As children we learn by experience who is comfortable and profitable to be around and who to associate with danger, indifference, profit or lack of personal gain. Our parents and mentors also give to us a set of ideas about who they perceive as having loss or gain qualities, possibly adding to or detracting from our own levels of comfort or personal growth. From these basic set of ideas we then make our own computations about what is the correct or incorrect body form, looks, stature, colour, facial features, level of health or any other physical characteristics belonging to other people that promote or distract from our own life experience.
Such judgmentalism is a natural part of our psychological processes, but we often make those judgements unconsciously, based upon prejudice or preferences that ignore the inducement of pleasure or injury to others. Phrases like too tall, short, fat, thin, Asian, Caucasian, loud, spring to mind when we think of how certain individuals dictate what others should be like. Other prejudices talk about people who have large hands, tiny feet, deep voices, sweet smells, or are unable to hear, speak or see. Body fascism can extend to how many earrings a person wears or whether they decorate their bodies with make up, tattoos, body paints or change the shape of their bodies through surgery or other methods.
In some cultures being perceived as fat is a sign of prosperity, wealth and success; in other it is an insult and cause for offence. In certain tribes the bigger the lips a woman has the more beautiful she is considered, even to the point of stretching those lips far beyond their natural proportions using templates. Tattoos are sometimes used to identify certain individuals in a culture as upper caste or even outcasts or criminals; these markings may sometimes be done without the person's permission or even against their will.
The removal of body parts against a person's will can be deemed as punishment or sanctification of their existence. Sometimes rapists are castrated as punishment and to try and prevent them from committing their crimes again. Young girls can also be subjected to female circumcision in an attempt to control their sexual promiscuity. Circumcision in boys can be done as a sanctification, often masquerading as reasons of hygiene, but most of the time, without their permission.
Every one of us has tried to change our bodies to fit physical stereotypes at times. That may include dieting, working out, having surgery, or covering our grey hairs with tint. Inevitably we will fail at some of those tasks at some time during our lives and we can remember those experiences and how uncomfortable it was to be considered a loser due to the process of comparison. There is a constant bombardment by the media and certain political and social groups to force us to conform physically to what might be put forward as the ideal human form. Further still we are constantly comparing our own performances against what we were, could have been, or might be in order to evaluate our lives.
How we come to be what we physically are, is to a large extent out of our conscious control and due to our genetic determination. Therefore to exhibit prejudice against someone for their uncontrollable physical characteristics is less than what might be considered humane in a reasonable and fair society. Often we do it in order to help ourselves feel superior and less vulnerable but that in itself is insufficient reason to cause harm or injury to others. Each of us can constantly monitor the intention of our own body fascism in order to treat others with the greatest of respect, and inevitably guarantee when it is our turn to meet stereotype standards, our individuality is praised not castigated.
Dr Tracie O'Keefe DCH is a clinical hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, and counsellor formerly practising at The London Medical Centre, Harley Street in the UK. Now the Director of the Sex, Gender, and Sexuality Identity Clinic, at The O'Keefe Institute, Sydney, Australia.
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