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Capitalist Bodies: The Postmodern Self

April 15, 2009

In these discussions of body image in the context of today’s society, I can’t help but think about our bodies philosophically. Our society today, which we can define as a postmodern society, is one in which the economy has replaced religion and the modern progression towards human perfection as the basis of our value system. That means that in general we live our lives based on what we consume. What does that mean exactly? It means that our visual identities are based on what we have, and that the image of an individual’s identity is based on what they buy. The more money we have, the easier it is to become who we want people to think we are, thus we strive to earn more and more money in order to become fully “ourselves.” Whether or not inner and outer identities coincide is a different question. The point is that if you have enough money you can show yourself to others however you choose to.

How does this value system affect the way we view our bodies? I think we can all agree that the media project a certain image of how the ideal woman looks. Thin, blonde, perfect skin, 5’10”. In a lot of ways, consumer society suggests that we can become “ideal” if we can afford the products, diet foods, personal trainers, plastic surgery, etc. that enable us to become what we want to be. In a similar vein, products are sold to us as things we need because the people behind them want to make more money in order to become fully “themselves” externally. Something of a chain reaction occurs. The constant interplay between buyers and sellers creates the need for sellers to invent new “needs” for those who will potentially purchase their products so these sellers can in turn purchase things that will “enhance” their external identities.

Capitalism is based on buying and selling, competition and innovation. As long as a capitalist system is in place, the human body will be nothing more than a vehicle for creating new consumer “needs.” While I don’t entirely oppose capitalism given the fact that a better alternative doesn’t seem to exist, living in a capitalist postmodern society we must be conscious of what is happening to us. The only way to fight is to think, to analyze what we see and reveal the false images of what a body “should be” as what they really are, even if it’s just for ourselves. By acknowledging the falsehood of the images we see, we can establish and affirm our true identities rather than basing them on what we want them to be or what we think they should be. There is no perfect solution. Making the images stop will not happen in this capitalist system that relies on them. All we can do is think, analyze, and do our best to be aware of our true selves.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jill permalink
    April 15, 2009 9:22 PM

    I think another interesting aspect of this capitalistic interplay is the moral importance placed on consumption. Not doing the things you mentioned in your examples constitutes a personal failure, not a socially situated or otherwise amoral decision. That is, we should be doing everything in our power to realize these body ideals, and we should be horribly, horribly embarrassed should anyone discover that we have underarm hair, acne, or cellulite. We should be embarrassed that we have failed to adequately participate in this economy of body “perfection.”

  2. abodyrevolution permalink
    April 16, 2009 10:19 AM

    eloquently said. thank you for your thoughts and expression on this issue. you might be interested in my book project… abodyrevolution.wordpress.com.

    • April 16, 2009 12:25 PM

      Jill, you’re absolutely right. I think that embarrassment is so telling of the fact that the economy defines not only our social relationships but also our moral framework. The consequences are terrifying. Image comes before health and any kind of social justice because the images we create based on our purchases determine whether or not we can even have social relationships. Some may say it’s selfish, but in a society so individualistic that it results in isolation, individuals need a way to create social ties in order to survive. Attractive images draw people in and facilitate those bonds. The unfortunate result is people killing themselves and others to look good enough to be able to make friends, find lovers, etc. If they don’t or can’t or choose not to, they are socially and morally considered to be “in the wrong.”

      abodyrevoution, I’d love to help with your project. Let me know what I can do!

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