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- C. Explain the relationship between access to resources and the cultural ideal body images. How are ideal body images transmitted within a culture? Discuss some of the ways in which clothing can be used to both exert and resist power.
- Essay C:
- The female body has been a commodity throughout history. If one were to examine the female body as an object and deprive it of any connection to humanity or “personhood,” one might come to the conclusion it is much like an oyster. It produces one powerful commodity per month, an ovum, and this commodity is the key to a man propagating his genetic line, to consolidate his power, to ensure an heir to the throne. A healthy woman has long been regarded as a precious thing, cherished above jewels and, often, equal to land in value and importance.
- Because of this, judging a woman’s worth based on the physical appearance of her body is a fundamental part of human culture. It may even be a universal component of every human culture. The characteristics that speak to the health and value of a woman’s body have, however, changed over time. In lean times, when access to food resources are scarce (or when illnesses ravage communities and make hunting difficult), a ‘plump’ woman is considered healthy and beautiful. She is consuming enough calories to not only work around the house and field, but also to nourish a child. Beauty is a utilitarian construct. When access to calories is plentiful, svelte & “classically” curvaceous – think the hourglass figure – is desirable. Women have hips and full busts, but not so “overfed” as to be round at the waist. They have the luxury of limiting calories at will to shape their body. When access to resources is so abundant as to be trivial, when there is an obscenity of calories, as in modern times, it can be in style to conspicuously not consume them. Skinny, pre-adolescent body types with no hips, no (real) breasts, thin legs, and skeletal faces are the hallmark of “femininity.” (Though to be fair within this author’s lifetime there has been a real rebellion against hauntingly thin women.) The irony of this trend is that such undernourishment actually decreases the reproductive availability of these women, thereby undercutting the whole point of objectifying a woman’s body apart from her status as a person.
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