SOC327 2017 Tut7 – Wed 1530

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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20 Comments

  1. In today’s society people modify their bodies to transform themselves into something they want to be seen as or to associate themselves with a particular group, class or lifestyle. This transformation of the body is seen to develop not only the external image of a person, but also the “…inner authenticity” of who they really are (Heyes 2007, p.17). Body transformation is typically seen through, exercising, dieting, investment in beauty products or certain brands of clothing, tattooing, piercing and cosmetic surgery. As can be seen through Jacqui Moore who after her dramatic divorce, covered her body in tattoos. Jacqui’s transformation as she states is to “…symbolise my freedom and the new chapter in my life” (Strohecker 2011). In this way, body modification acts as a coping mechanism for personal or social circumstances, and allows an individual to reach some kind of self-empowerment, self-actualization and change within themselves to become “…the person one always wanted to be” (Heyes 2007, p.28).

    Admiration and envy of others in society also encourages people to modify their bodies. This is often influenced by “…status competition”, with people in lower socioeconomic positions wanting what those in higher social standards have (Wouters 2011, p.266). In turn, driving people to copy others or the media to show they have to same level of “…success or social success in the sense of gaining respect and appreciation” from other people (Wouters 2011, p.279). Highlighting how people endorse envy in today’s society as a means to modify their body, so as to make themselves feel like they have reached a specific standard, or that they have become something others might appreciate or admire.

    People try “…to match impossible standards” as they believe this will give them higher status within society (Heyes 2007, p.17). However, body modification does not encourage individuality or inner authenticity of a person, but enhances the stereotypical bodily ideals of femininity and masculinity.

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  2. Individuals alter their appearance to adhere to social norms, believing it will elevate their status within society. Heyes highlights how body modification has extended from flesh itself (2017 p.20). I live with a physical disability and my condition and abilities are often generalised by individuals in the community. This causes heightened anxiety and in turn I continuously alter my behaviour and clothing choices (e.g. wearing long pants in public to hide my Orthotics) to downplay my disability so I would not be seen as a ‘lower status’ in society.

    It’s difficult to distinguish the feelings surrounding my body modifications. I’m not envious as I don’t view others as undeserving; however, I’m not exactly admiring them either as I am just trying to live my life each day just like anyone would be. The media in particular significantly influences body modification. In my circumstances, there is a lack of diverse representation in the media whereby individuals with a disability are not incorporated into mainstream media and portrayed in a positive light. Speechless is an American television program that aims to diminish these barriers

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  3. I feel as though a lot, if not all, body modification has manifested through social influence. Would Jacqui Moore (Strohecker 2011) have covered her bodies in tattoo’s if her new boyfriend was against body art? This is just one aspect of the social influence of body modification. In this day and age, popular opinion is ‘strong is the new skinny’ – females, and males, follow health influencer’s on a range of social media platforms, and their screaming messages to work out in the gym, eat a healthy diet etc. We are influenced by these people to be look a certain way, and if i wanted, i could modify my body to fit these ideals. After being force fed these ideals, I could be lead to believe that this is what I want. I then may feel envy towards these people, who have the type of body I want.

    Apposing Gordon Clanton’s (2007) where envy epitomises hate and jealousy, I feel the kind of envy we feel may be more aligned with admiration, and wanting what they have, but also appreciating that they may have deserved or done something to look the way they do. This epitomises this admiration type of envy, where deservingness is felt towards the individual. This admiration type of envy is definitely a driver towards an effort to ‘look better’, inferring action (Horne 1981). This may result in a thrill of elevated social status, like we are fitting in with the person or group who influenced these initial thoughts.

  4. Personally, I consider envy and admiration to be key drivers of motivation in terms of ‘looking better’. Often when I see images of fit and toned young women I feel encouraged to eat cleaner, and I find myself feeling more energised to exercise or at least get my body moving. Similarly, at times where I am feeling sluggish and struggling to draw upon internal drivers of motivation to exercise, looking towards ‘fitspo’ images and the bodies of women of which I admire can help in breaking out of my slump. In this sense, I believe body modification in regards to improving one’s health and fitness can be quite empowering.

    However, despite these benefits, I am highly aware that a ‘body-industry’ exists within our society. The success of such an industry is driven and dependent upon body dissatisfaction, and plays upon the insecurities of individuals by encouraging them to embrace envy to advance their social status. So, despite the sense of empowerment which can be sourced from body modification, I agree that the pressure to look ‘good enough’ can be extremely damaging to an individual’s self-esteem.

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  5. Heyes (2007, pp. 21-23) discusses societies fetish with ‘makeover culture’ as individuals attempt to elevate their social status through cosmetic surgery. Mainstream media has contributed to the evolution of a contemporary discourse in which one’s body must be made to represent one’s character as well as conforming to ideals depicted by the elite.

