The idea of bodylore is one that is new to me. Coming from a sociological background, the study of the human body is rarely a topic of discussion in my classes. However, I believe that I did learn what to think of my body and how it should look, from my family first. As I grew up I learned from peers and social media.
When I was younger, I learned that being a girly girl was not a necessity. Much of this reminds me a lot of my mother and her beauty standards that she constantly reinforced for me as a young girl. She often made comments about women that constantly wore heels saying that their feet would be messed up because they wore heels so often. Me, as a young girl already self-conscious about my feet, didn’t desire to wear heels like many other young girls did. Another beauty trend that she was against, that some women find empowering and some see as a cover up, is make up. My mom often talked about how she didn’t wear makeup because she has natural beauty. So again, unlike other girls my age, I didn’t experiment with makeup because I wasn’t witnessing it at home and didn’t find it a necessity. I didn’t start experimenting with makeup until I was 18. I did the classic blue eyeshadow and mascara occasionally. Once I was 21, I started to dabble a bit. At the sweet age of 22, I finally began to master how to do makeup for my face and wear it at least four times a week. How did I get here? From being the girl the rarely wearing mascara, to being a beat-faced diva? Just like the ‘My Jeans, Myself, and I’ from the article from Giuntini and Hagen (2008), the pressures of wondering if I was grown up enough and could keep up with my peers lead me here. I managed to master the art of making myself beautiful on the outside, yet on the inside, I still lacked confidence and possessed many insecurities. Enough about my personal life, let’s explore why studying bodylore is so important.
First of all, what is bodylore? Dr. Amy Milligan defines bodylore as: the inquiry into the body’s role in communication and social meaning. She also stated that bodylore can be thought of as: the ways we theorize or imagine our bodies, how we understand ourselves to be a dual mind/body, how our body is tied to our identity, and how we engage with our body as a canvas, as something we cultivate
Not studying bodylore can be very dangerous to individual’s mentally and physically. People can lack confidence about their bodies because they are not well educated in the glory of bodylore. Teen girls between the ages of 13 and 19 are most at risk of developing an anorexia disorder. The fetish to have thin bodies becomes so real to these girls that they become obsessive about what they eat and may exercise excessively. Perhaps one of the saddest ads I’ve ever seen is Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches. It explores the way we view ourselves and the way we view others. In the advertisement, people were asked to describe themselves to an artist who when then draw them. Almost all of the participants were very critical of themselves. Then they had others give details about them for the artist to draw. They noted all of the good qualities of the person and none of the critical things that the person listed for themselves. It demonstrated that we are so much harder on our bodies and ourselves than we should be.
On the flip side, the study of bodylore can educate the masses so that society (the media and family members) isn’t so critical of people, allowing them to gain confidence, love their bodies, express themselves, and being inclusive when thinking of what we define as “beauty”/”beautiful.” Not exploring the body and educating everyone on how we can express ourselves through our body and clothing can have harmful and sometimes fatal effects on individuals. Since 2001, between 25 and 43 percent of transgender individuals have attempted suicide. When asked about being bullied or harassed, physically assaulted, or sexually assaulted from elementary school to college, the numbers remained over 50% for each category. If we taught bodylore at a young age, individuals might be less likely to bully and single transgender people out. The key is to educate because people fear what they don’t know.
Critics might not want to explore bodylore and take it lightly because they might believe that it is an idea benefitting feminists, and that’s just not true. Bodylore can benefit everyone. Not only could it help boost everyone’s self-confidence, it would make us all more understanding people. We would be able to look at people that look different from us and accept them for exactly who they are and how they are expressing themselves. Critics also might not want to explore bodylore for the fear that everyone will become gay and start cross dressing, but that is the issue right there. We shouldn’t fear how someone wants to express themselves with their body or clothing as long as it is ethical and legal. We should study bodylore for the sake of having a chance to make a better tomorrow for our youth. To have them be less self-conscious, less image driven, and more understanding than this generation is.
Giuntini, Parme P. and Kathryn Hagen. 2008. Garb: a fashion and culture reader. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Keyondra Wilson is studying Applied Sociology at Old Dominion University. She is particularly interested in inequalities in race and social class. She works as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Social Science Research Center at Old Dominion University. Her life goal is to someday own her own charity specializing in helping disadvantaged individuals and families. Her life motto is, “Don’t Survive. Thrive.”