Body-lying

They say that the body doesn’t, or can’t, lie. I’m not sure I agree–at least as regards its meanings or intentions in social interactions.

A skilled body can misrepresent a state of mind, misdirect an interlocutor, or dissimulate felt emotion. Even a desensitized body can lie. Many times, as I debrief a party with a close friend on the way out, he’ll say, “You were having a great time in there.” I wheel around: as an introvert, I rarely enjoy large parties or formal gatherings. I am taken aback, not only because my friend can’t read me, but because my body, on automatic, contravened my boredom, irritation, or desire to escape.

Whether or not you have known bodies to lie, it seems entirely possible to lie socially about the body. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported more than a third of patients lie to their doctors about their health habits,  resulting in some dangerous clinical decisions (https://articles.latimes.com/2009/jun/08/health/he-lying8). Patients misrepresent their health, their lifestyles, or how they’re complying with doctor’s orders, concerned about the doctors’ judgment, invasions of their privacy, and potential conflict over the proper course of treatment to take–not to mention making disclosures that could affect their ability to obtain health insurance.

Of course, doctors sometimes lie about patients’ bodies, too, as when they elect not to tell a patient he has a potentially life-threatening diagnosis, so as not to have to deal with the range of emotions that could come up in the patient–or in themselves. In the clinical encounter, where a professional takes responsibility for the care of the body-mind of another, perhaps the most significant body fib in the doctor’s office is one of omission–that the doctor’s body is not an integral part of the story of the doctor-patient encounter. The qualities associated with the doctor’s own embodiment, her very way of manifesting her presence with the patient–using as barometer her own visceral responses to, and intuition about, the patient’s condition and his underlying concerns–are at the heart of the clinical encounter.

Even if–and perhaps especially if–her body can lie.

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