Bitching Brew

Thursday, December 22, 2005

How do I look?

The title is rhetorical. Don't feel the need to answer! I've just read a good article in the Guardian, 'Body hatred is becoming a major export of the western world', by Susie Orbach. (Actually, it's an extract from one of her books.) It focuses primarily on women, and rightly so, given that the problem is much more advanced for women.

I don't believe for a second that these worries are a new invention of Western civilisation, but they have been amplified in modern culture. Body image is important for humans - it probably always has been, psychologically. Body image is, in many ways, a projection of our self-image. (Of course, one perceives one's own body in an entirely different manner to others.)

As women have fought to expand the ways in which they can act in and on the world, they have been given back a picture of femininity that is ever more homogeneous and diminutive. Yes, diversity appears to rule because models of all colours and ethnic groups now promote today's look, but the ethnic variations are all circumscribed within a small body variation whose main architecture is skinny and long.

What really bothers me, and Orbach as well, is the idea of an 'ideal body' that is perpetuated through endless media repetition. It doesn't exist. There is no 'perfect body shape', nor any Platonic ideal floating in a higher realm. For sure, there are some truly unhealthy body shapes. But in between those extremes lie a vast and diverse collection of human forms. Not just the perfect tens. We're all individuals; we all have our own (quirky) tastes. Everyone is beautiful to someone.

I'm quite sure that I don't have an abstract, idealised form of woman in my subconscious to which I compare each and every woman. The women I've found (and find) attractive are a fairly diverse bunch. Besides, once you know someone, pure physical attraction becomes impossible. It merely becomes a factor in some irrational attraction function - a factor which decreases gently over time. I firmly believe that it's then impossible to separate out, no matter how much you might protest.

This tendency toward homogeneity - and the pressure it brings - affects both genders. You think I'm perfectly happy with my appearance? Certainly not. Most of the time, fortunately, I'm reasonably satisfied with it. If you take BMI as a barometer, I'm a perfectly normal weight. But I look thinner than that would suggest - or, more to the point - I've got really skinny arms. I don't like them. I favour long sleeves for this very reason. Yet I know it's largely genetic, so I can't be bothered spending hours in a gym to induce a marginal improvement. (I keep reasonably fit, but I'm not prepared to go any further.) Many people do though... It just doesn't matter enough to me.

Hey, there's nothing wrong with looking your best! The problem comes when you feel you're in a competitive struggle. Luckily, I don't. I'm not a part of any 'meat market', and I don't intend to be. My motto in this regard: "If she doesn't want me, she's not good enough for me." If only everyone had a similar outlook, rather than feeling the urge to compete for attentions.

And I know, it's all too easy for me to just say that. I do follow it, but I might be better off saying "if she doesn't want me enough" in the future. Heh.

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  • I disagree that there is no Platonic ideal body/face type. In fact, most societies promote some ideal type or other; the Platonic ideal is symmetry in form, while, for example, the Kantian is more idiosyncratic in nature. If one liked Platonic faces, one would find, for example, unblemished skin to be the most beautiful, but if you were a Kant adherent, freckles might catch your fancy.

    By Blogger dpineapple, at Thu Dec 22, 08:43:00 p.m.  

  • Heh, I do like that! Especially the Kantian reference.

    Absolutely, most cultures have their own ideal, which can shift over time. I honestly don't think there's an abstract, ideal Form of the human body existing in some higher realm though. :) But point taken about cultural ideals.

    I guess I'd be a Kantian then (not freckles - but idiosyncrasy)... something I never thought I'd admit to. Bah.

    By Blogger Martin, at Fri Dec 23, 12:22:00 p.m.  

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