Up until last night, when I saw Lifers, Embarrassing Bodies was the best thing I’d seen on telly made by British people*. And yes, that includes the episode of Eastenders where Bianca found out Ricky had been sleeping with Natalie behind her back, and used her superpower: the ginger banshee-wail to chase Nat right out of town.
I’ve been a fan of Embarrassing Bodies since the very first episode. Watching it with din dins and doing a competition with yourself to see if you can stare at infected, oversized labia and still finish your sesame prawn toast is, like, the most fun one can have on a Friday night, unless one leaves the flat and speaks to other people.
It’s not just me. Times columnist and feminist warrior woman Caitlin Moran once wrote a v.funny column confessing her love for the programme. This column includes my favourite simile of all time, in which Ms Moran crystallizes the delicate delight of squeezing pus from a spot by comparing it to cleaning a miniature custard spillage from a doll’s house sized jug (I’ve got no money and The Times sits behind a pay-wall, so I was only able to access the column when I was round my mate Tom’s and he let me use his Dad’s login, thus I can’t find the link to post here.)
Because I haven’t got enough to do, I spent much of today watching youtube clips of Embarrassing Bodies and trying to find one where they hadn’t edited out the genital close-ups. Although, sadly, I couldn’t find any scabby helmet footage to share with you, there were a riveting range of less graphic excerpts, which reminded me why the programme is a TV classic. Yes, it’s informative, and grotesquely fascinating, but like any good telly the appeal is mainly dark-humour based. It’s proper funny watching someone talk about their buried penis with a straight face.
In one particularly memorable episode, channel 4 achieved next-level hybrid hilarity-heaving when they broadcast a real-life medical doctor trying not to recoil as he pulled a speculum full of cheesy discharge out of a thrush-ridden cervix (couldn’t find that clip on youtube but, kudos to C4, I can assure you that I did leave the prawn toast that night). It’s not all about the genitals though. I was also pretty impressed by this on-the-road snippet, where Dr Dawn invites an unfortunate young lady with an ear wax problem into her truck and advises against cotton bud use (for any family members reading these words – OMG! Is that Holly?).
But the one thing that always gets me when they interview the patients is the ubiquitous ‘and how does this affect your sex life?’ question. This question is alarming on two main counts. First, because it suggests an unhealthy interest, on the doctor’s part, in the carnal activities of the gruesomely afflicted. Sex is not a medically relevant concern most of the time, or at least, I imagine that it wouldn’t be the main thing on my mind if I woke up one morning and found my vag had crusted over with oozing green stuff (sorry, sorry, that image was painful for me as well). Second, and most importantly in terms of the argument I’m making here, the patients always have an answer. Yes, that’s right, people with weeping, gangrenous genitals are able to say things like ‘oof, since my fanny turned green sex is agonising actually’, and ‘yeah, I find it hard to keep an erection when it’s weeping like this.’
This means that the patients with the diseased and damaged carnal machinery are getting laid. And they’re getting laid a lot more than I am. And though I do have some detached empathy for these televised disease specimens, and though, of course, I wouldn’t want to switch places with someone who’s sick or injured, I was a bit jealous of the EB patients for a while, and walked around feeling all inadequate about my less than active sex life. Until I realised that – OMG (again)! A real person has to sleep with the embarrassing bodies. And not just weirdos with a fetish for festering flesh. Normal men and women who got married to or started dating a hottie in good faith, and were later unlucky enough to have their lover fall victim to the plague. This is what they mean by ‘in sickness and in health’.
Can you imagine? (You’ll have to. I already grossed us both out in the last paragraph with that crusty vag imagery.)
I’m going to sum up quickly, because I’m sure it won’t take much persuasive rhetoric to convince you that sucking a fungus-ridden willy is unglamorous and disgusting. So, to my central thesis: The only way to guarantee that you’ll never be one of the poor, unseen souls who has to get down and dirty with an ‘embarrassing body’ is to stay single. And with that sentence people, I rest my case.
* tbh, I’ve got no idea what nationality the people behind either of these programmes are, I just wanted to make it clear that I’m not suggesting these very British documentaries are better than The Sopranos, which is obviously the best programme I’ve seen on telly made by anyone, ever.