, because it is the act of writing which actually disrobes the little bodies trapped inside the pens, and I've noticed that writing slash seems to often perform a similar magic trick on male bodies.

A man who seems familiar to us, like Bodie, falls under the spell of a slash writer, and miraculously, magically, can gets an entirely new body.
In our rapture with the written word, we might forget, for a moment, that bodies are matter. That bodies do matter. Bodies are flesh and blood, skin and bone, tendons and muscles and fat. And ink and pixels, of course.

Now I have to admit, I'm no expert to the rules of slash, but perhaps there is a law, a physic of physique, that says that, just as it appears that one man in any m/m pairing must be smaller than the other, that both men must be thin. Studying this phenomenon at some length, I've noticed that "lean" and "delicate" and even "frail" men have sex in stories. Muscles do appear to be optional.

Yes, I have seen a few scattered mentions of flesh. But where are the odes to it? Where the celebration of lushness?

Eroticism seems to thrive on difference--on variations on a theme. For every tall man there must be a shorter man. For every curly top, a partner with straight hair (ideally blonde if the other is dark, but we can be flexible about these things). If one is talkative, the other is silent. If one is a health nut who deprives himself of indulgences, the other, more often than not, indulges in the hedonistic consumption of snack food, junk food, and sweets of all varieties.

Sex is more than cookie cutter bodies inhabited by voices and minds. Slash is more than Tab A in Slot B. Bodies, like characters, like personalities, are distinctive, individual, sensual, sensuous, and unique.

As are our stories.

And slash is about pleasure, about hedonism, if it is about nothing else. It is about indulging in our fantasies, yes, of indulging in a perfect world of pleasure, a mutually constituted Xanadu, where the climaxes are superb, where oral communication is the meeting of skin on skin, mouth on cock, where the language is hedonistic, unbuttoned and set free.

There is pleasure in bodies that are soft and lush and there is an eroticism that is still waiting to be written.

Reactions and Reviews

Back in 1999, Miriam posted an essay at the Fanfic Symposium called "Bodie's Bodies". It was the second essay posted at the Symposium. (The Fanfic Symposium was/is a website that hosted essays by authors on various fanfiction topics. It was active 1999-2006 and the essays remain online and available; there are over 100 essays, IIRC, and many are classics. Still highly recommended for any fan in any fandom, particularly if you are interested in how fandoms change over time.)

I'd urge everyone to read Miriam's essay for themselves, as it's relevant not only to this particular story discussion but Pros discussion in general, and fanfiction in the larger sense...

Miriam critiques the tendency that many fanfiction writers, and fen more generally, have to rewrite (on paper or in discussion) male bodies in slash so that they are thinner and ignore the physical reality of the character/actor's actual body.

Miriam's essay is relatively short, and deserves to be read in its entirety (really, it's not that long - go read!)...

I'd add that over the years, Miriam has posted a number of other excellent critiques of weight, fat, feminism, body image, and fanfiction in various permutations in her livejournal and on other forums and discussion sites. That includes the ways in which female characters' weight/body is treated, which differ significantly from how a male character's weight/body is treated. But weight/body image is by no mean her raison d'etre - Miriam is far from being a one trick pony.

And least anyone think this phenomenon of magically fitter males is restricted to Pros, it's been hotly debated since Star Trek (the original series) over forty years ago.

I'd also add that a related issues is how aging bodies are treated in fan fiction. Particularly relevant to Pros is how Cowley, as an older character with an aging body - with a canon disability - is (mis)treated by writers. But that's perhaps a discussion best saved for another post. *wry grin* [1]

References

  1. 2011 comments during discussion of the story Fire Held High and Away at CI5hq; archive is