SOC327 2017 Tut7 – Mon 1330

Have you ever wanted to change how you look? Perhaps you’ve admired the way someone else looks – or the way certain types of people in general can look – and it’s something you want to try, or experiment with? Not just in terms of how you dress, but how you might alter your body? For example, a lot of people exercise and work out to make their bodies look and feel healthier, and some argue that tattoos and piercings help people express difficult individual feelings in a uniquely public way. Some people undertake cosmetic surgery in order look different – younger, slimmer, tighter, bigger, or just to adjust certain features of face or body – so they can feel ‘more like the person they were always meant to be’. For them, body modification is an expression of individuality and authenticity.

However, an important question is just how unique are these looks and feelings to us as individuals? Do we work out, tattoo, pierce, or undergo surgery to look more like our real, genuine selves? Or to look more like how we think others want us to look – and will admire us for looking – which often makes us look like everyone else?

Admiration is not the only emotional motive for changing our bodies. Many of us worry about the way our bodies look. Sometimes we feel pressure and anxiety to fit in and look ‘good enough’, and sometimes we might even be driven to copy or look better than someone else through a sense of low status or envy. Gordon Clanton argues that if you find yourself “thinking the other does not deserve the good fortune or wishing that the other would lose his or her advantage or otherwise suffer, that is a measure of your envy”. Have you ever thought that someone you know has it too easy because they are just lucky enough to be good-looking? If you told someone else about your feeling of envy, what would be the most likely response – would they agree, would they tell you off for being ‘too envious,’ or would they encourage to ‘embrace your envy,’ and work harder to look better? Cas Wouters argues that as a society we are becoming increasingly competitive over status, and the management of emotions is a key part of this. Do we modify our bodies to manage our envy?

These ideas raise important sociological questions. Is envy a useful driver towards seeking the higher status that comes with ‘looking better’? Do modified bodies bring us the joy of authenticity, or the thrill of elevated social status (and the relief of reduced envy?) Is there a body-industry out there helping us to conflate authenticity and status? How much is society, the media, and the body-industry telling us – and selling us on – how to look? And how to treat others based on how they look?

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  1. Admiration can have constructive effects on body-image through positive encouragement to become the best versions of ourselves we can be. Envy on the other hand is a destructive driving force, which leads individuals to adopt an array of unhealthy habits to conform to societal standards, or their perceived notion of the “perfect look.” Envy causes impressionable individuals to make drastic changes to their body, to fit the moulds society has sold us on how we should look. Society, the media and the body-industry are consistently promoting the perfect body types and encouraging others to conform. Society in general, perceives skinny women and muscly, built men as the essence of health. The body-industry buys into these claims, with advertising displaying people who have these qualities, whilst encouraging their cliental to participate in fast-tracked, health regimes so they can look ‘just like them’ over a certain period. The media also adds to this negative environment, by over-analysing celebrities, and highlighting their features and flaws as guidelines for society to follow. It is the emotion of envy that causes individuals to comply and alter their bodies to “match impossible standards” as highlighted by Cressida Heyes (2006), and we acknowledge these changes as “externalizing an inner authenticity” which is often just a reflection of who we think society wants us to be.

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    • I agree with Sophie, in that admiration of others can provide individual goals to set and achieve to better oneself. We can always strive to be living a healthier and happier and life, and using others as models can be a form of that positive reinforcement which proves that this is, in fact, achievable. For example, I believe the influence of social media in the last decade has encouraged an era of fitness and health blogging, which in-turn draws attention to particular healthy habits. The knowledge of these habits have not only become more accessible, but to partake in them is quickly becoming a popular social trend. Thus, a positive influence. On the other hand, once envy becomes the main motivator for such ‘ideal, healthy habits’ it creates negative perceptions on how we see ourselves in the present, rather than providing a positive scaffold for what we can achieve in the future. From here stems feelings of decreased self-worth and self-esteem on our current body image, which often deters our motivation and inspiration of a better profile all together.

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  2. People would modify their bodies for a variety of reasons, whether this be due to envy, admiration or social norms is dependent on the individual. I believe that envy can be useful for some individuals to drive toward that higher status, but I worry that envy could make them become too critical about themselves and cause negative outcomes. Body modification tends to bring people joy of empowerment yet at the same time the media is attempting to sell an unobtainable body image. I think this causes people to never be truly happy with their bodies as they always have the “ideal” to compare to.

  3. Envy is a negative emotion, and when oriented to a thing or a certain quality an unhealthy desire can occur. I think that envy can be taken to too far. Eating healthy and exercising and modifying the body to be healthier is positive step, but obsession can take over and a vicious cycle of body shame and competition can occur. In this instance, society and the media can control people’s opinions on how to look. Heyes (2006) explores this further, and recognises the role of the media in normalizing judgment against people’s flaws, in relation to cosmetic surgery. The show’s aim to revolutionize people’s appearance, but they also claim to ‘transform lives’ as well, further instilling this association between looking a certain way, and being happy. I think people modify their bodies to manage envy, and I think the body industry is selling it to us.
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  4. I can admit to feeling envious of someone else’s looks, but I cannot say that I wished them ill will because of that. I’m not sure how productive those thoughts would be, as there will always seemingly be someone more thin, more beautiful or more wealthy. Perhaps it is as Sophie and Georgia said above, and what I feel is admiration and not envy. There is a short video on youtube ( that looks at the differences and why envy can lower self- confidence.

