I just listened to the first audio file of a lecture series given by Professor Hugo Schwyzer of California USA. I shall probably listen to the rest in this particular series of recorded audio's around the topic of "Beauty and the Body in the European-American Tradition".
The topic introduces Plato's concept of Body and Mind (or Soul) being at odds. Plato contended that both the body and the soul were replete with desires but were often contradicting each other. The amorphous disembodiment of the Soul as a separate entity from the corporeal physical "Thing" which carried it, determined much of our Western Judeo-Christian historical perceptions of our Selves.
Professor Schwyzer wants his students to challenge this notion of our bodies and our minds being at odds with each other with the body being a sort of whipping-boy for its "shameful" needs and desires. He wants his students to come to a point where both mind and body are integrated into a Whole that is the Self.
It's a dangerous idea really. At least, I think it is! It means that a large proportion of Western Culture must undergo a shift in language and thought about beauty; and particularly about how much the physical body is subjected to in terms of denigration and idealism.
Only this morning I dropped the not-so-useful platitude, "Never judge a book by its cover" into a comment in Facebook. And there it was: (the comment was in relation to the idea that a young girl was "invisible" to other "because" of her looks and physical shape) there was my nod to the embedded ideology that the True person is not her physical body but that it is her essence or soul that are far more valuable and if only the other girls could "see" that! I had indefatigably bought into the common notion that the mind/soul part of a person are worth so much more than the physical body a person inhabits.
The body identifies us. The essence of who we are - our soul and our mind - are given outline and identity through the limitations of our physical self. Our bodies guarantee that we can be known in the world, that we exist. Our fingers, toes, noses and earlobes, eyes and girth all help to shape our relationships and our function on this planet as do our thoughts, ideas, personalities and temperaments. It all counts to making up the Self. We cannot be the thoughts, personalities, temperaments or creative beings we are without embodiment; not at least, in the corporeal sense of that term.
But let's be careful here!
Looking at what I just said, what did you immediately think?
Did you think that I was implying that a "lack" of beauty is to be empirically measured against an objective "standard"? Did you assume I was being shallow as to to subject young men and women to the torment of having to beat their bodies into a form that is "pleasing" to others? To what or who's standard?
I say no such thing. I am in fact saying that it is our current obsessions with standardised notions of what constitutes "beautiful" that is letting us all down. We are isolating our bodies as objects. We are capitulating to the notion that the body is inherently "bad" and therefore must be subdued - even extinguished - in order for our minds and souls to be freed to be our true selves!
This is where language lets me down. What I want to reiterate is that since listening to this lecture, I realise that we all deserve soooooo much more than platitudes about our bodies not being as important as essence, personality, soul, temperament, ephemeral being! My skin is every bit as much Me as what I think and the sum of my quirky idiosyncrasies which mark my unique nature.
This is about accepting the whole of myself instead of railing against my body out of a misconception that proclaims it's bad, unpleasant, unruly and "ugly".
Beauty exists. There are people for whom the aesthetic of the physical is a lovely, wonderful gift. We enjoy looking at and appreciating beauty. It is pleasurable and sensuous to admire something that pleases the eye.
Thing is, when I measure "my" body against the beliefs and perceptions I have about someone else's body, I'm doing my Self a disservice. I am not honouring myself nor am I loving myself. I even do the other person a disservice! I place them in an impossible place where my perception of their "perfection" makes them less human than me! They become objectified and I exude envy, which is not very fair on anyone.
There isn't anything less important about the body than there is about the mind or soul. We are people, complete with all our idiosyncratic personal tendencies, likes, dislikes along with a unique and identifiable shape with which we are endowed through nature and nurture.
Loving my body means defining a new language for myself. A language which is inclusive of everything that makes me unique as an individual. A healthy mind is a healthy body, is a healthy attitude, is a healthy relationship with others. It's not about grotesque, gorgeous, good and bad when it comes to my body. It's time I re-educated my instinctive Platonian good/evil thinking to a more wholistic mindset when it comes to thinking about my Self and others.
I am my body. I am my Self. I am.
Therefore "Beauty" not only refers to how healthy and cared for my body is, it also refers to how I think and feel about Life itself.
Therefore "Body" includes the thoughts I have which define my nature and ideological presence. My personality is as much the bodily "shape" I give to the world as my physical shape.
Therefore acceptance of other people as they are, becomes much more important.