The Body Has Become One Sociology Essay

Published: 2021-08-13 22:55:05
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Literature Review
1.1 Introducing ‘the body’.
‘The body’ has become one of the main concerns within sociological theory only recently. Before this time, the discipline of sociology looked at human beings as the ‘social actors’ or the ‘social agents’ whose character and behaviour depended on their social location, beliefs and values (Turner, 1984). The founding fathers of sociology viewed the body from different perspectives. Marx and Engels shared the belief that in order for society to exist, the continual reproduction of bodies was salient. They looked at bodies as both the means and the object of human labour. Durkheim believed in the dual nature of human beings which he referred to as homo duplex. He believed that the basic divisions of body and mind led to a ‘true antagonism’ between our individuality and our spirituality, which according to him made it almost impossible to ever be at peace with ourselves as one cannot follow both natures, since one is rooted in morality and the other in the desires of the body. Weber wrote about the rationalization of bodies through time and space and the controlling of emotions. He believed that the more capitalism enters in the bureaucratic structures, the more ‘dehumanising’ and ‘disenchanted’ the modern individual feels, confined in its ‘iron cage’. Simmel wrote about the senses and human emotionality. He believed that the eye, out of all the senses, had a distinctively sociological function since the interaction of individuals is based upon eye contact between them (Williams and Bendelow, 1998).
As Turner (1984) claims, it is evident that human beings both have bodies and are bodies, which fact makes human beings ‘embodied, just as they are enselved’ (Turner, 1984, p.1). Recently a lot of studies have tried to address the corporeal existence of human beings. However, in spite of intriguing findings and better understanding of the subject, according to Crossley (2001) some persistent dilemmas remain. Drawing from previous philosophical theories about the body, it was not easy along the years for sociology to arrive to a decent solution to the philosophical ambiguity of the mind-body dualism.
It was Rene Descartes (1596-1650) who living in the Enlightenment era was greatly influenced by scientists like Galileo and their contemporary scientific discoveries. It was a time when the physical sciences, as we know them today, were emerging and there was a strong belief that everything could be explained by the laws of mechanical causation. With this belief in mind, and always in search for the knowledgeable truth, Descartes started to doubt everything that he could not be sure of. He even doubted his very own senses, reminding himself that he had sometimes had ‘vivid dreams’ (Crossley, 2001, p.9). However he came to the conclusion that the only thing that he could be sure of was that he was thinking and therefore that was proof enough of his existence. ‘Cogito ergo sum’ meaning ‘I think therefore I am’ is Descartes most famous statement which was the very beginning of the Cartesian dichotomy, i.e. the mind-body dualism.
For Descartes, the person is the mind. He believed that the mind is clearly elevated over the body and that the body is ‘a non-essential aspect of his true nature’ (Crossley, 2001).It is a common belief that in a time when everything was reduced to scientific explanations, Descartes, being the religious man he was, aimed to keep an element of the spiritual, giving importance to creativity and the soul through the prominence he put on the mind.
Many were the scholars (Ryle, 1949; Merleau-Ponty, 1965) who critiqued the Cartesian dualism and exposed the dilemmas it posited to sociology. As Crossley (2001) clearly explains in his book The Social Body: Habit, identity and desire, the mind-brain identity theorists believed that there is no interaction between the body and the mind and the fact that both of them act together at the same time in a plethora of human beings’ everyday activities, led to the conviction that the mind and body are in fact one. Crossley (2001) argued that sociology could critique this theory for being too reductionist and for sticking to the Cartesian framework it sets out to critique.
In ‘The Concept of Mind’, Gilbert Ryle (1949) depicts the Cartesian dichotomy as ‘the myth of the ghost in the machine’, the ghost referring to the ghostly nature of the mind which is not physical in nature, while the machine refers to the body that does not contain any human characteristics, also described as ‘corpse’ or ‘meat’ by Leder (1998). Ryle (1949) believed that Descartes committed a ‘category error’ when he took the mind as distinct from the body. For Ryle, who was a firm believer that dualism was wrong, both body and mind must be reconceptualised if we really are to overcome dualism He sets the way to a non-dualistic sociology when he manages to ‘exorcise’ Descartes’ ghost strongly and convincingly. He wanted to challenge the notion that the mind is superior to the body. For Ryle, the mind is not a separate thing. He believed that mental life is embodied. Crossley (2001) gives a detailed explanation of how language, emotions, consciousness and understanding are not as many think simply introspective. Ryle’s (1949) main concern was to show that such ‘mental concepts are used by embodied agents in specific contexts of action’ (as cited in Crossley, 2001, p. 41).
