Sorry I’ve not been around a lot in the past few days, apart from the internet connection troubles I am settling in at University again and have been spending more time watching rubbish TV with my housemates (being a proper student 😀 ). Anyway, I did find the time to write a little something.
Nowadays the body is viewed quite differently due to increased mobilisation with the mass use of cars and a change in the job market from labour intensive to office work/computerised systems.
Mostly we experience and theorise about our bodies in medical terms. Critical thinkers have rejected this biological reductionism and state we need to see the body in cultural, social, economic and political contexts. Feminists agree that the body should be recongnised as a part of the surrounding environment. For instance, male bodies are stronger because they are encouraged to take part in sports which develop muscles. However, Berber women are the ones who carry heavy loads over long distances and thus are viewed as stronger than men.
Phenomenology, briefly, is the idea that the ‘self’ (mind) and body are inextricably linked. When normal body functions become impaired or restricted it’s almost impossible to not reflect on the ‘self’. Medical illnesses can not only disrupt how the biological body works but can cause psychological issues resulting in a loss of self-confidence, hence, affecting social life, economic participation etc. Something I’m intimately aware of.
Phenomenology provides a bridge between the naturalist perspective which advocates the body as a biological entity and social constructionism which focuses on the body in a cultural context, being influenced by the society within which it resides.
To me, the body cannot be separated from the ‘self’ as Cartesian dualists claim, as the intentions of the ‘self’ have a direct effect on the body. If you decide to climb a vertical cliff your body takes the strain, similarly if you prefer to restrict exercise to the more conventional morning jog/walk it’s the body which ultimately becomes stronger and consequently causes your self-esteem to build.
In the modern age where beauty is defined in comparison with air-brushed magazine photos and tall, slim models inevitably generations of insecure people have learnt to assess and criticise their bodies in conjunction with their self-worth. This attitude has created the ‘beauty myth’ of socially constructed, unattainable beauty.
In desperation many turn towards the medical profession and cosmetic surgery. This technology could be utilised to create uniqueness but instead it’s exploited to form ‘normality’. The freckles which brought individual character to your face are deemed unsightly and the laughter lines by your eyes which show a life of experience and fulfillment also have to be cast away. It’s as though society wishes to stifle personality by subtly encouraging us that our appearance is somehow ‘wrong’ because we don’t confirm to the ‘norm’. The consumer culture is not only exploiting our pockets, influencing our opinions and lifestyles but causing the body to be objectified in a manner which disregards personality or talent. Just look at celebrities, what does Katie Price actually do? Who cares, with knockers like that she can force herself into the media all she likes. Who cares if the latest singer mimes during live concerts because they can’t really sing, as long as they look the part they’re allowed to strut about on stages across the globe.
Cosmetic surgery primarily targets women, some feminists see this as an extension of patriarchy as men seek to control and objectify women through the ‘beauty myth’. Other feminists argue medical professionals don’t advocate patriarchy but seek to increase their own influence and acquire power.
Whatever your view on the ‘beauty myth’ and cosmetic surgery it’s evident society is being oppressed and educated into a docile, false consciousness which is responsible for the lack of confidence and inferiority experienced by those who attempt to resist the ‘norm’.
(Obviously I’m talking about cosmetic surgery for beauty, not for reconstruction after burning, skin cancer or other accidents/illnesses).
Katie Davis Reshaping the Female Body: the dilemma of cosmetic surgery
Susan Bordo Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body
B.S.Turner Medical power and Social Knowledge and The Body and Society: explorations in social theory
N.Wolf The Beauty Myth: how images of beauty are used against women
Images from google