February 4th, 2011


Language of body dissatisfaction as viewed by a nitpicker of connotation

I was reading the following in Business Week the other day:
"Book Review: American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and Our Quest for Perfection" by June Thomas (the book reviewed is by Laurie Essig)

I was struck by the following phrase in the review:
"Splurging on a tummy tuck might actually be a sensible survival instinct."

At first I was just annoyed by the sloppiness inherent in an economic decision being called an "instinct." Let's not mix our technical jargon, mmmkay? (Later on, the phrase "rational financial decision" is used instead, which I find less sloppy.)

The book being reviewed makes the argument that less wealthy people may be getting cosmetic surgery because they see it as a way of gaining access to wealth. ("30 percent of plastic surgery patients earned less than $30,000 a year.") The author puts it this way:
"Working-class bodies, which tend to be larger and have less access to things like braces for straight teeth or dermatologists for smooth skin, also elicit more disgust than the smooth, pampered bodies of the upper classes."
I was annoyed by two things in that statement:

(1) The notion of "working-class bodies" and "upper-class bodies." There might be trends for people who are working-class to look less conventionally attractive than people who are upper-class, but I would want to see evidence.

(2) The way an opinion is presented as a statement of fact. "Working-class bodies...elicit more disgust."

I believe that specific choices about language use can influence beliefs, and beliefs can influence social reality. I think statements like that create and/or strengthen an opinion about the inherent ugliness of certain bodies, rather than simply reflecting an existing opinion.

(I need a "nitpicking" icon.)

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