Merleau-Ponty (1992, as cited in Crossley, 2001), who like Ryle challenged the mind-body dualism, managed to take his work a step further. He believed that looking at behaviour was salient in dissolving this dichotomy. For him all behaviour always had a purpose and meaning in the social world. Through this he also brought up the issue of social agency. He delved into the nature of perception and posited that ‘desire, emotion, cognition and perception are not, strictly speaking, separate parts of our behavioural life but rather integrated and mutually affecting aspects of a single and coherent structure (Crossley, 2001, p.89). Merleau-Ponty sees the body as more than an object yet less than a subject since it both looks for and reacts to meanings in diverse everyday situations. This is Merleau-Ponty’s ‘sentient and sensible’ body, presented to us as a body which can touch yet can be touched, can see yet can be seen, can perceive yet can be perceived. As Crossley (1995) explains the key is to understand that the perceiver and the perceived are "relational beings" (ibid, p.46) like two sides of a coin, not separate from each other but changeable facets of one and the same being. Therefore to the question ‘What am I? Am I a body or am I a mind?’ one can quote McGuire (1990, as cited in Williams & Bendelow, 1998) when he posits that human beings are "embodied agents who experience the material and social world in and through their mindful bodies" (p.4). ‘‘My body’ is not something additional to me, it is not something which I, as a disembodied spirit, reflect upon. It is who I am’. (Crossley as cited in Martin, 2012).
1.2 Shifting from ‘sociology of the body’ to ‘embodied sociology’.
Williams & Bendelow (2002) claim that sociology has shifted from seeing the body as disembodied to giving more importance to a ‘lived body’ referring to one’s own experiences of his/her own body, as him/herself. This gave rise to what is today called embodied sociology, a kind of approach which lets us reflect upon the interconnectedness of bodily, mental and social interaction. The human body, although specific, gendered and once regarded as fixed, cannot nowadays be as easily defined (Evans, 2002). As Foucault claims there is no "natural" body. Evans (2002) believes that the notion of the body is always accompanied with an already deeply socialized set of expectations. Bordo (2003) confirms this by stating that "culture’s grip on the body is a constant, intimate fact of everyday life" (p.17) showing that our bodies, like anything else that is human, are heavily influenced by culture. Feminism, especially in the work of Judith Butler (1990, 1993) and Susan Bordo (1993) has also questioned the belief that bodies are biologically given and fixed, and argued that the human body is both culturally and historically specific.
1.3 The body as a form of identity
Giddens (1991) argues that gone are the days when traditional stable identities were derived from one’s position in the social structure. In this era of late modernity attempts to base identity on the body has become popular, and hence society is witnessing a reflexive concern with identity and the body. Shilling (1993) argued that with the individualisation of the body, the body has become an agent of symbolic value, in Bourdieu’s (1996) term a source of symbolic capital. Despite this, the work of Bourdieu makes us realise the importance class has for understanding embodiment. Bodies, for Bourdieu, mark class in three main ways – "through the individual’s social location, the formation of their habitus and the development of their tastes" (Gill et. al, 2005 p.5). This shows that the management of the body is pivotal to status acquirement and hence salient to identity. Skeggs’s (1997) work on young, British working class women clearly shows this by emphasizing the ways in which they used the shape, styling and design of their bodies to challenge or even break away from class assumptions that declared them as inferior (ibid.). Featherstone (1991) argues that the body has become to be seen as a vehicle of self-expression, a view supported by consumerism. Efforts to create and retain a ‘coherent and viable’ sense of self-identity are often called body projects. These are manifested through attention to the body, particularly the body’s surface (Featherstone 1991). This is because in contemporary times the surface of the body has become the main location where object relations are handled, not only in the individual’s identity formation years but also throughout our whole life (Blum, 2003).
