Saturday, August 04, 2007

On emollients. Lately I have become obsessed with Palmer's Cocoa Butter. I used to go past it in Priceline and take advantage of the testers, but baulk at paying the price. But then a couple of days ago I bought a bottle only to discover, to my horror, that I'd got the fragrance free version. Honestly! you buy Palmer's so you can smell delicious. And then I went back yesterday and bought the regular, delicious-smelling version.

As I caught the tram to work yesterday, applying a new coat of lip balm, I began to think about emollients. What does an emollient do? It softens. It smooths down the epidermis to make the skin look and feel soft and supple rather than rough and scaly. But to what purpose is this softening? Whose eyes and hands are meant to appreciate your emolliated skin?

I know that etymology is such a red herring, but I do find it interesting that 'emolliate' also has the phallocentric implication of 'soften': "to render effeminate". As in the matey way of telling someone who refuses to test their limitations that they are a "soft cock". And it also has the diplomatic sense of 'mollify' - to "smooth things over" and relieve a situation of tension.

The routine act of applying creams and lotions to the skin makes you conscious of what your body is to you. My own body has always been a source of despair to me: either betraying me with its repellence, or being ignored altogether so that I feel like a brain with typing fingers attached. Even though in this situation you might be expected to cherish your own body (as nobody else does), it only makes me cherish it less. I have never really bought into routine shaving, waxing, moisturisation or tanning. I mean, I realise that, as a self-respecting heterosexual woman, I am supposed to be into these things, but I just can't internalise the need to do them for the purpose of abstract 'self-maintenance'. (I'm sure Foucault would be some help to me here, but I have never found the intellectual energy to tackle The Care of the Self - right now I'm stuck on a relatively slim volume of gossip-and-conspiracy-theory-as-epistemology called Knowledge Goes Pop).

When I emolliate, I have always seen it as a kind of priming or preparation: I am grooming my body for specific occasions. Perhaps the idea of routinised daily emolliation is a way to string these 'occasions' together so that every day contains the potentiality of 'occasion' without anticipation. (Paging Glen, paging Glen.) I emolliated good today. I emolliated my entire body with delicious cocoa-buttery goodness. Perhaps an occasion awaits.

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