Unthinkable: Should we ever be ashamed of our bodies?
Is obsessing about appearances, and the ‘spectacle of the public putdown’, all driven by economics?
“The philosopher and economist Philip Mirowski discusses the spectacle of the public put-down as a central mechanism of neoliberalism. Dozens of reality television shows come immediately to mind where shame, especially shame about the body, is utilis
ed as a motivating force in order to provoke personal transformation. Think of shows like The Biggest Loser , The Swan , Extreme Makeover , Embarrassing Bodies .
“The central idea is that changing the body can improve one’s life . . . This, of course, is problematic as it creates patterns of invisibility and exclusion based on superficial and economic factors that are tied to very narrow standards of acceptable appearance.”
Is body shame especially, or exclusively, a female phenomenon?
“Definitely not exclusively. Men routinely feel shame about their bodies as well. However, I think women have been, and continue to be, disproportionately affected by social pressures regarding appearance and hence are more likely to feel shame about their bodies.
“It is widely acknowledged by feminist thinkers that appearances cannot be considered a trivial concern for women and that body dissatisfaction is not merely an individual – and hence marginal – problem for women, but rather part of a systematic (and oppressive) social phenomenon. By continuously being encouraged to feel physically inadequate – ‘I will never be thin enough, look young enough, stylish enough, attractive enough’ – my self-esteem is compromised and this can have real consequences in terms of my possibilities in life and the sorts of experiences I have.
“There’s a great line from the singer and actress Dinah Shore where she talks about how much women’s self-esteem depends on how they look at any moment. She says: ‘If I had just won the Nobel Peace Prize but felt my hair looked awful, I would not be glowing with self-assurance when I entered the room.’ As crazy as that sounds, I think it would resonate with the experience of many women.”
Are women more than men responsible for creating this culture of body shame?
“We are all operating within a very complex world that has intersecting influences from culture, family, media, politics, religion, economics etc. In the same way there certainly isn’t a monolithic group of ‘men’ who are responsible for patriarchy, I don’t think it’s useful to assign responsibility to ‘women’ for the creation of our current body- and appearance-obsessed culture.
“What we need to do is look at the broa- der social and political structures which create a certain set of desires, experiences and understandings and try and dismantle or transform the structures which are compromising our overall wellbeing.”
Dr Luna Dolezal is giving a lecture at TCD’s Long Room Hub, The Phenomenology of the Body in Shame: Transformation and Identity , on Wednesday, February 26th, at 6.15pm
ASK A SAGE
Question: Does my bum look big in this?
William Blake replies: If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is – infinite.
Send your deepest thoughts to: email@example.com