1.4 Gender
Literature shows that females are more obsessed by these body projects, possibly because as Evans (2002) argues the female body, unlike the male, has always been regarded as unstable and malleable. Feminists claim that female bodies have significantly been more vulnerable to cultural manipulation of the body (Bordo, 2003).Women are generally seen as passive while men as active. In his analogy of men and women with animals and plants respectively, Hegel (1967, as cited in Bordo, 2003) ably represented the duality of male activity and female passivity. So powerful and deterministic was this that as Bordo (2003) writes, when Guttmacher analysed sperm under the microscope for the first time he refused to describe sperm as ‘waiting’ for the ova and instead portrays them as ‘cruising’, as if they were looking to pick up girls. Despite this however, classical images in the Holy Bible depict the woman as a temptress (Eve, Salome, Delilah) as do the more contemporary secular versions in movies such as Fatal Attraction. In an era where sex sells, literature shows that the women’s body has become sexualised, sometimes objectified and at others depicted as a manipulator. A homogenous, indefinable ideal of femininity constantly requires women to attend to the very finest detail in fashion. As Bordo (2003) continues to claim, female bodies have become ‘docile bodies’, "bodies whose forces and energies are habituated to external regulation, subjection, transformation, improvement" (p.166). Although male concern over appearance increased significantly during the late 1970s and 1980s, studies confirm that a huge gender gap still exists. Women seem to be much less appreciative of their bodies and show extreme negative assessments on their distorted bodily perception (Goleman, 1985). They also seem to judge themselves more severely when they realise that they are not conforming to the cultural ideals of beauty. This is becoming worse as time goes, since many females continue to be dissatisfied with their body image perception. It is interesting to note that in a study held in 1985, teenage girls were the group most dissatisfied with their appearance (Bordo, 2003).
1.5 Body Image in Adolescent Girls
At the macro level, the sociocultural perspective highlights the importance of an appearance culture that honours and shapes cultural ideals of beauty (Vilhjalmsson et al., 2012). It is during adolescence that this culture, represented by the media, family and peers, manages to make adolescents internalise these normative beauty ideals (Jones, Vigfusdottir, & Lee, 2004; Thelen & Cormier 1995). As Blum (2003) explains, adolescents obtain their body image totally from the outside. The adolescent girl enters the world uncertain whether her face and body would be consented by those around her.
There are many definitions of body image, a term coined by Paul Schilder in 1935 (Blum 2003). However it "is generally understood as a mental image of one’s body as it appears to others" (Featherstone, 2010, p.194). He claims that body image also changes with time and space. Ferguson (1997a, 1997b) argues that there has been a shift from a closed body image in the nineteenth century to a more open and ambiguous sense of body image today (Featherstone, 2010). This ambiguity relates to another concept- the body schema, which is more related to the ‘felt body’. While body image is in simpler words the ‘look’ one has for others, in which the visual appearance is essential, body schema goes deeper than this and involves the non-visual sense of the body. This draws attention to how our senses work together not just to help us perceive the world around us but also how we sense and interact with other bodies in everyday life situations. It goes beyond the ‘mirror image’, focusing mainly on body rhetoric which is central of charisma, a characteristic which most attracts people’s attention (ibid.).
Despite this however, young females are increasingly becoming more concerned about their bodies and about how to achieve the ideal standards of beauty and bodily perfection. Armet (2008) states that this is leading to a body-image crisis in American adolescents, with increased numbers of young girls suffering from low self-esteem, obsessive exercising and disordered eating. Through the cultural emphasis put on judging women solely on how they look and how much they conform to standards of beauty and fashion, girls are becoming more self-critical of their own body. They try to dedicate all their energy to perfect their outside appearance. This is because for the young female her body is "the primary expression of her individual identity" (Arnet, 2008, p.2) which she aims to improve by buying clothes and other things to further enhance her exterior surfaces. These issues form a discourse that stresses the importance of the body. The young female has learned to give priority to her body’s physical appearance since she has come to regard it as her identity. This leads to implications in her adolescent behaviour where "a quest for identity becomes a struggle with her body-image" (ibid.).
