Here’s a fun rainy-day activity for kids: if you’re lucky enough to have internet access on rainy days (I go to the library for that), try a Google Image Search for “joy.”
By and large, what you will find is pictures of people (or silhouettes of people) leaping, arms up, into the air. Usually against a sunset-lit sky. Usually skinny, young people-silhouettes with flying hair.
My first question is: are such folks the only ones with access to joy?
That’s a good question, if I do say so myself. But it’s not the only question. My other question is related, but not the same: why do almost all of the depictions of “joy” involve physically-able bodies leaping into the air? Am I, Cane Lady who has probably not leapt into the air in more than 20 years and cannot raise my left arm past navel-height, missing something by not leaping with my arms in the air? Can joy be expressed by other bodies, in other ways? Can non-normative bodies experience joy? Can those bodies produce joy for others?
Why no pictures of animal companions? Or book-reading, or violin-playing? Or the tender dependency of children? Or cake?
Why no tasteful pictures of “disabled” folks enjoying sex or being sexy? Why no images of physically-disabled folk expressing joy in the ways that they might, without leaping? Why no wheelchair basketball, or a Cane Lady laughing her ass off, or a fat woman lovingly looking at her reflection in a mirror? Why no dependent children tenderly eating cake?
I’m not suggesting that apparently able-bodied, thin, “good hair”-having folk leaping around at sunset on a beach is NOT joyful. I’m sure it is, as long as you don’t land barefoot on a broken seashell or discarded sanitary napkin (I’m from New York City, friends, and it happens). I’m just suggesting that perhaps it’s time to expand our imaginaries to include other ways of being in the world, other models of Good and Beautiful, other ways of imagining joy.
The images “we” (culturally, as Americans, Canadians and western Europeans, at least) still associate with “joy” have to do, on their underbellies, with maintaining control. Fat bodies, female bodies, disabled bodies—all of those bodies threaten “us” precisely because they propose a different understanding of “self control.” Sex and cake? Rewards for self-control, to be enjoyed responsibly after you’ve gotten off the elliptical machine and properly cleaned your hard, glistening, straight body.
This is about boundaries, and exceeding them or opening them up. Laughter—boistrous, real laughter—overruns a boundary. So does expressing anger, or shouting. So does peeing a little when you laugh or cry or sneeze (did you know that we say “bless you” in English when someone sneezes because a sneezing body is considered open to the entrance of evil spirits?). So does an orgasm (female bodies have also been thought to be open to the entrance of evil spirits).
Some bodies have greater access to these joyful liberties than others (I’ve gotten dirty looks for shouting at a roller derby match, while the men who dirty-looked shouted at the wheeling women to their hearts’ content). That’s political. Joy is political.
I want a picture of a fat, physically-disabled woman tenderly watching herself in the mirror as she lovingly eats cake. I want THAT on that Google Image Search for “joy.”
Frosting everywhere. Cake all smeared, colors blending and smeared over flesh, ample body enjoying its excess of pleasure, absolutely still in a moment of sheer self-adoration, eyes locked on her own reflected eyes, ouroboros and totally focused on herself, her own needs. I want that image shimmering with unfettered glee. And I want Google to call it “joy.”