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The body has been construed to mean different things to various thinkers and scholars who, subscribe to a variety of schools of thought. Those who hold the naturalist perspective construe the body as a natural, biological entity that exists universally, and is separate from its social environment (Howson 2004, p.32). This perspective of the body is mainly associated with biomedical models of health that disregard the social factors that affect the body (Malacridia 2008, p.251). The sociological construction of the body, however, places a lot of importance on the social creation and invention of the body. It argues that the body is subject to its historical and social context (Malacridia 2008, p. 251). This essay explores the concept of embodiment and examines its relevance in understanding the everyday relationship with the body.
Key Concepts and Theories
The body as seen through social lenses comprises many things. It is both the individual and personal self, but it is also a symbol of the society as much as it is a symbol of the self. It is also construed in objective and subjective terms (Pitts 2003, p.52). The experiences of embodiment and the body are elemental to numerous sociological interests including; sexuality, health, gender, disability, ethnicity and race among many more. There exist many theoretical frameworks through which the body is conceived, as part of and also separate from the individual and the society (Pitts 2003, p.49).
Reflexivity is a concept of embodiment that explains the union of bodies through glances. Its proponents argue that through the eyes, the body reveals itself and seeks to discover the other (Scott & Morgan 1993, p. 103). This concept which is closely associated with the theory of symbolic interaction of bodies construes the body as the reflection of images from the imaginary reflection of others through the eye. It is, however, not a true reflection of others’ judgment on the body, but an imagined reflection that is collected from others. This concept is treated by many sociologists to be essential to an embodiment (Scott & Morgan 1993, p.210).
The concept of the body as performance is also an important aspect of the social construction of the body (Scott & Morgan 1993, p.215). This concept explains the body in terms of the public body that is out there in the open for all to see, and the private, individual self. The public body is the one people use to express themselves and entertain others, often acting in ways in which they want others to perceive them. The private body, however, is the real self, not construed by the society or the public. The socio-semiotic understanding of the body on the other hand constructs it from the culturally cultivated lenses (Scott & Morgan 1993, p.192). The understanding of the body changes with trends, fashion, public opinion and perceived correct practices.
Sociological analysis of the body
An individual cannot separate his/her body from society. Societal constructions of the body inform many of the decisions that people make about their bodies and themselves (Scott & Morgan 1993, p.103). Through reflexivity, the individual gleans from others, what they perceive what his/her body to be. The individual body is in most cases, only exposed to the intimate few, and what the society perceives is the public body. The public body is what is mainly used to pass judgment on the health, character and other aspects of a person’s life. The body that is exposed to others is what is perceived and reflections are sent back to the individual, who then imagines what the society thinks of him/her.
Society keeps changing its perception of what is healthy, trendy, fashionable, the perfect body, manners, etc. The socio-semiotic conceptualization of the body explains many of the decisions people make (Scott & Morgan 1993, p.193). This theory is the basis upon which decisions on health habits, plastic surgery, dieting, exercising, and living in a specific location among others are based. It informs an individual’s construction of his/her public body (Lorber & Martin 2007, para.4). It is the reason a lady does not want to be seen wearing a hairstyle considered old fashioned or decides to have a tummy tuck in order to conform to society’s accepted norms and trends.
Role of the body in everyday life
The social construction of the body is responsible for some of the gender issues that come up every day (Bordo 2000, p.32S). The roles attached to each gender are socially constructed and have no basis on the biological formation of the body. For instance, the role of a housekeeper that is attached to the female gender by society is as a result of its construction of that body. These are things that women are continually fighting against, in their quest for equality (Brook 1999, p. 91).
What about the issues of homosexuality, bisexuality, cross-generation relationships, etc? Can we conclude that one’s age in a relationship or sexual orientation is also an issue of the social construction of the body? The society often prescribes what bodies can do and cannot, what they can eat or cannot, the right clothes to be in, and even the correct body shape (Waskul & Vannini n.d, para.3). All these social constructions of the individual and social body affect how people view themselves, others and interact with them.
The above contributes significantly to the social interactions one engages in. It may prove hard to decide on getting into the same-sex relationship if society abhors it. An obese person may also have difficulty in interacting with others if the society treats obese persons as unfit. The significance of the society’s construction of the body is so important because the body is not only personal, private and individual, but it is also a public and state property.
Bordo, S 2000, The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and Private, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.
Brook, B 1999, Feminist Perspectives on the Body, Longman, New York.
Howson, 2004, The Body in Society: An Introduction, Polity Press, Cambridge.
Lorber, J & Martin, C 2007, The Socially Constructed Body: Insights from the Feminist Theory, Web.
Malacridia, C 2008, Sociology of the Body: A Reader, Oxford University Press.
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Pitts, V 2003, In the Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
Scott, S & Morgan, D 1993, (eds.) Body Matters: Essays on the Sociology of the Body, Falmer Press, London.
Waskul, D & Vannini, P n.d. Body/Embodiment: Symbolic Interaction and the Sociology to the Body, Web.