Shame is a feeling of self-awareness one feels in front of another person. It makes us feel that we are weak, defective or dirty. As a result, we may avoid doing something or going somewhere. It may be about only a part of our body (e.g., big/small breasts, old looking hands, etc.) or with the whole body. We may feel others don’t like us, or that we need to do something to be accepted.
Beauty Ideals: Beauty ideals can be impossible to reach. We don’t just have a body. In our body we display our self-feelings, our understanding of who we are and how we are placed in the world. Social ideals of beauty are not set in stone. There is a cultural dispersion in which people speak different languages and practice different styles. Thus, the ideas of beauty and virtue differ. They are constantly being reformulated and transmitted through three essential agents: parents, peers, and the media.
Parents can influence directly or indirectly. Direct influence is done by commentaries regarding body shape, child’s weight or food rules; while indirect ways involve unintended parental modeling of their own weight and dieting concerns. Peers can influence through comments or teasing regarding body shape or weight, perceived norms of engagement in peer groups, and the belief that popularity is conditional on one’s compliance with a given ideal.
Mass media such as children’s toys, fashion magazines, TV soap operas and music videos are considered the most pervasive transmitter of socio-cultural ideals of beauty both, for women and men alike. For instance, studies found that the more time men and women reported watching television, the higher their reported drive for muscularity (Boyce, Kuijer & Gleaves, 2013). The internalization of the thin ideals has been related to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders in adolescent, adult and elder adults both men and women.
Indeed, throughout history beauty has been a measurement of virtue. Beauty is what separate lesser developed human beings from those that have achieved a higher rank. Unfortunately, beauty is associated with wisdom and rational thinking; as opposed to the impulsivity of animals that strive for survival. A scar, a limp, being out of shape, any distance from beauty ideals can be a source of stigma. If beauty is a virtue, any distance from beauty ideals can be a challenge to our self-esteem.
Beauty & Belonging: Inclusion/exclusion is to categorize. To categorize one has to identify similar characteristics, decide on those to follow and differentiate those who do not count. All such operation presupposes both inclusion and exclusion. When inclusion has been idealized as the possibility that brings equality, exclusion is not. Is it possible to find a way to resist the dichotomy in which the society categorizes sex, gender, race, religion, into binary oppositions which end up being an endless list of goods vs. bads, decency vs. depravity. Indeed, the use of categories helps organize our reality and our thinking of that reality. In addition, it often involves a search for meaning and belonging. How many times we don’t feel fitted to fit in.
At times it is even more than just a body part that doesn’t quite follow the idealized type. Sometimes it has to do with the lifestyle. So we try new house, perfect neighborhood, going to the gym, reading the right books, keeping a hairstyle and the proper nail trims,… Ugh, how tiresome! Looks and fashion are always changing. People not only live within a group, but also in contrast to other groups or social conventions. For admittance into a group, there are specific referential codes required by the individual. A motivated businessperson from Wall Street most likely will wear a suit and tie to go to work. The people they work for might find difficult to relate to -or even distrusting-, if s/he shows up at the office wearing a punk look. In the social imaginary, punks know more about motorcycles than they do about the stock market.
Is it possible to meet the ideal? Is trying to reach the ideal making us feel bad? Where do we draw the line?
Part of building our happy place has to do with learning to be satisfied with who we are.
Body & Skin: The skin has many psychological functions. It serves as boundary, surface, filter, protection, perception and identification. This has major implications on the development of space and distinction of inside vs. outside, internal vs. external realities. The body is the starting point of our mental functioning. The body is not just a biological thing. It is organized by the early visual and tactile holding relationship with our first caregivers. It is this early relationship from where life starts as a differentiation between self and others. The body is someone’s personal vantage point from where experience the world.