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How are bodies socially constructed?

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Introduction

How are bodies socially constructed? It is crucial to gain an understanding of what social construction is, in order to assess its influence on human bodies. However it is difficult to operationalise social construction in literal terms. Social construction encompasses a multitude of elements, Hacking (2002) notes, 'social construction is a kettle of many very different kinds of fish'. Typically however, social construction is concerned with the ways in which society has conceptualised ideals and expectations, looking at this in relation to specific areas of sociological interest. For sociologist when looking at the body their main concern is with 'the process of... transforming a biological entity through social action' Chris Shilling (2003). 'Members of a society construct their bodies in ways that comply with their gender status and accepted notions of masculinity and femininity. That is, they try to shape and use their bodies to conform to their culture's or racial ethnic group's expectations'. (Lorber and Martin 2005) This essay will look at the ways in which the body is a social construction, with particular focus on the extent in which individuals in society are willing to perform to socially constructed ideals. It is important to recognise that social construction of the body is a global phenomenon; however this essay will look at westernised social construction of the body in particular. ...read more.

Middle

note 'Bodies have become the ultimate vehicle for writing ones identity.'; this looks at anything from the clothes and makeup an individual wears, to self decoration through tattoos, piercings and cosmetic surgery. It is questionable to what extent women 'self decorate' in order to fit the stereotypical views of social expectations of what is 'beautiful', or to oppose these views of conventional attractiveness, both however implicitly relate to the body as a social construction, either in a way that conforms to, or rebels against ideas of socially constructed beauty. Sexuality is closely linked with that of the female body, with socially constructed expectations of s****l femininity, 'Women are expected to be nuturant and emotionally giving, willing to subordinate their own desires to please men and their own interests to take care of children, Therefore women's bodies should be yielding and s******y appealing to men when they are young and plumpy maternal when they are older.' (Kivisto 2005). This mass of generalizations, and assumptions, (that women are heterosexual, that all women want children, that women will forget about their own pleasures to please men), highlights the typical socially constructed views of western culture. It is therefore important to notice a change in women's s****l role through feminist ideas which reflect a modernized culture, with a new type of woman emerging in the 21st century. ...read more.

Conclusion

In a bid to maintain the socially constructed body which is considered attractive, characteristically one of youthfulness, merchandise, such as hair colouring products, anti-wrinkle creams and an increased number cosmetic surgeries can be seen to be endorsed by the older generation, (Craig Thompson 1995). Traditionally much theoretical focus on the social constructions of body, has been on that of femininity; however the social constructions of masculinity can be considered similarly, 'western societies expect men to be aggressive initiators of action and protectors of women and children, therefore their bodies should be muscular and physically strong', increasingly 'Men life weights, get hair transplants, and undergo cosmetic surgery to mould their bodies and faces to a masculine ideal' (Kivisto 2005) This observation of men in the 21st century shows masculinity of the body to be concerned with that of aesthetic pride in a similar way to women, however there is less pressure on the male community to fit the mould of these constructed ideals. A modernised new man is also represented to fit the ideas of social construction, with the coinage of the phrase 'heterosexual male' to highlight the increased notion of male grooming as acceptable in society. Inevitably this essay only looks at a small spectrum of the features that contribute to the body as a social construction, however a lot can be seen on how the body is effected by the views of society, a body which conclusively is not only 'biologically constructed' but also socially. ...read more.

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