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Monday, October 24, 2005

Naked Grandfathers in Saskatchewan

From an article by Darren Bernhardt in the Saskatoon StarPheonix October 22:
Everybody knows everyone else in small-town Saskatchewan. But the level of intimacy has a new meaning in Eston, where a number of men, many well into their harvest years, have posed in the buff for a calendar.

There's the mayor on his riding mower. And there's Keith Richardson holding his fishing rod and sitting au naturel at
the water's edge.

"By God, I'm 76, I've got nothing left to hide," Richardson replied.

The calendar is the brainchild of town councilor Al Heron, whose 97-year-old father-in-law required treatment from the local health centre's refurbished 20-year-old electrolysis machine, which often broke down. Neither the province nor the health region were willing to buy a new one, so they had to come up with something....

The picture of Richardson is charming. He's sitting there wearing nothing but his fishing hat and a smile (and some sunscreen, I would hope!). He has the kind of old-man body I see when I go swimming on Saturday morning, with some bits saggy, some bits skinny, some bits muscular, and the story of his life written in the wrinkles on his face, if I only knew how to read them. From just looking at him, I think I like him.

If there were some way of getting a calendar other than calling the Eston town office long-distance (assuming they'll take orders over the phone) I think I would probably buy one. I like the idea of not-perfect, non-airbrushed bodies portrayed positively and artistically. Even better, I like how the personality seems to just shine out. These aren't pictures of bodies to be consumed, they're pictures of people to marvel at and wonder what they're like.

Of course not everybody likes it:
"I feel it's a tacky thing and I won't look at it," said resident Tammy Gardiner, calling it a double-standard. "If my 17-year-old daughter did this, there would be a lot of angry people. So how is this okay?"

The local school principal is presently trying to establish a dress code, she added.

"It's not setting a good example for the young people when their grandpa takes off his clothes like this."

Gardiner is partially right, there is some kind of double standard going on here, but I'm not sure she is seeing the same double standard(s) I'm seeing. I personally think it's great that grandpa is taking off his clothes. Maybe if bodies were something people were used to seeing and appreciating in all their variations, and they were just another fact of life, the high school wouldn't be struggling with a dress code. Why dress to titillate when really, it's just a body and everybody has one? (Assuming from the commenter's tone that the problem has to do with kids, particularly girls, coming to school in revealing clothing.)

I think the real, nasty double standard comes in when you ask why there are only grandpas, and no grandmas, in the calendar. I see two different double standards, and while they seem to contradict one another, I think they both have some truth to them.

The lack of grandmas could be due to the differing emphasis we as a culture put on youth=beauty for women vs men, and further to that, beauty=value as a human being. Pictures of old women, genuine and vibrant and, worst of all, unashamed, could rock that boat a lot more than many people might be comfortable with.

Or it could have to do with the power dynamic involved in posing naked. The pinup "girl" (never "woman"!) is functioning more as an airbrushed commodity than a real human being. When old men, the traditional power-brokers of society, put themselves into this position, they essentially turn the power structure on its head. It's a modernized, carefully-controlled, Saturnalia for a cause, not much different from auctioning off a chance to pie a professor for the food bank*. Saturnalia doesn't work when the people submitting to the status-reversal don't have the status to be reversed in the first place.
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*I would argue that in this case, the professor being a woman was eclipsed by her being a member of the faculty, and the audience for the (consensual) pie-ing being her students.

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