OK, what I’m going to talk to everyone to about today is the body, not only what the body is but how we come to understand the body as well. These kind of questions are becoming really, really important, one of the reasons being that in particularly Western society now, the body is everywhere. The body is not only involved in sports and leisure activities, but we are increasingly trying to understand how we can control the body. Think to medicine and health and how we try to stop illness. All these kind of questions revolve around what the body is, how we come to understand the body, but then also how we come to control the body as well.
This isn’t just a discipline-specific problem either. If you think to biology, psychology, physiology, sociology, what commonly combines all of these subject areas is, in part, the body. The psychologist will understand certain elements of the body, the cognitive elements. The biomechanist focuses on understanding the performance of the body, how we may find ways of rehabilitating that body as well. The sociologist understands the body from the perspective of how this body comes to be formed and how this body is represented within society. All of these different elements together, if you were to combine them, then can be defined in what we call a body project.
And the body project refers to what we understand in Western society to be how we maintain, control, and develop the body forward.
Body projects aren’t new. Body projects have been around for thousands of years. If you go back to Greek literature, for example, the body is prevalent in many of their myths and understanding of what the body is and many of their cultural representations within their society. I think what’s really, really interesting at this point in time, though, is that we are seeing more body projects. The body project is becoming intensified. If you think of the body project or the body itself as a prism, as an organic prism, it attracts and it reflects different elements of our society. Issues around culture, race, gender all flow within and between bodies.
So when we come to start thinking about then how we understand the body project, there are thousands of questions that we can ask. And there are thousands of ways of understanding that body. So let’s use an example within media.
Most people are trying to look after their body in some shape or form. Think of the adverts that you see the body in. Think of a makeup advert. It’s not necessarily the makeup that is sold. It is the body that is sold as well. You don’t see the technical elements of a makeup advert. What you see is the body selling that product as well. Another really interesting example is trainers. Not only is the trainer sold, but there are huge images of the body in selling that trainer as well. If we apply that to our everyday experiences, some people go to gyms. And this is where the body project is maintained within Western society.
The body is no longer a source of work. It’s also a source of leisure and activity and health as well. So what we see increasingly are more people being asked to attend gyms, being asked to maintain healthy, active lifestyles. Translate that into a body project. What we’re asked to do is increasingly be responsible for our own body project in maintaining certain elements of the body, not only how it looks but then also how it functions as well. So in some respects, the body project sounds quite good. Yeah, it’s good to have a healthy, active lifestyle. Yes, there are some prevalent messages about maintaining our bodies in order to prolong life.
But the body project within Western society does come with some health warnings of its own. For example, in becoming more aware of our own bodies and increasingly being asked to maintain the body and to discipline the body in terms of health and activity, what we begin to see are other forms of illnesses as well. Take, for example, the increase in the number of people who are diagnosed with forms of anorexia, for example, not just young females but also males as well. Is there therefore a discussion to be having around what the body project is doing to young people in terms of their awareness of the body and how that body is maintained throughout society?
So, as I said, while there are some real positive messages to be had around the body project and certain dimensions of the body, we must, as scientists, increasingly come aware of these other critical messages that need to be answered and addressed as well. Now, this isn’t just one discipline’s responsibility. Sociologists. biologists, physiologists all must come to work together in order to further understand how the body project is developed, but then also reproduced within society. And I think that’s the most important thing to remember is that, going back to my original point, is that when we come to understand the body, it is a cross-disciplinary understanding that needs to be developed.
And that is what is so exciting about the movements being introduced at the moment.