    Heyes (2007, pp. 24-25) discusses qualitative research that questioned women choosing cosmetic surgery many of which often faced negative reactions from family as they faced opposition as ‘disloyal to one’s biological ancestry. This reaction paradoxically lends support to the argument that body modification is entirely self-motivated and primarily a matter of individual choice.

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  6. I think envy can be a useful driver towards seeking the higher status that comes with looking better if used in the right way. If envy is used as a motivator to pursue a healthier lifestyle through better food choices and regular exercise, then the result of a fit and toned body is helping one look the best they can possibly be without surgery. However, problems arise when people are prepared to go under the knife to change what nature has given them. People who decide to undergo cosmetic surgery for vanity will still have the same insecurities on the inside but it will just be focused on another area instead. The underlying issues that made them unhappy with their appearance in the first place will be lingering. When Heyes (2007) talks about “The Makeover” show and how it “is presented as having the capacity to elevate class status” (p. 22) we can see that this representation is deceitful. You cannot forget nor change the past with a quick fix. By changing our bodies on the outside does not erase the inside. Surgery does not change economic status nor the way of life pre-surgery.
    TV programs like “Botched” highlight what can go wrong in the quest for the perfect body. The two Doctors on the show operate on patients whose previous procedures have gone horribly wrong. Many of them have had multiple operations and it seems that enough is never enough. Once they start on the journey they cannot go back. The more they do it the more it becomes normalized to them. It is like an addiction. People have been prepared to go overseas and have surgery in countries with poor hygiene standards as well as underqualified surgeons because they are cheaper, in their bid for perfection. At what cost? Their life is at risk. Is the desire to be envied by others or to seek acceptance in society worth the risk to your life? I do not think so. Changing your hair colour or adding some piercings or tattoos is one thing, but resorting to more extreme actions such as cosmetic surgery seems to be going too far. Accepting who we are allows us to have more tolerance and empathy towards others.
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  7. The consumer society that we live in is constantly encouraging us to compare and consume. Capitalism’s aim of getting individuals to buy more and more has created a society that encourages envy and consequently, consumption. The obsession with altering our bodies has arisen out of the pressure to consume. Heyes (2007) talks about body modification as a way for individuals to elevate their social status. In order to achieve a higher social status, individuals are encouraged to compare, feel envy and consume- buying make-up, buying a workout routine, buying ‘healthy’ food and diet plans, buying tattoos and piercings, buying fashionable clothes, buying cosmetic procedures, ETC. Whilst some argue that envy can be used as motivation to become ‘better’, I would argue that envy is a plague in our society that leaves the individual enslaved to never-ending consumption and feelings of inadequacy.

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  8. Envy is definitely a useful driver towards looking better and seeking a higher status. I believe without envy there wouldn’t be as many people seeking to alter their appearances in order to look better or climb social rankings, instead more people would work on themselves for purely their own desires.

    Modifying our bodies certainly, at least for a little while anyway, gives people joy through elevated social status as people comment on their new looks and how they are looking different and nice today. This would definitely reduce envy as they are finally getting the compliments they worked so hard to receive. It is important to note however, that most body alterations, especially cosmetic surgery ones such as Botox need to be constantly worked on and cost a lot of money to receive.

    I personally don’t think there is a body-industry that helps us conflate authenticity and status. There are many groups, books and organisations that promote self-love and loving yourself for who you are but I don’t think these match up to the same status you get when you alter your body to fit in more. In self-love situations you gain status in a more personal way, you become happy within yourself resulting in caring less about what others have to say. You are less likely to gain status socially in these situations, perhaps there would be a little gain as your confidence grew but not as much as others around you would be seeking.

    The body-industry and the media are constantly telling us what the perfect body should look like. Society takes this information and enforces it, excluding people who don’t adapt to how we’re told to look. The media and body-industry are constantly throwing in our faces skinny, photoshopped models and telling us they’re beautiful and that’s how we need to look in order to beautiful, it is something that happens everyday.

    We are told that if people do not fit to these unrealistic expectations we aren’t good enough, we aren’t pretty, beautiful, handsome or sexy, we are in fact the opposite. There is a spectrum from beautiful to ugly and where you fit on this spectrum determines how you are treated by others.

    Amy Schumer is a celebrity who fights against these issues through her comedic routines. She is considered to be fat in Hollywood and in the realm of celebrities so she uses this to her advantage to confront issues that many are afraid to publicly address. She highlights the stupidity surrounding wanting to look better for the approval of other people and highlights the importance of being comfortable in your own skin as who you are.

    In saying this, if you are unhappy with how you look change yourself for yourself not because someone else is telling you to.

