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The Naked Ape: Body Image and Baboons at Retox Lounge 

Wednesday, Apr 9 2008

Seein' as I just love Planet of the Apes, along with all of its offspring (sequels, remake, TV show, merchandising), I was excited to recently watch Behind the Planet of the Apes, a 1998 documentary about the whole shebang. The DVD, hosted by Roddy McDowall, had tons of interviews with the key players. The original movie is just about perfect in my book, save two things: Charlton Heston's "mate" is too much of a babe to be a member of the mute ruffian horde of humans, and in those amazing opening scenes, where the astronauts are exploring the planet for the first time, Heston has visible panty lines.

But man, the most interesting thing about Behind the Planet of the Apes was when the actors talked about their lunch breaks. They would, of course, have to remain in their elaborate ape makeup all day, so they had to eat and smoke in it, too (extra-long cigarette holders were provided, courtesy of 20th Century Fox). Weirdly, those who were dressed as orangutans found themselves sitting only with other orangutans; chimpanzees gravitated to the chimp table; and the gorillas ate with the gorillas, despite the fact that they all worked in the same scenes together. Had some strange genetic marking in our simian past triggered these people to close ranks and avoid "difference"?

I've been chewing on this for a while, probably because every week I go out to social places and have to figure out where I'm going to sit. I'd like to think that I plunk my orangutan ass down with the gorillas, but when it comes right down to it, I usually search out the most friendly "like me" face in the room and avoid groups of people who seem to know each other. I guess I am trying to minimize the amount of feces that will be thrown at me.

I went to the Retox Lounge last week, which is a dark, rock 'n' roll sort of bar. It's the kind of place your eyes have to adjust to, and has all types lined up at the counter — hipsters, down-on-their-lucks, neighborhood rats, and working stiffs just off shift.

I sat way at the end of the bar, next to the DJ booth. A friendly guy with a conservative haircut was to my left, and the bartender greeted me warmly. Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold" was playing — the song I would strip to if I were a stripper (although lately I have been thinking that Muse's "Supermassive Black Hole" might take its place).

The bar patrons were watching the game and munching on El Salvadoran food from next door. I just sort of sat there with my thoughts. I have come to the realization that, although I recently lost more than 160 pounds through the miracle of surgery, I am still too fat for a lot of guys. I have gone from the elation of feeling so much smaller to creeping slowly back into body consciousness. Goddammit. We women are programmed to look a certain way. In the lunchroom of life, where chimps sit with chimps and baboons with baboons, we want to at least be grouped beside the primates with the smaller asses.

The guy on my left introduced himself and clinked my glass. He was eating a massive plate of shepherd's pie, which was loaded with beef. We started talking about veganism for some reason, and how vegetarians get their protein. I said that I didn't know how they got enough protein, since you have to eat a shitload of beans and stuff to equal one chicken breast. He disagreed and said that it was possible. I then told him that since I had weight-loss surgery, it wouldn't be possible for someone like me.

As usual when I mention my surgery, the dude was fascinated and hit me with a bunch of questions — first of which was whether I was still losing weight. (See? Still too big for most guys.) From there we began talking about attractiveness, how women develop eating disorders, the whole enchilada. He described why some men might be unattracted to obesity. "If you see a snake, you will jump back," he posited, pointing out that when animals see something unfamiliar or "opposite," they recoil with some preternatural triggering. Men who see a fat chick automatically recoil. I pointed out that many Arab and African-American men usually did quite the opposite in my presence, and that it was perhaps more of a cultural thing with white men and not an inherent fight-or-flight response to pure evil.

In the end I sat there feeling like I usually do when I bring up my surgery: different. I blend in better now; the chimps, for the most part, let me sit at their table, but I still feel like I'm hanging with the wrong phylum.

Of course the message from Planet of the Apes is that we are all supposed to overcome this stuff: We should get to know the ape underneath, and not the outer presentation. Also, treat everything and everyone with respect because you never know when the tables will turn. And finally, banish prejudice and speciesism before it all ends up in nuclear annihilation or morbid obesity. Food for thought.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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