Sociology 2259 Lecture Notes - World Health Organization, Nipple Piercing, Body Modification
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Deviant Physical Appearances
What Does “Normal” Look Like?
•Physical appearances tell a story about a person—they demonstrate how this person is going to
be perceived by society
•Determines how we act and present ourselves in society—we put on a physical persona
•We associate certain meanings with certain physical appearances
•Our bodies are the “defining” feature of us
•Our bodies are the medium through which we perpetrate our identities
•When we encounter someone, we often make value judgements based on how they are
physically presenting themselves
•We actively negotiate who we are through our bodies (**agency**)
•We have all these different body regimens
Physical Appearance as Deviant
•We socially type certain types of physical appearances as deviant
•We have certain ways of fashioning or fixing our bodies so we don't look deviant
•Deviant physical appearances are often dependent on the sociohistorical context:
▪Ex. hundreds of years ago lighter skin was desired whereas now many people wish to be
▪Ex. during Halloween it is acceptable to be dressed deviant and not seen as so
•These physical appearances can be:
◦Involuntary—birth defects, height, disabilities
◦Combination of both—your body language, body weight
Physical Appearances as Master Status
•It's not necessarily the physical appearance itself that generates social reaction
•The social reaction in regards to physical appearance plays a big role in whether it is defined as
•Physical appearance becomes a master status because of the meanings, stereotypes,
interpretations, etc attached to it
•Auxiliary traits attached to master statuses make them significantly
•Why are certain forms of physical appearance socially typed as deviance?
•Body Projects: the ways that each of us adapts, changes, or controls characteristics of our
bodies, and whether those characteristics are involuntary, voluntary, or both
•What we do with the characteristics of our body
•Change the functioning of our bodies to an extent—ex. Shaving for swimming or biking,
glasses, wheelchair, braces
•Modify our appearance—ex. People with braces may try and hide their teeth while smiling
•We all engage in various types of body projects—What are some examples?
•Types of body projects:
•Camouflaging: normative techniques of body manipulation learned in socialization processes
•Ways that we learn to change our bodies and mold ourselves into what is expected of us
•Almost like rights of passages that we learn through socialization
•Examples: makeup, hairstyles, dress, etc.
•We learn how to camouflage—how to “fit in”
•We learn to mold ourselves into a positive societal image
•We learn to fashion our bodies in “normal”, seemingly “appropriate ways”
•What does this look like?
•Extending: overcoming one's physical limitations
•Examples: hair extensions, contact lenses, cane, wheelchair, etc.
•We learn how to overcome a physical limitation we have in order to appear normal to others
•People with physical disabilities often engage in “extending”
•Extending is about projecting a “fixed”, “better” image of ourselves
•Adapting: removing part(s) of the body for aesthetic and/or medical reasons
•Adapting to a certain social image of yourself to look normative
•Examples: mastectomy, muscle building, hair removal, weight loss, etc
•Particularly...body size AND body weight are important in regards to adapting projects
•The social typing of body size/weight permeates many institutions in society, ex. Media, family,
•Redesigning: reconstructing the body in lasting ways—ways that you can't really wash off
•AKA “body modification”, or “body art”
•The media feeds us an ideal body
•Examples: plastic surgery, tattoos, body piercings, etc.
•Become increasingly popular and “normalized” over past few decades
•Influences of the “supermarket era”—easy(ish) access to body modification techniques
•Tattoos and piercings are specifically more prevalent among youth—why?
Why “Adapt” or “Redesign”?
•Aesthetic appeal—beauty and attractiveness ideals
◦Looks do matter to an extent
•Social identity—wanting to fit in
•Personal identity—unhappy with current physical appearances
Aesthetic Appeal and Attractiveness
•In our society, attractiveness is placed at such a high premium
•We have high expectations as to what “attractiveness” entails, yet so little people actually fit
into this ideal
•Cultural ideals f attractiveness differ for men and women—related to what we consider
feminine and masculine
•What does feminine attractiveness look like?
•What does masculine attractiveness look like?
Body Modification Techniques
•What is the appeal of such body modification techniques?
•What makes something physically attractive?
•Is body modification about yourself? Others? Society?
•There is a certain premium that is attractive and that being white is the ideal beauty
•Cosmetic industry bills in $180 billion a year
•We feel like we have these needs in society to change our bodies to look a certain way—
perpetrated by the media
•New ideas of what is considered physically attractive change fairly often throughout the years
What Are The 2 Most Common Things Women Worry About?
2. Breast size
◦Arguably most visible parts of the female body --> symbolize femininity, sexuality, and
◦When determining if someone if male or female you would generally look to see if the
person has breasts
•Goldie Locks Complex
◦Relates to weight and breast size
◦Doesn't want to be too big or too small, want to be just right
•Panoptic Male Gaze
◦Ideas that women are constantly watching to make sure their bodies look a certain way
◦Not necessarily for the attention of males, but about wanting people to see you in a certain
•Cultural ideals of the “perfect” weight have steadily decreased with modernization especially
within last 30-40 years
•Marilyn Monroe: size 12, models today: size 2