Body image issues get a new meaning

I haven't worn anything sleeveless since 1999, and two years ago my daughter told me, politely but firmly, that it was no longer appropriate for me to wear anything above the knee, so you can imagine how I feel about full-body scans in airports.

And, although I do not have a dog, I am friends with many in my neighborhood, and I know where they put their noses when they are glad to see you. I can only imagine how things will go with a body-sniffing dog when he has his game face on.

The attempt by a Nigerian kid to blow up a U.S. airplane on Christmas Day has made me worry deeply about my safety and well-being, but not in the way you might think.

And I applaud our president as he steps forward to take responsibility for the security failure and acts swiftly to put stronger measures in place.

But it must be said that no strange dogs will be sniffing the first lady, or she might have seen to it that her husband signed off on a different approach.

According to news reports, there are only about 30 of those advanced screening devices in airports now, with an additional 300 in the pipeline for 2010.

I am sure they are still working on the details of this new security plan, but it appears that pat-downs may be used until the screening machines are available, and that certainly qualifies as an unpleasant alternative — no matter what color the terrorist threat level is the day you decide to visit your son and daughter-in-law in California.

And if the airlines continue to rely on alert passengers to overpower and subdue the terrorist sitting next to them, I don't think they want those alert passengers all red-faced and huffy and indignant. I think they want us alert and in the mood to help the airline out, should somebody be sitting next to us with a cigar box in his lap with red, green and blue wires hanging out of the lid.

There is another delicate matter.

They say these full-body screening images — in which I am pretty sure we are naked — are immediately erased, but I don't believe them for a minute.

Either somebody is keeping them on the hard drive to protect himself in case some terrorists gets by on his watch, or some enterprising guy is going to be selling Britney Spears' body scan to TMZ for a hundred thousand bucks.

I mean this is America, land of the irrepressible entrepreneurial spirit.

They say they expect Americans to cooperate with these new travel security measures. After all, we are still placidly taking off our shoes in airport security lines, even though nobody has tried that bomb trick a second time.

But stocking feet are one thing, if you know what I mean.

And they expect us to continue to be patient in the airport lines made long by Sept. 11 as they are made even longer by pat-downs, full-body scans and dogs that have to regularly be taken outside to do their business.

But knowing that some plastic glove-wearing Transportation Security Administration officer is staring at a screen and seeing you naked is not the same as having to put your belt and your laptop in a plastic tray.

Some citizens are already asking about the possible harmful effects of the gamma rays — or whatever — in the full-body scanning machines. But I am more concerned about my self-esteem.

How will I feel after I notice that the guy screening me has to ask his superior if he can take his break now? Nobody asked me, but why not just stick to screening the confused young men on watch lists who are traveling from Islamic hotbeds to Detroit, wearing no coat and carrying a one-way ticket paid for with cash?

And if one slips through airport security, we can just count on the alert passenger sitting next to him.

Susan Reimer is a columnist for The Baltimore Sun. Readers may write to her at: Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert Street, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore, Md. 21278.

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