  9. In Western societies of the 21st century body modification, at least to a degree, is very commonplace. Such modification can be primarily seen amongst women, although this does not mean men are not a part of the modification process. In fact body modification is becoming such common practice that it is even practiced by parents on their young children. For example, it is now common to see infants with pierced ears, a form of body modification. Arguably body modification can be seen all around us, reflected by tattoos, piercings, makeup, hair removal and, to a degree, even fitness. In fact I argue that body modification has become such a significant factor in our daily lives, that to not reflect aspects of such modification (i.e. to have hairy legs) would be meet with more judgment and apprehension than would an individual who had significantly modified their person.

    Cressida Heyes (cited in Patulny 2017) argues that such modifications are undergone in an attempt to transform ones body in order to reflect their inner self, which consequently corresponds with socially proscribed standards. With this line of argument I partially disagree, whilst some cases of modification may be undergone to achieve ‘inner-authenticity’ I do not believe that all body modification is undergone with this intent. Rather, I believe that some forms of body modification is undergone in order to elevate ones social status, or in an attempt to comply with socially established norms (Heyes 2007). Such norms, in my opinion, are established and reinforced to a significant degree by the media (Heyes 2007). One only needs to briefly browse social media platforms to be confronted with the significant degree to which we are encouraged to modify our bodies. Such sites further reinforce the notion that body modification is in itself the norm, and further reflects the idealisation of individuals who fit within these norms.

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  10. In the western society ones appearance seems to portray an image to what social group they belong to, people alter their bodies to conform and to feel good about themselves, but i believe it is also conforming to ones social group. There is envy associated with wanting to have a certain body image but not being able to achieve that goal, once seeing the perfect body image on another image it becomes envious.

    It is almost socially acceptable to feel envy about an individual having the idealistic body image, i often hear (mainly female) relating to another person like ” i hate her she has the best body” or best hair, best clothing etc, often people would agree and say they hate that individual. Although they are not being serious when they say they hate that individual, it shows that it is becoming socially acceptable to feel envious/jealous of others body image.

  11. The society we live in today is highly consumerist and the pursuit of “more”. We are bombarded with images and messages of what we can do to achieve happiness and be the best versions of ourselves. We make changes to ourselves to achieve such goals but does it always achieve the initial goals we first make or are there underlying issues and emotions at play that we don’t recognise or refuse to acknowledge. Envy can be an emotion that does drive our motivations to want to be better and have something that someone else has, does or is. It is an emotion that can motivate us to be more but it is also seen as a negative emotion which can be harmful to us. For example, being envious of someone else and obsessive in becoming more like someone else we admire and want to be like. Wanting something that we don’t have but someone else does. Does it then affect us in being our authentic selves rather just being an imitation of another because we are wanting something that someone else has. We would have to consider the other drivers that motivate these decisions.

    Society has given us so many avenues in how we can change ourselves if we don’t like what we see in the mirror and don’t conform to the norms of what society upholds. The images of what we are told we need to be in order to achieve higher status shows health, well-being and looking good will get you there. The lengths of what people will do and spend in pursuit of looking good and elevating their status has grown but at what cost to their own well-being. Does it work? I guess for some it will but what happens to those who it doesn’t. Society sets these unrealistic expectations on what we should look like in order to become more and we reinforce these expectations by how we treat and judge ourselves and each other when we don’t meet those expectations and norms.

    The notion of body modification within our society has become normalised which involves society engaging in various procedures to change how we were born in order to fit into the expectations of society. They range from minor things such as waxing our legs to more permanent and invasive procedures like cosmetic surgery. Hayes (2006) discusses these very notions

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  12. Envy of body image appears to becoming even more predominant in our society. Everyday teenagers and young adults are bombarded by images on Instagram of models and celebrities with “inspo” lives.
    More and more young women are getting lip injections like teen idol Kylie Jenner. This is an example of what Heyes calls socially prescribed but is supposably meant to express an individual’s inner-authenticity.

  13. During this lecture, we learnt about body makeovers. Heyes argues that body modification focuses on transforming into a “better” version of the self (Heyes 2007, p. 18). Wouters argues that we alter our bodies when we strive for popularity (Wouters 2011, p. 279). #S327UOW17#Tut7#Wed1530

  14. Individual’s participation and involvement with body modification seems to be increasingly more common in the later generations. Body modification can be found in many different forms such as, piercings, tattoos, styling of clothing, haircut/style, makeup, hair removal etc. In the reading presented by Heyes (2007) the idea of the ‘Makeover Culture’ being heavily present within todays society with its main following from women, evidently we can see that the idea of constantly being better is at the top of many individuals lives whether they realize or not.

