“People don’t buy products—they buy people. It’s called slavery. I mean networking. It’s called networking.”
-Jarod Kintz from ‘This Book is Not FOR SALE’
In previous blog posts, I have explored the body bought and sold through more controversial and ethically debated subjects. But what about the everyday? We are constantly exposed to an array of media subliminally presenting the ideal and normative body. TV adverts, billboards, print and social media all impact our visions of bodies. Bodies are the ultimate forms of material culture and are also pasted onto many other objectified forms.
The commercialized body represents and shapes our consumption desires. Large corporations participate in the buying and selling of individual bodies- professional sports, modelling and even scientific and technological research (which I shall explore further in my next blog post). In professional sports, the physical body of the elite athlete is bought rather than his or her mental capabilities. The professional is bound to a strict contract which disciplines, monitors and governs their practices. We can link this to Foucault’s ‘docile bodies’ which ‘may be subjected, used, transformed and improved’ by institutions (Foucault 1975:136). Discipline increases the forces of the body in economic terms of utility and reduces these same forces in political terms of obedience dissociating power from the body (Foucault 1975:138). When star footballers transfer to different teams there is often a huge uproar as well as a financial cost of millions of pounds. Last year Raheem Sterling transferred from Liverpool to Manchester City for £ 49 million and received the title of English football’s £100 million man. In this lucrative sport, players are bought and sold whilst their injuries also prove to be extremely costly.
Raheem Sterling ‘English football’s £100 million man’
Similarly, commercial models are paid solely based on how much their body is valued. They are also bound to contracts which dictate how they can use their bodies to a certain degree. In this buying and selling of bodies, what exactly is being bought and sold? The individual body is bought by the company, it is invested in and nurtured by the large corporation and then re-emitted to the mass audience. We then buy the image of the body through buying branded products which can influence how we shape our bodies and to what standards. The company wishes to sell their product but is selling much more-the ideal unattainable body, self and lifestyle. Miller and Rose describe how advertisers adopt a psychoanalytical approach to guide campaigns of persuasion- an interpersonal process (Miller & Rose 1997). The consumer is often described as a passive being acted upon by advertisers who creates false desires and needs (Miller & Rose 1997:6). We can link this to Foucault’s ‘docile bodies’ where individuals lack agency and are manipulated by commercial agents.
Additionally, the branding of oneself can act as the ultimate form of commodification (Maguire 2015). We can view the individual body acting as a canvas for the marketed brand. Clothes items, perfumes and even Kimojis, (Kim Kardashian’s emoji IPhone app) are examples of a body or individual becoming materialised.
Kim Kardashian’s Kimojis
The commercialized body represents the normative body, the accepted body of society, the body as citizenship. Here we can see the body as socially constructed, a mirror for society (Douglas 1966). The ideal body type changes over time as well as cross culturally however many countries look to the Western North Americanized body for beauty inspiration. In Brazil, beauty correlates with success where ‘References to work and the wider social world punctuate …the decision to have plastic surgery’ (Edmonds 2007:369). One woman states that no one will ‘hire someone who will ruin the image of the product’ (Edmonds 2007:369). Hodden compares commercialized bodies in America and Japan by analysing various TV adverts (Hodden 1996). Whilst most of the societal values and desires are the same in both countries, Hodden argues that in America, the body is presented as an ideal whilst in Japan, it is ‘average’ and attainable (Hodden 1996:209). In recent years, this ideal commercialized body has been challenged with plus size models, disabled models, and even models wearing the hijab.
Women challenge Victoria Secret’s ‘Perfect Body’ Campaign which was changed after
How does the normative body affect our self-construction? We could argue that preserving a unique and individual body means resisting the norm. But what is the norm? The commercialized body is unavoidable and shapes our desires, values and intentions. Although we can get frustrated and resist the idea that worth is placed on aesthetics, we often inevitably take on this mentality ourselves particularly when younger, more malleable and susceptible to social pressures. Lifestyles to aim for are represented in and sold to us through the commercialized body. Giddens argues that lifestyles ‘give material form to a particular narrative of self-identity’ (Giddens 1991:81). Furthermore, the ‘ideal self’ becomes part of our self-identity as an aspiration to aim for which influences how the self develops (Giddens 1991:68). Through analysing the commercialized body, we can observe how advertised lifestyles mirror our desires and influence our constructions of the self and body.
Edmonds, A. (2007). ‘The poor have a right to be beautiful’: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil, p.363-381, Vol. 13(2), Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Wiley- Blackwell, UK.
Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison, p.136-8, 2nd Vintage Books ed., Vintage Books, New York.
Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and Self- Identity, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.
Hodden, T.J.M. (1996). The Commercialized Body: A Comparative Study of Culture and Values, p.199-215, Vol. 2(2), Interdisciplinary Information Sciences, Graduate School of Information Sciences, Tohoku Daigaku, Japan.
Miller, P and Rose, N. (1997). Mobilizing the Consumer: Assembling the Subject of Consumption, p.1-36, Vol. 14(1), Theory, Culture and Society, Sage Publications, USA.
Feature image: http://www.davidpaulkirkpatrick.com/2014/02/05/in-defense-of-the-barbie-body/