For a long time I have wondered what it is about us human beings that makes us so judgemental of our own bodies. Everyone has their insecurities. We want to look slimmer, curvier, sexier, more this and less that. Even though it is tempting to think that this is a new phenomenon, it is not. Societal pressure to look a certain way has existed way before fashion magazines, although undoubtedly the pressure has intensified during the recent decades, due to the world of information overload we currently live in.
As I decided to stop watching too much tv yesterday, I got my hands on Siri Hustvedt's book The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves. In her search to find an answer to her strange symptoms of shaking uncontrollably while speaking in public, she discusses our relationship to our bodies, and how diseases (be it mental or physical) are like strange alien components that reside in us. Especially the diseases of the mind are often seen as invasive of not just our brain, but of ourselves, our personalities. We are split in two: mind and matter, our conscious self and the body we inhabit. Disease can lurk in either one, or both, but at the end of the day, making the distinction between mind and body is quite impossible. But we still make the distinction. Why?
Hustvedt reminds us that apart from some primates, elephants and dolphins, only human beings can recognise their reflections in the mirror. We have the ability (or the curse?) to look away from ourselves and see our own image. We can observe ourselves visually, from the outside. Essentially, we have the ability to objectify ourselves. There is a difference between body schema and body image. The former makes it unnecessary for us to consciously calculate a walking distance before we take the first step, and the latter allows us to have conscious thoughts about our bodies. With the ability to objectify ourselves, we make the connection between ourselves and how we define our bodies - from the outside in. That is how we are.
I haven't read the book far enough to tell what this all means, but it seems to me that our ability to have a body image must serve some kind of an evolutionary purpose. I doubt that the purpose is to make us feel bad about our bodies though, and I don't believe for a second that body image is designed to make us want to look like someone else. From the perspective of the perseverance of life in general, it wouldn't make much sense. For me, for now anyway, the fascinating revelation about all this is the knowledge that body image is not just in our heads. It is not a result of women's insecurities, it is a biological fact. The perspective that opens from this recognition feels empowering to me. We are not just victims of weak minds. There might just be a purpose and an explanation to all of the feelings, both positive and negative, we have about our own bodies.
Blue blouse: second hand Calvin Klein / Plato's Closet
Cardigan: Benetton sample sale
Polka-dot skirt: second hand / Salvation Army
Belt: second hand / Salvation Army
Shoes: Jessica Simpson
Necklace: second hand / America's Attic