SOC327 2017 Tut7 – Thu 1030

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?

#S327UOW17 #Tut7 #Thu1030

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  1. Everyday we see the constant obsession women have with wanting to look perfect. Makeup, which is a tool to enhance and transform the face of a woman has the ability to hide one’s appearance. Makeup is believed to expand on one’s confidence and feeling of empowerment; according to the Roman playwright Plautus, “a woman without paint is like food without salt.”
    The need and want to wear cosmetics can have a negative effect and it is very apparent in today’s society, as women are becoming evidently more uncomfortable or insecure without concealing their face by painting on another.
    My obsession with makeup is different to other girls, my obsession isn’t with wearing it or buying the newest cosmetics. I’m obsessed with uncovering why we preach natural beauty and inner beauty yet we don’t practice them. The Issue of makeup obsession came to my attention after having a conversation with one of my close girl friends about makeup and her mother’s influence on her need for constant grooming. From an early age, she grew up admiring her mothers’ constant perfect look. Her mother would never leave the house unless she was looking her best. Her mothers’ advice for my friend was to act the same. Her mother would stop her at the front door if she wasn’t wearing makeup and tell her to go look presentable, and would tell her that if she didn’t wear makeup boys wouldn’t like her. To me, this is horrible. Not only telling her to look presentable but for the purpose of her presentation to attract male attention. This conditioning by her mother has now impacted her to believe that unless she wears makeup and is socially ‘presentable’ males will not see her as beautiful. Absolutely horrified, I brought it up with another friend, and she told me that her mother has told her similar things as well whilst growing up. Why would their mothers’ want to teach them to hide under ‘fake’ looks? Where is the emphasises on focusing on inner beauty or in the least, make them become women that dress for themselves, not for society, and especially for the hope of attracting the opposite sex.

    • I am totally agreeing with your opinion. Reading your comment reminds me of my country and my culture. I was brought up in a third world country with different beliefs and values to a first world country like Australia. Interestingly I found your friend’s mother very similar to the majority of women in my country. Attract male attention! This is the main reason that my country’s women try to look perfect by wearing makeup, having noise job and other beauty surgeries and etc. In my culture mothers always tell their daughters to look beautiful by wearing makeup, especially when they go out. Their argument is that if you do not look beautiful, no man wants you and so you will not have a husband to support you financially. Therefore, girls learn that by wearing more makeup, they look more presentable and beautiful so they can attract wealthier male. The reason behind this culture is that women cannot be independent financially because they cannot work and earn sufficient amount of money in a third world country. So, they are dependant to male money-wise. Basically, even though women want to work and become independent they still need to attract male attention in order to be employed. This is because the business owners only see the body and the beauty of a woman not her knowledge and qualification. I, as a girl who was grown up in this culture, still wear makeup every single time I go out, even though I know I can be easily independent financially without the male support. Also, I am not wearing makeup to attract male attention or to be employed. I think I wear makeup because I am scared of showing my natural look, I am scared if I don’t look beautiful in the society. This is because I was taught that the beauty is in wearing makeup and having fake looks.

  2. the way we choose to modify our bodies is a form of outward expression based off of how we perceive ourselves, and the way we would like others to perceive us. I do not necessarily think an individuals desire for, let’s say, a better body is rooted in envy on the basis of wishing other people are not deserving of the body you want. I moreso believe the emotional motive for ‘changing our bodies’ lies in our innate sense to compete with others. From a biological perspective, survival has always been about competition – in order to survive you must outcompete your competitors. Since we no longer have to compete with each other for food and territory like we used to, competition in society today has been set towards other – superficial – forms in order to covey that you are better than others, such as: have a better body than your peers, driving a better car then your peers etc. Because of this, society has taken a shift towards being individualistic rather than collectivistic. Much of what drives individuals to compete with others is to be better than them; the problem with this is that competition is no longer based off of survival so it skews with what is actually important in life in order to survive and be happy – mental and physical health, healthy living environment, strong social bonds, strong sense of spirituality etc.

  3. I think we would all agree that there are many parties in our society that have a financial interest in enhancing feelings of envy. For example, the dietary supplement industry depends on convincing us that we’re not good enough as we are. Hayes (2006) is spot on about the media being complicit in normalising judgement and maintaining a power imbalance between people who have the resources or genetic good fortune to conform to norms and those who don’t.

