Development and Structure of the Body Image - Vol. 1

By Seymour Fisher | Go to book overview

3
Body Appearance, Prowess, and Camouflage

Since the human body represents the individual's unique base of operations in the world, it is not surprising that endless energy is devoted to polishing and strengthening it. Each culture has its own ideas about what it takes to make a body "right." All cultures have their own notions about how the body properly should be shaped and sized and decorated. The images of what a "good" body should look like are unbelievably varied. The modal body appearance in one group may seem to be not at all human to a representative of another group. Apropos of this point, Darwin said in one instance ( Vlahos, 1979): "I believe in this part of South America, man exists in a lower state of improvement than in any other part of the world . . . their hideous faces daubed with white paint, their skins filthy and greasy, their hair entangled . . . one can hardly believe they are fellow creatures and inhabitants of the same world" (p. 27).

Vlahos has reviewed many of the more radical body "improvement" practices around the world. She describes the elaborate body tattooing practiced in Polynesia, body scarring prominent in Africa, genital organ mutilation (e.g., circumcision, clitoridectomy) characteristic of many locales, lip enlargement found in Brazil, and teeth filing popular in Africa. She points out that analogous body reshaping is current in Western culture in such practices as rhinoplasty, ear piercing, circumcision, and breast augmentation. Of course, tattooing also is still popular on the modern scene. The idealized images of the body proclaimed by each culture are translated into clothing fashions, preferences for certain body builds, health and exercise regimens, and a thousand body camouflaging strategies. This chapter examines what is known about experiencing one's own body in relation to its appearance, camouflage, and conformance to idealized standards.


BODY APPEARANCE

Standards and Self Judgments

As indicated previously, at any early age individuals develop standards of body attractiveness fairly similar to those they will adhere to as adults. The chubby physique of the endormorph is universally looked upon negatively; and at the other extreme, the thin ectomorph is also typically disapproved, although the disapproval is considerably greater in relation to the male than

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