What I Watched Last Night: Embarrassing Bodies

Attack angry anuses! See the side-effects of too much sun, sea, and sex! Banish bashfulness in the name of good health!

All direct quotes from the UK show, Embarrassing Bodies. When a show is this fond of alliteration, you know it’s worth a watch.

The basic premise is this: consenting members of the British public visit our GP heroes, Drs Christian (blond, muscle-bound, dislikes swearing), Dawn (terribly polite, likes horseriding), and Pixie (witty, arachnaphobic, and Irish) with whatever medical problems they consider odd, gross, weird, worrying, or intractable. Our heroes then send them off to specialists who try to fix the problem(s), and the patients return awhile later, to be asked about their feelings and show off their scars. And it’s all filmed for our viewing pleasure – vaginas, penises, anuses, suppurating armpits and all.

In fairness to the show, along with the high ew!-quotient, it also packs in a good bit of (mostly) evidence-based information about the range of normal, the causes of and treatments for the conditions featured, and also makes a point of featuring people going about their lives with disabilities, and/or conditions which aren’t curable – like Cystic Fibrosis, hemophilia, and achondroplasia.

But the main thing I learned from last night’s episode is that I never want to hear the following phrases ever, ever again:

  • “aggressive circumcision”
  • “You try to lift it up like a divot from your lawn”
  • “glow-in-the-dark condoms”
  • “If you’ve not had chlamydia at least three times, you can’t call yourself a player”
So, have you seen it? Do you want to? Do you think gross-out medical shows are helpful and educational, or are they exploitative and irresponsible?

18 thoughts on “What I Watched Last Night: Embarrassing Bodies”

  1. I really love this show. They do a lot of deliberate “THIS IS NOT WEIRD” stuff, and I think it’s a good way of taking the shock factor off this kind of stuff.

    That said, though, I still have a thing about eye pus ever since my sister’s partner described an event during her first year of doing medical placements, when the doctor she was assigned to had to clear eye pus from a patient’s face and when he massaged their face, eye pus shot out violently for a continual five or ten minutes.

    You’re welcome for that image.

    PS: I HATE DR CHRISTIAN SO MUCH, HE’S SO ANNOYING (but a little bit fit. BUT REALLY ANNOYING.)

    1. My sister’s vivid description of the first time she felt a uterine prolapse put me off avocados for a loooonnng time.

      Ah, Dr. Christian… he can be very annoying and not quite clued-in to women’s health stuff, but I do appreciate his emphasis (on Twitter especially) on evidence-based medicine.

      1. Bahahahahaha.  That sounds about right.

        On a semi-related note, one of my fellow nurses described a patient’s vaginal discharge as guacamole.  I could still eat guacamole, but it took a few months for me not to hear that conversation in my head every time I ate it.

        1. The connection between wayward ladybusiness and avocado products is strong, it seems…

          Every time I drink weissbeers (which I LOVE) I’m always reminded of that time I had a really bad UTI. Doesn’t stop me drinking the beer, though.

  2. This show has been on late Thursday nights in Australia for a few years. It is a guilty indulgence of mine, but it certainly crosses the line from “information” to freak show– there’s quite a few of these British programs (including the woman with giant, and I mean giant legs that just keep growing wider). Certainly feeds on a revulsion-fascination, but I now know more than I’ll ever need to about third nipples and Pyrone’s Disease (penis points wrong way, corrective surgury often reduces length, man spent a lot of time over the decission between painful, unfunctional deformed penis and slightly smaller, probably because less swollen penis).

    I cannot stand Dr Christian, used to be for a while they sent all the women with irregular breasts and “slack” vaginas to him and he was the least sympathic person I could imagine handling those patients’ problems. He also squeezed a lot of breasts after their enlargement… it was unpleasant.

    1. I’m not allowed to watch it in bed as my husband feels sick just hearing the things described.

      I also find it suprising that in a country with universal healthcare that you would rather show this stuff on telly then pop along to your local GP.

        1. Very good point. I am amazed by some of the people though – that they’ve either never gone to their GP about it, or that their GP (and sometimes specialists) have dismissed their concerns (and this is about things like Charlotte’s case, not just cosmetic issues).

      1. I also think the aim is a wider one; by having people who are willing to go on and talk about their problems, I do think they do quite a bit of good in demystifying diseases like this. When you see a guy who has one massive infected ballsack, you sort of don’t feel as self-conscious about your adult acne, you know?

          1. I think that’s a very important aspect of the show. We tend to be scared of the things we don’t understand, and when it comes to our own health, that isn’t helpful. So seeing what actually happens and being able to gain perspective, too, is so crucial.

  3. I watched it once when I dropped in to an item about a dropped uterus (?) that was hanging out of the woman’s vagina and I only finished it because my horror made it unable to zap away.

    There is a thin line between this being educational and disaster-touristy (really, what proper English term can I use for that or schadenfreude?) .

    1. Prolapsed uterus, yes. There have been a few of those…

      Definitely it’s a thin line to walk – I think the doctors mostly err on the educational side but the way the show is produced can veer very close to voyeuristic horror sometimes.

    1. I like to think my obsession is of a milder variety… This week’s episode wasn’t too bad as they go, and sometimes the people are really interesting. One girl went on the show because of her veruccas and ended up being diagnoses with an immune disorder – they did a special episode covering her treatment. I think you can watch the video here

          1. I don’t think they ever gave the name – just a congenital immune disorder. They did a bone marrow transplant (donated from her little sister) and as far as I know she’s ok now. The whole thing is on Youtube if you search “Charlotte Embarrassing Bodies”.

            ETA: verruccas is the term for warts on the feet, AKA plantar warts.

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