SOC327 2017 Tut7 – Wed 1730

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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17 Comments

  1. As Wouters discusses, individuals have developed this obsession which is linked to the ideas of being popular or having the need to be liked by other individuals within society. (Wouters 2011, p. 279) Society and Media tell us and sell us the ways in which our bodies should look. We often have this admiration of other individuals who are considered ‘beautiful’ within society, but we also envy them and wish for them to lose what they have. (Patulny 2017) An example of this is the show ‘extreme makeover’, where men and women undergo plastic surgery to regain their youthful appearance and are transformed into societies definition of Heterosexual, masculine and feminine ‘beauty’. (Heyes 2007, p. 21).

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  2. Whilst there is a fine line between envy and admiration, engaging in comparisons between our own bodies and our peers might encourage positive action to become a better version of ourselves, or at least representative of our inner authentic selves (Heyes). Our impressions of people should not be solely determined by appearance, however, it is undeniable that it is used to some degree in our perceptions of each other. As such, we can empathise particularly with those traditionally marginalised because of a disability, engaging in cosmetic surgery as a form of empowerment. Nonetheless, I remain sceptical of praise for those using cosmetic surgery as a replacement for natural forms of self-improvement (even when the latter feels impossible to achieve). #S327UOW17 #Tut7 #Wed1730

  3. Body modification is such a private and personal thing. Some people are happy with how they look, while others are not. Some people choose to have plastic surgery to perfect their bodies and that is fine, while there are others who feel strongly against it. In the Western world there is defiantly an obsession on looking a certain way. This would be true to in most cultures, but is super prevalent in the Western world.

  4. Our society has been consumed by the idea that outer beauty is the new ticket to happiness and success. Many have fallen into the trap of cosmetic surgery in attempt to achieve this idea of perfection. Heyes mentions the idea that “instead of working only to confirm to norms of beauty, we are now told, cosmetic surgery is a way of working on the self that enables grater authenticity” (pg.18). However, I think cosmetic surgery is pulling our society further and further away from our authentic selves and instead influencing us to falsify our personal appearances.

    #S327UOW17 #Tut7 #Wed1730

  5. There is most definitely societal pressure placed on individuals to look a certain way, hence the overbearing feelings of envy we often feel. Through social and mass media, we are constantly being confronted with certain body shapes and facial features, which are praised and admired as being the ‘ideal’. When we compare ourselves and recognise how our own features may not reflect those seen as the ideal, we begin to feel and express the emotion of envy’. And as a result, the ‘body-industry’ takes advantage and it feeds off individuals’ feelings of envy, dissatisfaction and their need to alter themselves.

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  6. I believe as much as a person may deny it, they are altering their body to impress others, to feel like they fit in and are accepted by their peers. The social pressure to look good can cause major psychological issues for someone who thinks they are not good enough. In saying this, body altering is influenced by personal likes or dislikes and personal preferences of course. Though these likes/dislikes and preferences come from the social group in which this person wants to fit into and be accepted or admired by. In the end I feel body altering, in any form, has mostly to do with people wanting to be liked, admired, resulting in them feeling good about themselves. So it really doesn’t matter if people do or do not choose to alter their body in any way.

  7. The emotions of envy and admiration contain a lot of similarities. “Social Media Influencer” is a job title that allows ‘good looking’ individuals on Instagram the ability to influence others to use the same beauty, tanning or nutrition products as them. Brands are paying them copious amounts to use their products so others will follow suit. This form of admiration is allowing brands to make big money by taking advantage of others desires to modify themselves. Along with this, cosmetic surgery is becoming a normalised aspect of society. In Heyes’ article, she describes how the television show extreme makeover allows individuals the ability to become the person she truly, allegedly is (Heyes, 2007: 18). It is through television like this that creates the assumption that altering your body will not only change how you look, but will improve all other aspects of your life. Ultimately it all comes down to the choice of the individual and whether it will affect them positively.

  8. The most recent ‘alterations’ I have made to my body is letting my legs and pits be hairy. However, I believe these to be the ceasing of alterations to my body i.e. shaving. This was/is not an easy process as I had to actively fight the internalised body standards for success accumulated throughout my social life (“a woman should be hairless”). I felt I was being compelled into thinking that being hairy “was not what I wanted,” and to digress from the normalised/homogenised feminine body (Heyes), I feel more authentic to ‘me’, rather than to the social ideals placed upon me.