    That said, I believe that most people would modify their bodies for their own personal satisfaction, rather than to conform to societal norms, though it’s been interesting to see how mainstream and almost trite tattoos have become in my lifetime.

  4. In regard to the questions of do we improve on ourselves (tattoos, exercise, surgery) to present our genuine self or to conform so we gain admiration are interesting questions when considered. I feel for me personally that it is a combination of both, but one out ways the other generally. I exercise to keep fit and it helps me to manage the stress of life more than I do it to try to impress people, but when I get a compliment it is nice. I had not heard of the term normalisation until this lecture/reading and Heyes raises and interesting point in relation to normalisation. Societies standards constrain people into conformity whereas at the same time enables us to remain subjective. I myself conform to societies standards everyday, but I like to think that I am subjective about it at the same time.

  5. Parts of our society are built up upon prescribing to certain ideas of beauty or general physical attractiveness. Beauty and cosmetic products, fashion, dieting fads and magazines promise to make us these things and rely on insecurities for economic gain. Using models for these products that have been digitally enhanced with photoshop can provide unrealistic expectations for consumers who have insecurities of being unable to achieve such physical looks.
    Everybody deserves the right and autonomy to present themselves in the way that makes them happy with themselves. People want to make changes within themselves in order to achieve personal satisfaction, however this can be due to the societal norms of what is perceived as physically acceptable and presentable within media, age demographics and culture.


  6. Cas Wouters raises an interesting point about managing our envy through body modifications. For instance: if we see someone we admire with a certain tattoo, and we get the tattoo, we might feel more admirable of ourselves as a result. It all depends what and who we choose to associate beauty with. I believe that we do modify our bodies to become closer to our authentic selves (which can be seen with those who choose to undergo reassignment surgeries in extreme cases). I think art and creativity also have strong influences on body modifications and what an individual believes to be visually aesthetically pleasing will dictate their choices.

  7. The very fact that makeup has been around for thousands of years all across the globe shows that this desire to control and modify our appearance has naturally existed throughout humanity for a long time. In modern times we see it mainly as a common practice for females, but the use of makeup among males was not uncommon throughout different periods of history. Modern day culture also sees an increase in women comparing themselves to other women, who in the public eye and the media often appear presenting unachievable standards of appearance, aided with the use of technology to edit and airbrush. With the makeup and clothing trends that emerge and are perpetuated by celebrities and the media each year, people tend to appear the same as one another. I find this interesting as many people cite the use of makeup and fashion as ways to express their personality and individuality. I think more permanent forms of body modification such as piercings and tattoos are moreso used for this purpose, but nor have these practices escaped trends and popularity in many ways.

    In relation to the question posed, I do not think that body modification is undertaken in a response to envy. Makeup and cosmetic surgery can be empowering and confidence building for many women, and can certainly be used solely for personal reasons and not in response to other people or feelings of envy. Just as the refusal to partake in fashion trends can be a statement of individuality, other aspects of appearance can as well. Despite its ability to be personally empowering, I do think that the body modification, the media, and the beauty industry need to be careful with the expectations that are felt by many men and women, as these can be detrimental.

  8. The media and body-image industry play a major role in the current societal values that determine the “acceptable” body image. We are constantly bombarded by visual and verbal stimulus pertaining to what is a good body and bad body. We subconsciously internalize these messages, either striving to perfect this mould or feeling we are abnormal or different. My example for this would be this obsession (especially with young females) with weight. At this present time, majority of advertisements in the body image world are situated around skinniness. There are pills, powders and programs designed to promote the skinny body. Ironically, in the Renaissance, being “fat” showed power and wealth. I think/hope this will eventually again shift in the future.

  9. I think the question of whether we modify ourselves in order to look more like our genuine selves or to look more like how think others want us to look is a hard question to answer. I believe that people primarily modify themselves as a way of increasing their self-esteem and personal satisfaction with how they look. Heyes (2007) alluded to this idea, as he suggested that body modification is about self-transformation. However, that being said, the reason that they might believe this will increase their self-esteem is based on their understanding and socialisation of societies expectations on ‘beauty’.

