Need Weird Topics in Female Embodiment / Sexuality / Celebrity / Saints
June 6, 2013 6:24 AM   Subscribe

My current poetry project is poems that deal with subjects fitting into the above categories. Mata Hari's body never being collected and donated to medical school? Check. Evita's body being hidding away in a casket named Maria Maggi in Italy for years? Check. Poem about the relics of St. Therese going into space? Check. Female sideshow freaks? Check. Elvira as death incarnate? Check. You (kinda) get the idea now of what I'm trying to write about--weird stuff that's happened to women's bodies, especially when that brushes up against pop culture. I can try to explain more if this admittedly vague criteria is still unclear. Anyway, I'm looking for more topics to write about. Please throw out anything that might fit. Thank you!
posted by mermaidcafe to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
St. Wilgefortis?

According to the narrative, sometimes set in Portugal, a teen-aged noblewoman named Wilgefortis had been promised in marriage by her father to a pagan king. To thwart the unwanted wedding, she had taken a vow of virginity, and prayed that she would be made repulsive. In answer to her prayers she sprouted a beard, which ended the engagement. In anger, Wilgefortis's father had her crucified.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:30 AM on June 6, 2013

The saga of Dorothy Parker's remains.

Baltimore may not be New York, but it's a step up from Dorothy Parker's previous resting place: a filing cabinet in the office of New York attorney Paul O'Dwyer, where Parker's remains sat for around 15 years.

posted by mdrew at 6:35 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does Mummy Juanita count - found after having been preserved for around 500 years and reckoned to have been a human sacrifice.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:35 AM on June 6, 2013
posted by Leon at 6:41 AM on June 6, 2013

There's also the bizarre case of Helen de Hoyos.
posted by kewb at 6:42 AM on June 6, 2013

Rescue Anne is based on the unknown woman of the Seine.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:43 AM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Julia Pastrana
posted by macadamiaranch at 6:47 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also - the life and times of James Barry - a pioneering surgeon who rose to the rank of Inspector General, H.M. Army Hospitals in the British Army in the mid 1800s. It is believed that Barry was born Margaret Ann Bulkley and chose to live as a man to be able to pursue education and a career. Barry's sex was discovered at his/her death, triggering an exchange of correspondence as to his/her sex and the British military sealing the records for 100 years. Pop culture accounts tend to talk about Barry as a cross dresser but it is equally possible that Barry was intersex. So in tnhis case it's not so much about what's happened to her actual body, but rather the discussion of her anatomy: Barry's life is still the subject of research and conjecture.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:49 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does this have to do specifically with bodies that are already dead? Because I feel like Isadora Duncan's death is kind of wacky/cool/TERRIBLY UNCOOL.

There's so much with Frida Kahlo that you could mine here: disability/infertility, depiction of her body in her artwork, the idea of her art as a kind of iconography, indigenous Mexican culture/mythology mixed with Christian and Jewish themes...

You really, REALLY need to see Blancanieves. It's an absolutely stunning film, and it has a lot of these themes.

How about Death Becomes Her?

Lori and George (formerly Reba, formerly Dori) Schappell
are fascinating for so many reasons beyond simply being conjoined in a very unusual way. You'd have to be extra careful (beyond your normal care with subjects), though, because they're still living.

Also still living: Lakshmi Tatma, a girl born with eight limbs and worshiped as a deity.
posted by Madamina at 6:55 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

The "Soap Woman." This is the body of a woman who died of Yellow Fever sometime in the 19th century and was buried in soil with certain chemical properties . . . that turned her into soap!
posted by Rob Rockets at 7:01 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Ripper victims. Tightlacing.
posted by Leon at 7:06 AM on June 6, 2013

In the saints category, the relic of the skull of Santa Rosa of Lima is not all that weird as far as saint's relics go, but I mention it because (a) she's Kind of a Big Deal as the first saint from the Americas to be canonized; (b) the reliquary in Lima, Peru, containing her skulll is just over the top as far as baroque gilding and all that, and it far outshines the skulls of San Martin de Porres and San Juan Macias and that sit next to her in a "let's hear it for the girls" sort of way.

There's also Ed Gein, the real-world case of a man who exhumed female bodies and murdered at least two women to make keepsakes of their body parts, and who influenced a whole series of fictional portrayals, including Psycho and Silence of the Lambs. The list of artifacts found in his house is quite...something:

Four noses
Whole human bones and fragments
Nine masks of human skin
Bowls made from human skulls
Ten female heads with the tops sawn off
Human skin covering several chair seats
Mary Hogan's head in a paper bag
Bernice Worden's head in a burlap sack
Nine vulvae in a shoe box
A belt made from female human nipples
Skulls on his bedposts
A pair of lips on a drawstring for a window shade
A lampshade made from the skin from a human face
posted by drlith at 7:11 AM on June 6, 2013

There's Mabel Stark, a lion-tamer and pioneer woman circus performer who debuted in the 20's, and who took her own life when she grew too old to risk it everyday. Her life is a litany of mauling and injury and violent encounters with wild animals, yet she persisted in her career until she was 79 (rocking those thighboots all the while), and passed painlessly and peacefully after deliberately overdosing on downers.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:23 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Henrietta Lacks.
Maria Marten.
posted by hydatius at 7:31 AM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Seconding Henrietta Lacks.
posted by spunweb at 8:11 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Frida Khalo is an interesting example. When she was 18, she was in a trolley accident where she 1. had her clothes ripped of by the force of the accident, 2. had a railing pieced her abdomen and came out her vagina, 3. was covered in powdered gold paint.

