Views on the Body
The body is an object that has been problematic for philosophers and other thinkers since the conception of Western civilization. Many have extensively discussed the relation between it and the mind with little accepted avail. Contemporary times have seen a rise in eating diseases such as anorexia and bulimia, worrying many professionals. However, there are many ways to confront and explain these trends. Deborah A. Sullivan takes a more philosophical approach to the problem, discussing the different theories that intend to explain different practices of body modification across cultures. On the other hand, Celia Milne takes a more statistic approach, while taking contemporary issues into account but in a very modern way. Essays from both of these women serve as counterpoint to study the relationship between Western civilization and the human body.
In “Social Bodies: Tightening the Bonds of Beauty”, author Deborah A. Sullivan briefly examines different perspectives on body modification. In an analysis that spans different cultures, she examines the utility and significance of tattoos, piercings, body painting, mutilation and other ways to deliberately shape the natural body. She finds that these changes may serve to mark major life transitions, proclaim group bonds, reclaim control of body and find commitment in the postmodern society. Thus, she finds that the transition from a natural to a social body integrates not only personal choice, but also the larger structure in which the individual is immersed. Thus, she examines many currents of thought and explanations through her essay.
The pluralist methodology that Sullivan follows is one of its greatest strengths; however, it also touches the theories only superficially, leaving the reader with only an eagle’s eye view of the different theories. The consideration of many different theories is very positive, as it allows for the inclusion of various interpretations. However, it does not consider them substantially, but very briefly and quickly. Thus, the reader is constantly disoriented and does not finish the essay with a clear picture, but only a hazy view of the panorama. This quick presentation of different worldviews also acts as a type of immunity for the author, who is relegated to give her opinion in the last lines. The celebration of pluralism leaves the reader considering many different points of view, but not that of the author.
On the other hand, Celia Milne takes a more modern approach in her essay “Pressures to Conform”. This text focuses on the negative influence that society has on women in relation to their body, especially with respect to their weight. She argues that society dictates women impossible ideals including a dichotomy between thinness and indulgence. The author uses statistics to evidence the changes in society that this has brought, including more smoking and premature sexual relations. This tendency towards the unattainable makes women insecure and they may choose an incorrect life partner. Thus, the text proposes that the impossible ideals that culture is enforcing on women are making them suffer from low self-esteem, and that the solution should be for women to accept themselves.
This more modern take on the subject is reasonably more satisfying, even though one could argue that it does not present much help towards achieving a solution. The utilization of statistics and common arguments allows the reader to finish the essay satisfied, as it is easy to comprehend that which one already thinks. However, this intuitive approach, highly valued by psychology, does not truly help the issue. The solution that it presents is acceptance, which is more easily proposed than achieved. One could argue that society also has a tendency towards conformity, and that this does not suffice. Furthermore, it presents a paradox, as one could conform one’s self to inconformity.
In conclusion, both of these essays approach the subject of the body in relation to society in different ways. While Sullivan takes a more postmodern approach in exploring many different theories, Milne presents statistics and intuitive reasoning, in tune with modern psychology. Sullivan could argue that the phenomena that Milne presents are just contemporary manifestations of body modification practices, which have been present in all cultures. However, the latter author finds cause for alarm in the rising amount of women who have resorted to eating disorders in an attempt to mitigate the toxic effects of society’s ideals. Ultimately, while Milne’s article is more convincing in itself, Sullivan’s holds the key to the deconstruction and destruction of the former’s arguments, allowing the reader to dispute her ideas. The relation between civilization and the body is very complex, and a couple of essays do not suffice to truly understand the links at work. Nevertheless, these essays do offer a quick view of a modern and a postmodern take on the subject, which are the two main paths that are being taken to approach the subject.