Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Modifying the Body: Canadian Men's Perspectives on Appearance and Cosmetic Surgery

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Modifying the Body: Canadian Men's Perspectives on Appearance and Cosmetic Surgery

Article excerpt

Risk is evident in everyday life. From a macro to a micro level of society, risk saturates human existence. Beck (1992) and Giddens (1994) have argued that life in late modernity is characterized by a conscious or unconscious awareness of and response to unpredictable and unfamiliar risks that are created by human agency. These risks can be biological (e.g., diseases such as HIV/AIDS or Severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS], environmental pollution and food additives), social (e.g., crime, discrimination and poverty) or technological (e.g., plane crashes, nuclear weaponry and chemical weapons). Researchers have also argued that in response to such risks, people are reflexively exerting control over their bodies via health/lifestyle choices (e.g., organic foods, yoga, bottled water, and frequent medical exams) amidst continuous warnings of danger (Beck, 1992; Giddens, 1991). Williams (1997) has reinforced this argument by explaining that medical technologies render the body "uncertain," providing both hope (e.g., the possibility for better health and an improved appearance) and despair (e.g., a blotched surgery).

Self-identity in risk society is threatened--largely by the dissolution of conventional norms, traditions, and values (Beck, 1992; Ekberg, 2007; Giddens, 1994). Consequently, individuals must make choices about their self-identity based on perceived risk and the anxieties, insecurities, and uncertainties associated with taking or avoiding risks. Risk society combined with consumer capitalism (i.e., an image and self-obsessed pursuit of pleasure and control in the personal sphere of life via material goods, see Featherstone, 1991) appears to generate insecurities which people cope with by increasingly focusing on themselves and their bodies (Frost, 2005). Appearance and doing looks is fundamental to the processes of identity construction via the market--which offer a range of personal wants and needs as well as a perfect image of the body for consumers to try to emulate (Frost, 2003, 2005). Specifically, as identity has become increasingly entwined in bodily appearance, researchers have argued that identity is based in a process of constant reflexive self-creation where the end goal is perfection, yet insecurities and self-criticisms are common by-products of its pursuit (Frost, 2003, 2005; Giddens, 1991).

For example, Monaghan (2001) found that body builders risk their own and other peoples' physical and social well-being by engaging in drug-taking (e.g., steroid use). Among experienced competitive body builders such high risk behaviours are rationalized by their outcome (e.g., increased body mass). Moreover, for many, body building and drug use "provide a viable identity, a means of anchoring the embodied self (Monaghan, p. 182). Similarly, risk-taking via cosmetic surgery offers people a means to (re)construct a viable identity. People choosing to undergo cosmetic surgery participate in high risk behaviors that represent an opportunity for transformation. Cosmetic surgery, then, itself demonstrates the potential benefits as well as dangers of technological body modification. Overall, the increasing focus on appearance, including the use of cosmetic surgery for men, can be theorized as a response to living in a risk society and the increasing role of the body in self-identification.

In postmodern scholarship, the body has become increasingly conceptualized as a social construction as well as a biological entity (Featherstone, 1991; Giddens, 1991). This temporal shift, to thinking of the body as malleable rather than fixed, has opened space for the remaking of the self via the remaking of the body (Featherstone; Frank, 2002; Giddens, 1991). As Featherstone suggests, body projects are: "attempts to construct and maintain a coherent and viable sense of self-identity through attention to the body, and more particularly, the body's surface" (p. 53). Gender, one's masculinity and femininity, is also embodied such that "we experience and construct those [gender] identities through our bodies, and our bodies are contrasted through them" (Paechter, 2006, p. …

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