It’s what we do with that what is given by biology and shaped by culture.
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© Sandra Wagemakers, 2010

Our body is a signifier of the self, it can be seen, it can be showed. We use it to display a part of our self, a part of our identity. Not only what we modify, but also what we don’t change signifies who we are.

Stevenson emphasizes this in the light of hairstyling. We are constrained by biology to some extent, but for a large part we can choose how to style our hair and it is a important signifier of the self. It is subjected to historical time period and geographical place, to a culture one is in. If we look for instance at Argentina, I notice how different the hair is. The girls have longer hair and many guys have short hair but with a few long braids. Facial hair is more common as well. Next to hairstyling there are many more options of altering your body. This could include some rigid changes such as cosmetic surgery, but also smaller ones such as putting nail polish on.

As we have seen in the interview with Borgman, in the old times we took control over our bodies and Christianity turned away from this and emphasizes that we should take care of our bodies rather than take them over. But when does taking care become taking over? If we pierce our ears, we are altering our body, but are we taking over our body? All our actions are taken within the realm of culture, and what may be considered in one culture as taking over is not in another one.

With the process of secularization we moved again to a reality of bodily practices. Since the 19th Century the body and spiritual are increasingly separated. As Turner beliefs, the body is about historical and social consequences of arranging the body within human relations; what is given by biology gets meaning in a culture. In the picture we see a guy without a part of his right leg and with crutches. The issue how this is dealt with upon birth differs by cultural beliefs, as well as family and society. How you will deal with it yourself later in life depends on you as a person but you are largely shaped by what you have encountered early on. My cousin for instance has been in a wheelchair since he was little, but he has accomplished more than many people with a healthy body. If he would have been born with the same body in the rurals of Asia, his life would have been really different; although this is true for everyone, I’m emphasizing this in the light of the body. Not only because the technological advantages differ from here and there, but also because of the different cultural norms which are held in Asia towards the disabled.

It shows the status shield, as Hochschild mentioned by Shilling calls it, or rather the lack of it. Those in power have more access to shape their body in a healthy fashion. This can be clearly seen by the fact that he uses wooden crutches, whereas someone with more power (relating to more financial resources) might encounter less problems as he will be able to use a wheelchair, a fake leg, and would be able to hide his deficit. This clearly relates to the concept of cultural capital as mentioned in the lecture by van Lenning. It is good to have certain aspects of the body, such as a fully capable body, a slim body, as it helps you in society. We value these body elements in a certain way. Although we say that “let the best win” this is not entirely true, as we can see by the status shield. People with more power, have more access to recourses which disadvantages those who are lesser off. This is also depended on culture, to both what is valued more, and to the access people have to reach this ideal.