    While Heyes (2007) discusses the idea of a genre of ‘televisual’ cosmetic make-overs with make-over shows dominating this media platform, I think nowadays a new genre has emerged, with the rise of ‘beauty gurus’ on social media sits such as YouTube. These beauty YouTubers get paid to film makeup tutorials and promote brands to audiences to teach them how to engage in this ‘self-transformation’. This means that individuals are exposed to these ideas about society’s expectations and body modification more than ever, which can have a number of consequences. As a result of this, I would definitely agree with Heyes (2007) that makeover culture has become a major fetish in Western Culture in recent years and we can see this with the rise of ‘beauty gurus’ on social media sites.

  10. Dangerously promoting masculine & feminine stereotypes, i.e. ‘macho’ & powerful male: #S327UOW17 #Tut8 #Thurs1030
    Contemporary discourse regarding bodies, and body image, reflects the notion that “one’s body must be made to represent one’s character” (Heyes 2017, p. 17). This may be equally damaging for both men and women, although I would argue that male body image issues have a greater negative impact on our society partly due to their invisibility. That is not to reject the notion of female body stereotypes as being equally, if not more, damaging to female physical and emotional health. However, as seen in the article on steroids, male body image issues are often left undetected. The male body has become a greater symbol of strength and power, and it is worth questioning whether the rise of the female ‘fitspo’ slogans such as ‘strong is the new sexy’ are a further attempt at protecting weak and fragile femininity and increasing agility and speed against the new male attacker?

    Heyes, CJ 2007, ‘Cosmetic Surgery and the Televisual Makeover’, Feminist Media Studies, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 17 – 32.

  11. The media is quite saturated with ideas of what men and woman should aspire to look like. I wouldn’t say envy is the only thing that makes people want their appearance to change, but it is a contributing factor. We often see celebrities online flaunting ‘bikini bodies’ and diet fads they’re getting paid to endorse. As we view these people as having a high social status, what they do, say and look like is likely going to influence our society in someway or another. Pride is also a contributing factor. Many pride themselves on living up to social standards of beauty, the diet fad profits highly from these people, as a lot of them will do anything to fit into what society wants them to be.
    #S327UOW17 #Tut7 #Thu1030

  12. Globalisation and consumer culture feeds our obsession with individuality. From tattoos and piercings, to cosmetic surgery or steroids; the market provides the means to express our individuality and authenticity. In doing so, it normalises the aesthetic evaluation of others relative to ourselves. This goes some way to explaining why we torture ourselves over our physical appearance. #SOC327UOW17 #Tut7 #Thu1030

  13. The action of modifying ones body has different intentions for different individuals. Some aim to ‘look better’ with the intention of elevating their social status as well as the hopes of raising their class status through modifying how they are perceived by the general public.

    On the other hand, some individuals may aim to be more individualized. They may aim to be more authentic in the sense that they receive the body modifications that allow them to further express themselves.

    The idea of a ‘perfect body’ is an idea that has been pushed hard in the past by the media, resulting in body image issues. In more recent times there has been a bit of a turn around, with more focus on body acceptance. However, this appears to only be as a result of the public outcry that resulted from pushing an unrealistic ideal of a ‘perfect body’.

    I agree with Wouters’ statement regarding the increasingly competitive nature of society and status. I would go on further to agree that some individuals are modifying their bodies to manage their envy, as some are doing it with the purpose of elevating their social status.

  14. We all modify our bodies in some form. It is interesting to note that society deems some ‘extreme’ body modifications as ‘disgusting’, whilst others are more accepted. In some cases, envy is a driver for these changes. Wouters (1991, pp. 921) is right in saying emotion management enables us to “admit (violent and sexual) emotions and impulses,” including controlling our envy through modification of the body.

    Some individuals may seek body modification to make themselves appear more beautiful and thus climb up a social class ladder. I agree with student blogger James Boland (2017) and Cressida J. Heyes (2007) that others may transform themselves to physically present an internal state of mind. It is evident the media industry presents cultural and social norms of beauty. As pointed out by Heyes (2007, pp. 17-18), television presents cosmetic surgery as a life-changing beautification process but often these programs do not portray the side effects or consequences on the physical or mental state. This raises the question of whether we can ever be entirely pleased with our modified authentic bodies.

  15. Like most things in sociology it is too broad and there is too many variables as to why people part take in body modification. For some males, tattoos are about a display of masculinity and that is not to say there is anything wrong with that. Just as much, for some females body modifications are a way of showing femininity. I think if this is a way people express themselves in terms of beauty or any other reason then it is nothing but authentic.

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