She went on to have dozens of operations on her spine and leg, many of them probably unnecessary. Check out her biography. Infuriatingly, that is not her pic on the cover! Gah!
posted by Specklet at 8:34 AM on June 6, 2013

macadamiaranch's link to Julia Pastrana reminded me of Sarah Baartman.
posted by jeudi at 8:51 AM on June 6, 2013

Evelyn McHale
posted by neroli at 8:59 AM on June 6, 2013

In the vein of more saints, there's also the so-called Incorruptible saints. Several of whom are women. There's also this list.
posted by Lafe at 10:29 AM on June 6, 2013

Mary Vetsera, after she died in the Mayerling incident with Crown Prince Rudolf:
Without judicial inquiry, Vetsera's uncles were summoned to remove their niece's body from Mayerling as secretly as possible, and to bury it just as secretly. Her mother was forbidden to attend. One version is, that this was accomplished that night, with the body of their niece sitting in the carriage between them, propped up by a broomstick down the back of her jacket.
Her remains have been disturbed (and even stolen at one point) several times since then.
posted by scody at 11:35 AM on June 6, 2013

Sorry if I'm missing someone else posting this already, but how about the Hottentot Venus?
posted by leemleem at 1:01 PM on June 6, 2013

Emma Eckstein, one of Freud's early patients. One of his mates, Wilhelm Fleiss, had this theory that cauterising the inside of the nose would cure all sorts of ailments. Poor Emma was somewhat depressed and masturbated (ie, she was "hysterical"). Solution? Cauterise the inside of her nose and leave a large swathe of surgical gauze stuck up there for two weeks, making the wound infected and causing haemorrhaging. She was left permanently disfigured from the operation. Freud was all sympathy for how it might hurt his buddy Fleiss's feelings to think anyone could blame him for this.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:51 PM on June 6, 2013

Anarcha, the mother of gynecology

Through an agreement with her master, Anarcha became Dr Sims's guinea pig. She regularly underwent surgical experiments, while positioned on Sims’s table, squatting on all fours, and fully awake without the comfort of any anesthesia. It was commonly accepted that African Americans had a higher tolerance for pain than their white counterparts. Commonly accepted but utterly wrong.

Anarcha’s fistula (from her vaginal tears) was repaired by Sims. Sims thus became the leading expert in repairing this damage that seemed to occur in a good number of births by slave women. Though Sims was sent many slave women with fistulas, we know from his biography that he experimented repeatedly on Anarcha, as well as two other slaves, Betsy and Lucy.

Anarcha was experimented upon, and drugged up later, not to ease her pain as much as to stifle her moans. It has been calculated that she had been operated on, perhaps, 34 times. She, Betsy, Lucy, and countless others helped Dr Sims hone his techniques and create his gynecological tools.

posted by ohshenandoah at 9:13 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

the weirdest stories on the Internet-- the archives of Gimcrack Hospital

A middle-aged blonde calling herself Bernann McKinney made headlines this week when five identical puppies were created using an ear from her dead pitbull. Reports from Seoul, explaining that Ms McKinney had paid £25,000 for the procedure to create five genetically identical replicas of her pet in the first transaction of its kind led to furious speculation about her true identity. At first she denied it, but later Joyce admitted to being the woman who once loved a Mormon so much she would have skied down Mount Everest in the nude with a carnation up her nose.’

posted by ohshenandoah at 9:34 PM on June 6, 2013

NOT SAFE FOR LUNCH -- the completely exaggerated New Orleans House of Horrors

For more than 150 years, and through several generations, the LaLaurie House has been considered to be the most haunted and the most frightening location in the French Quarter. ...After the blaze was put out, the fire fighters discovered a horrible sight behind a secret, barred door in the attic. They found more than a dozen slaves here, chained to the wall in a horrible state. They were both male and female.... some were strapped to makeshift operating tables...

Rumours stated that Madame LaLaurie was performing sex change surgery on her slaves.
posted by ohshenandoah at 9:59 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was a Christian, Jezebel's story was kinda one of my favs. Wasn't she eaten by dogs?

Also, please consider putting your poems up on some sort of blog and submitting that to the Projects section of this site. I'm very interested in reading them!
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:19 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Front page post from today seems to suit you perfectly: Katie Sandwina

Seconding the request for posting the poems!
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:44 AM on June 7, 2013

I was starting to post a link to the Wikipedia article about foot binding, and saw that it is part of an entire series of articles about violence against women.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 11:40 AM on June 9, 2013

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