  5. From a young age we are exposed to ‘ideal bodies’ from magazine to television shows. And even when we are older, and can acknowledge such unattainable ideals, we still contribute to the never-ending cycle of status and envy. One way is through, social media which is now is a fundamental part of life, and a person’s identity in western culture. I also believe that social media perpetuates Heyes’ idea that “how we look has become more, not less, important to how we understand ourselves” (p. 18). Facebook and Instagram, feed into the culture of competition, and make envy possible in all domains of public and private life. Social media rarely provides an authentic representation of a person and even if we endeavour to be honest and open about our bodies and ourselves, it is often impossible to see past the phone screen.

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    • I agree with your point regarding social media enabling the culture of competition and making envy possible in all domains of public and private life. So much of our lives are technologically mediated (with many of us having a technological device within arms reach at all times), and thus ‘ideal’ of how we ‘should look’ follows us everywhere. The ‘ideal’ we compare ourselves now has the possibility to follow us like a shadow due to the prosthetic nature of devices.

  6. I agree with Ashleigh; Body modification will occur whether you envy or admire someone. Envy can be a very damaging attribute to have, it instils negativity in you and the people around you. Compared to admiration, that promotes positivity and motivation. Social media plays a vital role in endorsing envy. Form a young age beautiful people are placed throughout magazines, billboard and TV etc. Our drive to be like these photos and advertisings implant the envy inside and promotes body modification around the world. People don’t understand that the companies and celebrities that are posting such content are touching the photos up, producing a false reality that were compare ourselves to.
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  7. The various questions raised by this blog post all link I feel to one central response within individuals, and that is a constant cycle of envy and modification followed by a temporary reprieve of satisfaction, before the cycle begins again. The body building industry for example, and those who partake in the subculture, often follow this path, and rarely will individuals be able to settle with their appearance. The fact that steroids, insulin injection and other potentially dangerous pursuits are often considered acceptable displays the enormous societal pressure, as well as our own envy, to obtain a largely hegemonic standard of beauty and status

  8. People modify their bodies for a number of reasons such as admiration and envy. Envy can be useful as an incentive for some to push themselves to be the best version of themselves, however, it can have negatives effects leading to serious disorders such as body dysmorphia. Body modification can empower individuals; however, this becomes dangerous when an unobtainable, extreme body image is depicted in the media. It can lead many to become so unhappy with themselves when they are constantly comparing themselves to a Victoria Secret model or body builder type. As a young female easily influenced by popular culture, I can admit to feeling envious of someone else’s looks, oh how I wish I was born a blonde, however, I cannot say that I have ever wished bad things upon someone for that.

  9. Magazine headlines constantly scream out to readers on how best to modify and change your body in order to achieve that desired perfect form. As an adult, these images feed into the negative and envious thought processes a person has, increasing the likelihood that body modification procedures will be considered. The perfect image which is presented to us within the public sphere, suggests a level of status which will be achieved when this form is attained. What this leads to, is this constant cycle of envy and modification, particularly as new trends and styles dominate the market thereby preventing an individual from achieving this stylised image. This cycle is one which will be constantly prevalent in society particularly when envy is a dominant emotion and individuals aren’t identikit versions of each other.

  10. Until we give up technology/all media we cannot escape being told (or sold) to look. Even still, as human we will compare ourselves to others. The media is ruthless is criticising celebrities in their appearance, in a sense nothing can ever be good enough to the extent even photoshopping images is frowned upon even when it present the ‘ideal’. Whether envy or admiration, once an ‘ideal’ is achieved with this mean satisfaction, or will the cycle continue in order to be ‘better than before’?.

  11. Envy can be portrayed as a negative emotion in association to a certain idea or unhealthy desire. However I believe that admiration has the potential to be useful emotion, as individuals can use this driving force for positive, by turning it into motivation. For example an individual has the potential to change the way they look or behave in a positive way. Social media in today’s society, is an era of fitness and health, with knowledge we are able to follow and achieve this goal.