  9. I do not believe that cosmetic allows you to completely reinvent yourself into a better human being. I think it is interesting the comparison Heyes draws to cosmetic surgery and Foucault’s concept of normalization although I do not completely agree that cosmetic surgery releases the bodies hidden potential. Another interesting conclusion is the ways in which extreme makeover portray the participants – it is always in the light of the ‘victim’ and never as someone powerful who is getting surgery for economic gain.
    #S327UOW17 #Tut7 #Wed1730

  10. I think envy is a motivator for people to change the way they look, and it really depends on the person whether that is to achieve a look that is expected from others or to work towards feeling more like themselves. I think the way you modify your body results in different types of authenticity-for example, working out to get a bikini body could be motivated by you wanting to be healthier because you feel better in general that way, or to get a body you think you should have based off of what others think. It’s situational. Media perpetrates the ‘correct’ type of body, and praises that type. #S327UOW17 #Tut7 #Wed1730

  11. The improvement of my look maybe but you get to a point where you realise that you can’t change much and you have toa except it and move on. Work on things in which you can.change like becoming smarter or developing sporting skills. You absolutely can admire others lucky traits but to want to change is unrealistics.
    #S327UOW17 #Tut7 #Wed1730

  12. Bodies are an important construction within our society. Bodies and appearances are the first elements that are analyzed when getting to know a new person. Thus, many individuals feel that the way the look affects personal interactions and what people may think of them. I find that body image issues ultimately is driven by a sense of envy. Individuals envy how another body may look based on what their bodies don’t have. Society has so many images of what beauty and attractiveness look like. It is no surprise that individuals would strive to obtain these bodily images. Through this, I find that I do not agree with the arguments stated in our readings this week. Seeking a new body image stems from societal pressures and influences. It isn’t necessarily a personal goal or aspiration to look that way…we are told to look that way.

  13. Your body symbolizes your outer self. The idea of altering your outer-self has become more popular throughout society. As the question arises; do we change our bodies to be individualized or to look like everyone else? (Patulny 2017) it is important to consider why people go under these circumstances to change their appearances. Heyes argues that cosmetic body modification is about self-transformation. I agree, as most people alter their outsides to become more beautiful or accepted to society.

  14. The cosmetic surgery does not help individuals to be more authentic or develop their real potential, such as proposed by Heyes (p.18). It provokes the constant idea, that your natural body is not good enough and drives people into the constant dissatisfaction with their body. Although it must be taken into consideration, that the growing alternation of the body and its fluid existence may also add to the focusing on the internal characteristics, because we do not depend on our outer appearance anymore. Personally, I see both tendencies within our society and could not name one wrong or right.

  15. I think that people will never be completely be satisfied with themselves, there will always be a moment (no matter how brief) where you may want to change/ alter something about yourself. This can be as small as adding a tattoo to getting cosmetic surgery.
    I think having the cosmetic surgery option plays on peoples minds that they can be better or change themselves, but sometimes getting this surgery isn’t to please anyone else, it’s totally for self-satisfaction.

  16. These days, our ability to access media on a 24/7 basis creates a constant pressure to feel and look a certain way regardless of whether we are conscious of it or not. In 2017, cosmetic surgery has become a normalised approach to achieving ‘the perfect self’ both externally and internally. As Heyes alludes to in saying “cosmetic surgery is a way of working on the self that enables grater authenticity.” The issue that arises from this complex is that when, more often than not, people undergo surgery and still feel dissatisfied with themselves, they seek more treatments and become obsessed with striving for perfection. Celebrities are a pure example of this. Beauty, perfection and the ‘ideal body’ are all social constructs fluid with contemporary culture. With our constant exposure to other people’s lives via social media and television, envy and the nature of comparison will always be hard to avoid.

  17. I believe in modern day society a large motivator for people changing their looks and modifying their personal image can be pin pointed by the media and by social structure. If you have money you can pay for body modifications; i.e cosmetic surgery, tattoos and piercings. The institution that is – cosmetic surgery is broadcasted through celebrities and numerous lifestyle and reality television programs embed the beliefs of “ideal” body shape and how to achieve this “perfect” way of being. However in differing circumstances people may require cosmetic surgery for other reasons – medical rehabilitation or surgery to rehabilitate or support and individual with injury or other medical reason. On a personal level I don’t feel people should be mistreated for their appearance, whether they have had cosmetic surgery or not, people should be accepted for who they are not for what they look like.

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