1.6 Consumer Culture and Body Image
As Featherstone (2010) posits, it is naturally understood that consumer culture is obsessed with the body. We are constantly being bombarded by media images of models, celebrities and other stars showing off their beautiful, perfect bodies. They are generally portrayed as happy and youthful, and enjoying luxurious surroundings. Critics have argued against this kind of narcissistic life, pointing out its superficiality and an abandonment of human values. This is because according to them the concern with body image is often dangerous as it creates a diversion from the importance of social justice and equality. Most of the images used in advertising, are technologically abused, to the extent that their level of beauty is often unattainable. These images do not simply represent what there is behind them but what one should aspire to be. These are the images that are making us compare "who we are not and who we would like to be" (Featherstone, (2010, p.197). These comparisons lead us to transformation –presenting the before and after picture- which is today pivotal not just in consumer culture but is also one of the key tenets of Western modernity. Celebrities, media industries and sportspeople are replacing scientists, explorers and intellectuals proving the shift from the virtues of consistency and steadfastness to a charming and engaging appearance (Featherstone, 1982, 2007). The constant fascination with celebrity lifestyles made available through cable, satellite and the internet keep showing us how they maintain their good looks and bodily fitness while coping with their challenging lives. Even when they fall and have to deal with drugs, alcoholism or weight problems, they are seen as triumphant since fitness regimes, diets or gurus put them back on the road to self- improvement (Featerstone, 2010). This puts pressure on individuals especially females who thanks to the media imagery fall victims to feeling unhappy with their bodies, to start routines sometimes drastic, of self-improvement (Bordo, 2003). A new body image gives one a new improved self-image and a more exciting quality of life. Since even status and social acceptability has come to depend on looks it is indeed of no wonder that today taking extreme care for one’s appearance becomes an obligation to self and portrays those who ignore this obligation as being flawed.
As Featherstone (2010) remarks, clothing, cosmetics and adornment used to enhance one’s look become not just "a constructed appearance of what one wants others to see, but also reflexively they provide an outward image which seeks information in the returned glances of others, for the inner narrative of what one feels one should be" (p. 198). This is mainly found in contemporary Western societies, where being a woman has often been referred to as ‘a form of theatre’ (Sontag, 1978, as cited in Featherstone 2010)) where women are constantly ‘watching themselves being looked at’ (Berger, 1973, as cited in Featherstone 2010). Nevertheless beauty has also become associated with moral goodness. The body, especially the face is seen as a reflection of the self, through which a person’s inner character is manifested (Rivers, 1994; Twine, 2002, as cited in Featherstone, 2010). Kuhn (1990, as cited in Featherstone, 2010) explains however how cosmetics do not only make up the woman but also the image, "capturing both the elegant appearance, but also ‘the look’ which summons up the inner narrative" (p. 198). This puts together a narrative, evidence of an embodied person. Charisma and stardom draws attention to ‘presence’, which is an additional aspect to body image. It is something which needs to be felt and works in a different way to beauty. It is an experience communicated between bodies which create affective resonances, and hence is trusted more than just an image. This is the affective body, which contrary to the body image, is a body without a specified image. Here we think about the ‘feel good’ impression sensed via affect. The moving body presented on television, cinemas and video captures a body in process. Affect is communicated by non-verbals such as gestures, and facial and body movements. Here, the image has become a process where in contrast to the conventional sense of body image, is presented as an affective body which provides additional embodied information.
Consumer culture is still, however, constantly asking consumers to scrutinize themselves for imperfections, and to measure up to ideal bodies presented in the media (Featherstone, 1982). This points towards the work of Giddens (1991) who wrote about a high degree of reflexivity in late modernity, since these actors are investing in body projects as a means to enhance their self-identity. This view was criticized for maintaining the mind-body dualism and for its overemphasis upon the rational choice of those who seek to control their bodies (Budgeon, 2003; Shilling and Mellor, 1996, as cited in Gimlin, 2010). But really and truly, is the choice rational, when we are constantly being bombarded by all these pressures to look good, almost convinced that this will lead us to a better life? The body has become to be seen as salient for a good life, the ‘look good: feel good’ transformation which, thanks to consumer culture, is portrayed as available for purchase to one and all. It is common belief that body works will not just upgrade the body to reach societal constructs of beauty but are also pictured to open a full range of lifestyle opportunities. Body modifications have nowadays become the means to create a beautiful appearance and hence a beautiful self (Featherstone, 2010).
Cosmetic Surgery –a brief history
According to Albin (2006) body modifications are defined as "changes made to the body, either self-induced or by the hand of another, that result in permanent alterations visible to the unaided eye". These modifications, which include tattooing, piercing, and cosmetic surgery to name a few, all share a common motive that in the end the individuals find pleasure in bodily expression, decoration, and attractiveness that can ultimately be admired by others.