  12. People modify their bodies for any number of reasons; I think it can stem from any number of things including admiration, envy and jealousy. Every day we are exposed to hundreds of media outlets, social media, magazines, advertisements, television etc. We told what which look is popular and the different ways we can modify our bodies to achieve it, from getting a haircut to cosmetic surgery. I don’t really think the modifications we see every day are unique; we’re simply following whatever ‘trend’ is in, trying to make ourselves look like the people we admire. I agree with Gordon Clanton’s statement about envy, and I think that is what drives our desire to change how we look. We see someone on the cover of a magazine or a photo on Instagram and we wish we had their hair or their nose, so we go out and modify our bodies.
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  13. I feel that when I was younger, say younger teens, I did want to change how I looked a lot more than I do now. Looking back on it I would say that envy also did play a small roll in wanting to change this, like being envious of those ‘popular girls’, but I never thought that because I didn’t have what they did, that they didn’t deserve to have it either.
    In modern society I think the idea to be envious of those ‘better than you’ is kind of pushed onto society through social media, and magazines, so it might be hard to move away from modification through envy.

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  14. While I’ll admit to being envious of others at times, I have never wished suffering or disadvantage upon them. In most instances of envy, the effort, time, and commitment put into ‘enviable’ bodies and appearances is clearly evident and therefore they have earnt their status. I believe that envy can act as an effective driver for physical modifications or improvements, and that one may feel a sense of higher status, or esteem, as a result of this change. The risk in this is that one may never reach their ideal, or desired, physical appearance which can lead to negative outcomes such as depression. These negative consequences are promoted by the media’s portrayal of a desirable, and more often than not unrealistic, body. Due to increased accessibility to social media in recent years, these social ideals are never more than a room away, increasing the likelihood that one experiences envy or a sense of not being ‘good enough’.

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  15. In my opinion, envy and admiration are neither inherently good or bad as motivators. It depends on the individual and how they use them. For example, they can drive someone to lose weight healthily. Personally, I found both of them as useful motivators during my weight loss. Alternatively, they can be negative and lead to extreme actions such as deliberate starvation due to societal pressures telling us how to look. For example, social media (e.g Tumblr) can be used as a tool to achieve this through joining ‘pro ana’ and ‘pro mia’ groups that will act as a form of surveillance. Therefore, I would suggest individuals may modify their bodies to manage envy however the implications of this are circumstantial.

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  16. I believe that most people are taught to see, or perhaps physically display that envy, wishing that someone of a higher advantage would lose something is negative due to social norms such as historical sins and rules.
    In terms of body modification there is a possibility that envy could be a more power motivating emotion that admiration – for example someone wishing to get plastic surgery may also consider the body modification as usurping someone who is deemed more desirable or attractive. Reaching this goal may reduce the amount of envy a person may feel for a time suggests that body modification could be a way of venting or managing the emotion.
    Society seems to feature a body modification industry shown through TV weight loss gimmicks, gym junky cultures, sports drinks to even fashion magazines and advertisements across media that display an idealized body.

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  17. The Body project at Bradley University state
    as “Bodies are a product of culture – that all cultures around the world shape or reshape human bodies. With the reasons for doing so being: Conforming to the ideas of beauty, marking a membership of a group, marking social status, and to convey information about an individual’s personal qualities or accomplishments. They also state “People may seek to control, “correct” or “perfect” some aspect of their appearance, or to use their bodies as a canvas for creative self-expression. While some seek to improve their body-image, this is not necessarily a motivating factor for everyone who engages in body modification”.”
    Heyes states “Improved appearance clearly has, both historically and now, a complex psychic resonance and cultural symbolism…”
    We are often exposed to social and cultural norms that seek out every person and encourages the modification of individuals. Some people say they do not feel they conform or modify due to envy or the sheer popularity of something. But if tattooing (for example) did not exist, would ” the average of 45 million American’s actually have a tattoo?”
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  18. Body image has become one of the most talked about topics in the last few years. Steadily as a society, there are many who are leaning away from the idealisation of what has become the “perfect body” and there has been more of a push to accept ones own body as it is. However, there is still an incredible amount of imagery of this so called “perfect body” and it is often pushed on young girls earlier than it has ever before. This has created an environment wherein young girls are experiencing these feelings of envy and jealousy towards others’ bodies from an increasingly young age.

    From ear piercing to lip fillers, we are still told that certain things are more desirable than others and that we should strive for these things. The body modification industry is still as prolific as it ever has been, and with the use of social media, it has in many cases increased in popularity. Teeth whiteners, waist trainers, “fitspo”, skinny teas, the list goes on, all of these things and many others are being pushed on us unrelentingly every day. We are told that we need these things in order to look this way of be this way, and this in turn increases a separation of the haves and have nots. Despite the move towards acceptance of ourselves and of others, this societal value of body modification continues to flourish.

  19. The reasons behind an individual’s choice to modify their body is often influenced by many factors, which envy appears to play a large role in. Changes made to the body can be a way to achieve higher social status, as there appears to be certain ways that society has deemed appropriate in making someone look more attractive or desirable. Our society seems to gravitate around achieving the “perfect body”, from fad diets to plastic surgery. Although our culture often views people who modify their body as individuals following the current trends or out of envy for others, it is forgotten that some people undergo changes for the benefit of their own health i.e. getting braces to stop future tooth decay, rather than just for a straight smile.

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