Facing Unequal Bodies - on the Construction of Social Inequality in Body Image

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 5:30 PM-7:20 PM
Room: Booth 66
RC54 The Body in the Social Sciences (host committee)

Language: English

Bodies can be considered as pictures, but they are, as the art historian Hans Belting has stated, far more than pictures as they represent people. The philosopher Helmuth Plessner described this problem out of the perspective of the individual, who has a body which he has to be as a person, while s/he can watch at her/his body as an object. This disposition is − besides being a possibility − quite a challenge, as one cannot only work on his/her body, s/he has to. Moreover one can work on his body, but s/he cannot totally change it: So every individual has to be a body s/he cannot totally control, while the body and especially the body image is seen as a representation of the person. To understand what a person represents with his or her body image, people can use a society’s knowledge resources (pictures, sculptures, books, movies, oral discourse etc.). By providing information about the meaning of certain types of body images these knowledge resources link body images as well with social valuations, group affiliations and stereotype. In this respect the experience, that a body image cannot be brought in consilience with social norms and expectations, is not only an individual problem, as it can be a manifestation of social inequality and discrimination routines. Moreover a society’s handling of body images can give insight into the ideas of human perfectibility or non-perfectibility which underlie contemporary conceptions of man. The proposed session focuses on empirical studies: - which inspect (1) situations of social interaction (e.g. selection procedures and competitions) as well as social discourses (e.g. newspapers, pictures, movies or advertising), which construct social inequality by creating body image expectations. - which inspect (2) the way people react on a gap between social body ideals or body image expectations and personal body images. For example: strategies of empowerment, body techniques (e.g. dieting, aesthetic surgery, sport etc.) and the way such reactions are embedded in discourses of social recognition (e.g. authenticity, upward-mobility, success etc.).
Session Organizers:
Michael Rudolf MUELLER, University of Dortmund, Germany and Anne SONNENMOSER, Inst Advanced Study in the Humanities, Germany
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