December 22, 2009

Firing Up the Ol' Factory

Few of us know the meaning of true manual labour. The ideal manly musculature is now copied from Men’s Health, or worse, and fabricated not in the factory, foundry or mine, but in the gym. But the ideal’s origins were in the chiselled physiques of men whose daily labours would horrify most modern men. George Orwell, in perhaps his most erotic moment, described such men thusly:

They really do look like iron – hammered iron statues – under the smooth coat of coal dust which clings to them from head to foot. It is only when you see miners down the mine and naked that you realise what splendid men they are. Most of them are small (big men are at a disadvantage in that job) but nearly all of them have the most noble bodies; pronounced buttocks and sinewy thighs, with not an ounce of waste flesh anywhere… They may be any age up to sixty or even sixty-five, but when they are black and naked they all look alike. No one could do their work who had not a young man’s body, and a figure fit for a guardsman at that… (George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier).
Of course, nothing much else about these lives was worth celebrating, not least the foul stench the men carried around with them in between baths. Orwell, however much he admired the well-cut figure of an honest man, knew that ‘you cannot have an affection’ for a man who stinks: ‘in your heart of hearts you will hate him’. Orwell saw that the English were ‘growing visibly cleaner’, but how many men now really think about the emanations of their unlaboured physiques?

Whereas some women announce their presence through the overpowering musky sweetness that precedes them (men really don’t like this), as many men carry on as if sweat will pheremonically enchant the opposite sex. Orwell wanted us all to take regular baths. This much surely should now be taken for granted. But then what? What does my smell say about me? Does it complement me and project something about my character? Hopefully it is designed not merely to mask my natural odour. Noses, the least-used of our sensory organs, have been ignored for too long. I have fired up my olfactory sense. How pointless to forge a fine figure of a man if nobody wants to go near it!

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