Saturday, February 21, 2015

Modified Bodies and Extraordinary Bodies from Birth

This week, I was most interested by the remarkable story of the Hilton sisters. From a combination of coincidence and curiosity, I've watched and read several stories about conjoined twins: the documentary "The Twins Who Share a Body" about real-life twins Abby and Brittany Hensel (, and the excellent novel "Girls," about fictional conjoined twins Ruby and Rose (

So far in class, we've discussed (obviously) body modification and the people who, from custom or individual choice, have modified their bodies in ways that often attract attention. But it's fascinating to consider the experience of people whose bodies attract the same interest but who never chose to create extraordinary bodies. People with naturally extraordinary bodies, including conjoined twins, have often ended up working in freakshows. Others, like Abby and Brittany Hensel, have succeeded in moving through the stages if their lives (school, chores, career) in sync with their peers. People like conjoined twins, whose bodies inevitably attract attention whether they profit from it or not, meet many of the same reactions as subjects of body modification, from mere staring to lurid interest. In that way, studying the cases of medical "freaks" can reveal many of the same truths about culture and society as studying people who modify their bodies.

It's extremely timely for us in this class that this season of "American Horror Story" takes place in a freak show. I've only watched the first two episodes of this program due to lack of time, but the show seems to take a nuanced approach to the idea of freakery, telling the stories of characters who chose to participate in the freak show as well as those who are coerced into it. But even more interesting, for many, are the YouTube interviews with the actors in the show, all of whom, except the fictional conjoined twins, have the same physical conditions as their characters (there's minimal CGI at work in the show). Some of the actors embrace the experience of working in a freak show and reclaim the term "freak" as one of empowerment. Others still struggle to deal with reactions to their bodies. The interviews, some of which I've linked below, are well worth watching for those interested in the modern experience of people born with extraordinary bodies.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE American Horror Story, and am almost up-to-date with the current season. I agree that their are many parallels between difficulties of freaks we briefly discussed in class and the ostracization of the conjoined twins Bette and Dot and the TV series.