Body exemplar

September 19, 2018

But had the oxen or the lions hands, or could with hands depict a work
like men, were beasts to draw the semblance of the gods, the horses
would them like to horses sketch, to oxen, oxen, and their bodies make
of such a shape as to themselves belongs. / (Xenophanes of Colophon)

IMG_2673One of particularly interesting remarks Adams evokes in his ‘Becoming infrastructural’ considers bodily representation of Christ in early middle ages art. Figurative image of the Redeemer was always torn between its divine characteristics and its belonging to the human, imperfect and mortal world. It needed to reconcile these antagonisms – and in an approachable way as sculpture and painting used to be channels of communication with uneducated faithful followers.

Far more literal example of encapsulating gods in refined human bodies is – obviously – rendered by the culture and arts of Ancient Greece. No matter for the exact epoch – archaic, classical or Hellenistic – ubiquitous image of god is anthropomorphic and chiseled with great care. Human body is melted with human character in gods’ concept, but exaggerated in terms of importance, power and impact. Nevertheless, this close connection make the representation of gods similar to fabulously shaped, athlete bodies of Olympic games’ participants. Not only are these statues defined by impeccable proportions or desirably-formed muscles – they are openly seductive. Sexual aspect is emphasized with them being not always masculine or feminine, but also effeminate proving Ancient Greece to be less straight than one could imagine.

Although the Christian body was not marked with a notion of seduction, both examples show longing for the ideal. With ages passing by, a shift can be observed in understanding beauty, and as Adams points out – by the 19th century, the body discloses signs of imperfections.

One could say that in times of ‘liquid modernity’, as Zygmunt Bauman puts it, there is no longer one absolute standard of beauty – especially in the era of emancipation and queer. While there is, indeed, certain freedom mainly in comparison to the condition from fifty years ago (and still very much dependent on country or region), the 21st century ideal body followed the seemingly only stable component of fluid and varied reality – consumption.

The ideal body of today – with reasonable amount of wit and luck – is able to be a promotion of itself, the lifestyle it represents and the products that helps in its pursuit of perfection. Actually – being so desired – it can promote and sell basically everything, not necessarily related to fashion or beauty industry.

The critique arose to establish the value of ‘imperfect’ body. Some bigger concerns use this rhetoric as new advertisement, for instance Dove with All woman project. Certain amount of sexism was eliminated from commercials (again – very dependent on the country), but a closer look on boosting social media concentrated on visual content like Instagram or You Tube is far from admiring ‘variety’ or ‘defects’.

The new pretty is more than appearance – it’s your breakfast to be aestheticly ‘chaotic’ composition of fruit and oats, your clothes to be designed by specific brands, your trainings personal, your work creative and appreciated. New celebrities – ‘people that are known for being known’ – with their new lifestyle set a rather healthy example, but at the same time create a kind of jeopardy of the ideal body becoming too central or too important of a life goal.

It is to be remembered that while the tendency towards beauty may change (or has partially changed already, like in Sweden), the economic drive remains. The sad conclusion could be that eventually the promoted perfect body – disregarding specific visual aspects and in respect to overall relativism – is the one creating profit.

01 / Kinga Zemła


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