Cosmetic surgery is certainly one of the most impressive techniques for body reconstruction. It is the kind of surgery where the surgeon ‘cures’ the cosmetic defects and emotional pain resulting from lack of liking and acceptance of one’s appearance (check author of thesis from Melitensia ). Cosmetic surgery falls under the umbrella of plastic surgery, however cosmetic surgery only deals with surgery that has to do with the aesthetic, referring to surgery done on a healthy body simply for the improvement of looks. Haiken (1997) reports two separate developments that account for the emergence of cosmetic surgery. The first attempt was when early cosmetic surgeons were considered ‘charlatans’ or ‘beauty doctors’ and were not taken seriously albeit certain techniques they developed are still in use today. The second development came with the First World War, when surgeons gained expertise while trying to treat disfiguring scars of soldiers for cosmetic purpose.
From the late nineteenth century, cosmetic surgery was associated with actresses since their careers always depended on the longevity of their good looks and by 1923 it was set in the public imagination as a celebrity practice (Blum, 2003). Gradually, a technology that was primarily aimed at replacing malfunctioning parts has caused an ideology promoted by desires of transforming and correcting, challenging the very materiality of the body (Bordo, 2003). Sarwer et al.(2004) believe that a rise in media fascination, higher incomes and loss of stigma are but a few reasons why even the common people in postmodern times are opting for the surgical fix especially in countries like the Netherlands, where cosmetic surgery is offered free through publicly funded healthcare (Gimlin, 2007). Studies show that rates of cosmetic surgery have risen significantly both in Western and non-Western countries during the past twenty years (ASAPS Statistics, 2008; BAAPS Statistics, 2008; Jones, 2008) A recent study shows that young people between the ages of 16 and 35 are turning to cosmetic surgery more than ever. (substantiate)
Young females and cosmetic surgery
Body-image scholars claim that it is much easier to succeed in the world if one is good-looking (Blum, 2003). Appearance culture imposes the thin hourglass shape as a female body ideal (Vilhjalmsson et al.,2012). Although many were the researchers who have indicated that this contemporary feminine ideal of thin attractiveness is unattainable for most women (Irving, 1990; Levine & Smolak, 1998; Silverstein, Perdue, Peterson, & Kelly, 1986; Wilcox & Laird, 2000), it still triumphs despite its opposition.
As Cassar (1999) claims body image lies at the heart of adolescence and hence young females enter the world longing for their looks to be consented by those around them. Cosmetic surgery, once used to maintain youthful looks, is nowadays on the agenda of young females who perceive that their looks are not in congruence with the images presented in the media and are thereby turning to cosmetic surgery as a quick fix to look and feel better. There is a growing tendency among American females that cosmetic surgery such as breast implants and liposuction are now given by parents as graduation or birthday gifts. Huss-Ashmore (2000) finds that females who have undergone cosmetic surgery describe the process "as having a restorative effect between body and image, as well as self and psyche" (p.59). Her argument agrees with Davis’s (1995, 2003) when she claims that cosmetic surgery offers a means to ease the pain associated with a body that fails to represent the ‘true self’. Davis maintains that cosmetic surgery "allows some women to renegotiate their relationship to their bodies, and through their bodies, to themselves" (p.59). Through this belief Davies shows that cosmetic surgery is not simply about beauty but also a participation in identity formation. Davis also claims that through cosmetic surgery women feel that they are ‘remaking their lives’ thus denying the notion that they had been ‘coerced’ or ‘ideologically manipulated’.
Bordo (1998) and Negrin (2002) have both criticized Davis for over-emphasizing the autonomy of women and choice on the subject of cosmetic surgery. Budgeon (2003) however supports Davis’s work claiming that feminist critics of cosmetic surgery tend to present the body as an object, reflecting the widespread influence of Giddens’s (1991) efforts to conceptualize embodied identity. Budgeon (2003) criticizes Giddens that his view favours the Cartesian dichotomy of the mind/body dualism, giving more importance to the mind over the body. However she claims that Davis’s research shows that "subjectivity and the material body are aspects of the self which are irreducibly linked, such that bodies are never just objects but part of a process of negotiating and re-negotiating self-identity" (Budgeon, 2003, p.45). In this new way of thinking about the body, Budgeon (2003, p.51) shifts from questioning ‘what the body means’ towards an emphasis on what and how the body ‘becomes’ as it connects in a ‘multiplicity of continuous connections with other bodies’.
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