Body Language: A series that explores what our bodies express and repress

From reclaiming 'ugly to the power of the face, IDEAS series called Body Language explores what our bodies express and repress, both literally and symbolically.
You can find our series, Body Language on the CBC Listen App, and wherever you download IDEAS. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

The pandemic has made a physically-complacent, death-denying Western society acutely conscious of our bodies and mortality. Masked faces, the absence of touch and contact, the fear of encountering other bodies have been front of mind.

From the power of the face, to anxiety about touch, to reclaiming 'ugly,' to the right to sex, IDEAS launches a series exploring what our bodies express and repress, both literally and symbolically. 

How to listen to the Body Language series

Listen for free on CBC Listen or on your favourite podcast app — including Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts and Spotify. Search for Body Language in the title to preview all episodes available. And if you're new to podcasts entirely, start here

Or listen to streamed audio below.

Episode 1: Face to Face in an Uncertain World

Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas believed that the face-to-face encounter was the beginning of our ethical obligation to each other. So what does that principle mean in an era of Zoom meetings and widespread masking? Where does that idea leave people whose faces defy easy recognition?

Historian Sharrona Pearl and artist Riva Lehrer consider the changing meaning of the face, and the vexed relationship between the face and the self. Zambian novelist and scholar Namwali Serpell explores "the strange face, the stranger's face, the face that thwarts recognition … the disabled face, the racially ambiguous face, the digital face, the face of the dead" — and calls for new ways of building ethical relationships.

Read: Reimagining the face-to-face encounter in the time of COVID

Episode 2: Beyond Ugly

The concept of 'ugliness' lurks in Western storytelling, from ancient tales of Medusa to teen comedies like She's All That. This documentary looks at cultural ideas of 'ugliness' and how they affect the world today, especially for women, people of colour, and people with disabilities or facial differences. Featuring disability rights activist and writer Ariel Henley, author of the memoir A Face for Picasso, and Jess Zimmerman, author of the feminist reanalysis of ancient myth Women and Other Monsters. The documentary traces the way perceptions of ugliness have been used to decide who matters, who doesn't, and who should be removed from society. 

Read:  She was told she had a 'face for Picasso.' Now, that stigma fuels her work

Episode 3: The Problem of Too Much Body

Rubenesque, zaftig, curvaceous, full-bodied — these are all ways to talk about bodies, especially women's bodies, without using the word 'fat.' It's a word many of us were raised to believe was rude and cruel and is often deployed to shame and mock larger sized people or to pick on the insecurities of the rest. 'Fat' is now being reclaimed by activists and researchers as part of an effort to move toward body size or fat acceptance — the idea that bodies come in all sizes and all bodies have equal value and deserve equal treatment. But socially, we remain deeply invested in diet and weight loss culture and so the question lingers: is it possible to get to a place where body size no longer matters? 

Read:  Why these women say it's time to embrace fat bodies

Episode 4: Olivia Laing | Visions of the Free Body

A conversation with writer Olivia Laing, author of Everybody: A Book About Freedom. She links the ideas of artists, thinkers, and political activists who made bodily autonomy and liberation their work. From renegade psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, to musician Nina Simone and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, these are contentious yet insightful people who challenged their 20th century times. Laing and host Nahlah Ayed also discuss the body's vulnerability and its power, something on many minds in this period of disease, conflict, and climate change peril. 

Read: Writer Olivia Laing explores the power and vulnerability of bodies

Episode 5: The Right to Sex

The cases of 'incel' violence are clear examples of the lethal danger of believing that anyone is entitled to sex. But there's also a parallel conversation happening on the political left about the right to sexual fulfilment, and how political forces and systemic biases shape who is desired and who is not. Oxford philosopher Amia Srinivasan explores the thorny politics of "sexual exclusion" and sexual preference. She speaks with host Nahlah Ayed about autonomy, power, and the moral and political complexities of sexual desire. 

Read: Is there a right to sex? Feminist philosopher confronts the politics of sexual desire

Epiosde 6: Indigenous BioData

The production of biomedical knowledge relies on sampling, studies and research, something that has become all too clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the burden of studies — and the distribution of health care benefits — isn't always equal. For decades, non-Indigenous scientists have taken samples from Indigenous peoples for future studies, often without clear consent. But a new generation of Indigenous scientists are revolutionizing biomedical research. They're asking important questions about who controls the research process and the data derived from it. 

Read:  Genomic Justice: How Indigenous scientists are revolutionizing biomedical research


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