    With constant media outburst, unrealistic images of the “everyday” body are invading both men and women’s minds, making them believe that what they have isn’t what it should be. This unhealthy expectation is leading to severe cases of eating disorders and other mental illnesses such as depression. However, envy is also a key driver for being a healthier, fitter and happier person, whether it be a minimal change or a drastic change to an individual, certain elements being altered can create a world of difference.

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  15. Heyes highlights the “connection between the inner character and the outer body in contemporary culture” (Heyes, 2007, p.18). Perhaps this harmonious connection is fundamental for individuals to accept their how they look and feel about their bodies. Perhaps it is also the discrepancy between the two that influences the way an individual evaluates themselves and admires or envies the bodies or looks of others around them. As Clanton contends, the influence of our emotions is shaped through private experiences that are “embedded in history, culture and social structure” (Clanton, 2007, p.410). As experiences are shaped by society, Foucault theorises the nature for individuals to “measure and enforce conformability at the same time as they generate modes of individuality” (Heyes, 2007, p.17). This is made possible through various modes of body modification.

  16. Envy can be a driver for wanting to look or be seen is a particular way. Hayes argues that cosmetic televisual makeover shows make people believe that by recreating the outside they can essential recreate the inside. I think this is an entirely deluded way of thinking. You cannot fix the inside by simply changing the outside.

  17. Envy can play a part in peoples motivation to modify their bodies but I am unsure if it will eventuate into anything more than more envy.

    Hayes discusses cosmetic televisual makeovers, and how people are choosing to makeover the outside in an effort to improve the inside. In my experience you cannot fix a emotional issue by simply altering the physical. I have personally experienced cosmetic surgery and the after effects of it not changing what I thought it would. I have also had many friends alter their bodies in ways that are irreversible and who now have to learn to live with a new version of themselves, none of them were able to change what they were feeling, on the inside, long term.

    Most of us have identified that we work in a service industry, sadly its not always the best person that gets hired for a job but often the best looking person that gets hired. I have gone to many different lengths to alter my body in order to obtain a job or promotion. Its only as Ive gotten older that i have realised that it what i wear and how i look doesn’t impact the way I perform my role. I recall being told if i was to join a specific team I would need to find out which surgeon the girls were using on that team to get their fillers and Botox. Sadly, I think that society does expect us to look a particular way and if you dont conform you need to somehow make up for it by working even harder to ‘compensate’ not fitting in.

  18. Wouters identifies how present competition is within society and how there is a linkage of this status competition to how we behave and alter our bodies (2011). The ways we modify ourselves can be seen to adhere to these social aspects in order to manage how we feel towards not only ourselves, but also to manage how we feel towards everyone else. We buy things or we change how we look to extend social meaning and our place in society.
    It is interesting to look at how social media exemplifies this management of emotion concerning the body. For example, Instagram is a tool utilised to show streams of images and videos of people’s lives. It has become so much about competition and the emotions linked to this (for example: admiration and envy), that Instagram is now a marketing tool pushing consumerism. Every celebrity or person with a large following has the power to invoke the social forces Wouters alludes to; a propelling of status competition and the altering of bodies based on this social influence. Everyday users or those deemed socially below the celebrities aim to be like the celebrities. They feed into the products, lifestyle, images, and so on that are showcased on Instagram, thus pushing social competition.

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  19. From a young age, children laugh at other people who are fat and bullying is extremely popular in schools, more than in work places. Students tend to insult there class mates by calling them fat or ugly. This is a vision created by the modern society. By watching movies or advertisements on TV that always present people as being beautiful and classy, Hayes states that it automatically changes the human mind and makes them view cosmetic surgery as an option to make themselves more presentable in society. Cosmetic surgery also brings about hatred for others as being celebrities and people also receive a lot of backlash and are mocked by others. Personally, I feel that men and women need to understand that it is only the industries promoting plastic surgery and other pharmaceutical companies that are making a profit out of people’s feelings. A person should learn to love themselves and not focus on what society views them to be. Currently, from teenagers to adults, many people get lip jobs, breast implantations and a lot of other surgeries, without bothering to think if it has any side effects in the future. However, a lot of people state that body modifications has brought them a lot of positive changes in life, like new friends and popularity. Hence, it is each person’s private wish, if they wish to do body modification or not.

  20. Body modification trends come and go depending on various reasons, and we generally see a new piercing, tattoo, or hair cut/colour because a celebrity got it and was reported on it. What makes us regular people want to do it is so that we can emulate their new look and go along with the trend so as to not fall out of the loop from the rest of society that are also doing it. In saying that however, too many people jumping on the bandwagon makes the trend because a stereotype of old, hence it also encourages people to not follow this trend of body modification. Similarly, television shows such as The Biggest Loser is an emotionally damaging way of encouraging people to exercise because it displays the rawness and difficulty of people going through the process, just for entertainment to the audience.

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