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Body

BODY

BODY. The intricate relationship between food and the human body finds expression in virtually all dimensions of human existence: from physiology to psychology, from the domestic sphere to that of political economy, from the societal to the symbolic. In exploring the ways in which food and its consumption are articulated in the forms and images of corporeality, it bears note that the human body, per se, is an abstraction. As gender studies scholars have maintained, there is no such thing as a neutral "human body": every human body is individually unique in a multiplicity of ways (most basically, at the genetic level). In addition, all human bodies are sexedbe they female, male, or born hermaphrodite. For heuristic purposes only, then, it is convenient to generalize about "the human body."

Human Growth and Development

The size and shape of an individual human body (what biologists call "phenotype") is the product of the interactions over time of the genetic makeup ("genotype") and environmental influences, including behavior. Morphology, or physical form, derives from hereditary, endocrinological, metabolic, maturational, environmental, and lifestyle factors, yet the relative weight of these effects may vary depending on the somatic trait in question. For example, adult height is under rather high genetic control, whereas adult weight has a relatively low degree of heritability. There is strong evidence, however, that both energy expenditure and the basal metabolic rate enjoy a significant genetic component; likewise, gene regulation is pronounced in the distribution, or patterning, of body fat at all stages of the life span.

Growth, in terms of the progressive development of adult proportions, is measured linearly (by height or length of limb bone); in the expansion of girth, or surface area (by quadratic measures); and in terms of volume, or mass (by cubic measures). Aberrations in any of these dimensions can arise from genetic abnormalities or environmental stress, in the form of malnutrition, disease, toxins, accidents, psychosocial stress, and/or other insults to the developing organism. Human growth is so highly sensitive to environmental forces that it provides a reliable indicator of the quality of the environment, although even under stress the body maintains proportionality, in what has been called the "harmony of growth." Moreover, short-term or seasonal sources of stress need not permanently compromise the developing body, since humans possess the capacity for "catch-up" growtha rapid increase in growth velocity that restores a child to predicted sizein weight and to a lesser degree in height. Despite its sensitivity, human growth thus appears to be a "target-seeking process" that seeks to move back to its individual trajectory when driven off course ( Johnston, p. 318). The ability to recover is a function of the timing, duration, and intensity of insult, plus the quality of the post-insult environment. Data suggest that weight recovery from severe caloric and/or protein shortages can be achieved (in both children and adults), with lean muscle tissue synthesized first, followed by the laying down of adipose tissue. However, weight gain in itself does not necessarily guarantee a return to normal health, as the body's chemical composition and anatomy may be in danger of disequilibrium without attention to key micronutrients during the recovery process. With respect to stature, chronic stress in childhood can lead to permanent stunting in adult height. It is estimated that approximately one-third of the world's children are stunted in height in comparison with averages compiled for children in North America alone.

Under normal circumstances, human growth and development from conception to maturity follow a patterned trajectory. This trajectory is characterized by a rapid velocity of post-natal growth (with growth rate at its fastest in the first year of life); a steady growth rate with a lower, decelerating velocity during childhood; a juvenile growth spurt around the age of seven or eight (in about two-thirds of healthy children); and the onset of adolescence, with a markedly accelerated growth spurt, beginning for girls at age ten, on average, and for boys at age twelve years (in Western societies, yet later in stressed ecosystems). With the onset of adolescence, the relatively similar childhood body shapes and compositions of the two sexes undergo maturational processes that lead to marked differentiation. Maturation involves skeletal changes, such as the female's wider pelvic girth relative to shoulder width; muscular changes, with males exhibiting a more dramatic increase in accretion of muscle than do females; changes in adipose tissue and fat patterning, with females adding both central body and limb fat, and males losing fat from the subcutaneous layers (superficial under-the-skin fat, as opposed to deep body fat); and changes in secondary sexual characteristics, such as pubic hair and breast development. Growth ceases on completion of puberty after the period of peak growth velocity, whereupon the human body attains adult stature and achieves full reproductive maturity.

The most striking features of the adult stage of life are its stability (homeostasis) and its resistance to pathological influences. With advances in nutrition, medicine, and hygiene and a resulting increased life expectancy at all ages, more humans today live sufficiently past the reproductive years to experience chronic disease and failing physiology. Senescencedefined as cumulative, universal, progressive, irreversible, and degenerative agingdoes not appear to be under tight genetic control. Rather, aging is a multi-causal process, and most pathologies relating to age (for example, cancers, heart disease, and late-onset diabetes) are probably culturally and environmentally specific. However, there is a general tendency for both sexes to experience age-related losses in stature and in muscular (lean body) mass, coincident with a decline in total energy requirements. Biological aging in non-Western populations tends to be associated with declining fatness as a percentage of total body composition; in contrast, industrialized populations tend to experience age-related increases in fat.

Human Morphological Variation

As a result of the dynamic gene-environment interactions taking place from birth to maturity, body size and morphology exhibit a wide range of variation within and between populations. Variation in body shape at a population level may, in part, mark a phenotypic manifestation of the evolutionary forces of natural selection, wherein statistically normal adult morphology is regulated by genetic adaptations to specific ecosystemic and other environmental constraints. For example, there exists a clear geographical pattern that, in colder habitats, mean body weight is greater, which might assist in the maintenance of core body temperature. Likewise, low weight may confer a thermoregulatory advantage in tropical climates, where, too, greater skin surface area (with pores) as a proportion of weight can assist with the dissipation of heat through perspiration.

In addition to genetic differences, there are many environmental and behavioral factors that influence body shape. Nutrition and overall dietary intake play central roles, as do energy-expenditure activities, disease, lifestyle, and socioeconomic status. Variance in basic caloric intake (measured as an excess or deficit in energy balance) is a major determinant of visible differences in body morphology, mainly in the ways that caloric excess shapes subcutaneous fat deposition. Simply put, eating plays an increasingly prominent role in determining what we look like, and the kinds of cross-population and intra-individual variations we see. Fat is one of the most labile tissues of the body and alters according to both genetic and environmental factors. Ethnic differences in subcutaneous fat thickness suggest genetic variation in fat patterning among populations, with peoples of European ancestry exhibiting a more peripheral than central pattern of fat distribution (limb fat over visceral fat) than those of African and Asian ancestry. Across all ethnic groups, there is marked sexual dimorphism with regard to total body fat and fat patterning, with post-adolescent females averaging approximately 20 percent in body fat composition, whereas males average 12 percent. Fat patterning is related to health status in direct and indirect ways; for example, there is strong evidence that body fat at greater than normative values (relative to gender), especially in the form of central body depositions of adipose tissue, correlates with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases and for the metabolic malady of late-onset diabetes (non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus).

Processes of societal "modernization," including increased population mobility, provision of social services, and industrialization (the transition from a predominantly agricultural mode of subsistence to a cash-based economy) have all influenced body shape and size, in both positive and negative ways. Positive effects have come through improved health care and education; negative effects through the growing preponderance of Western lifestyles and consumption of highly processed, energy-dense foods (such as candy and "fast food"). Widespread increases in levels of obesity (often coupled with malnutrition) have been common in low-income as well as middle-and upper-income communities, and throughout urban, peri-urban, and rural areas. Medical obesity (generally defined as an individual who weighs 25 percent more than the expected weight for a given height and body frame) has become particularly acute among recently modernizing populations of the so-called New World regions, that is, the Amerindians of the Americas, the Aborigines of Australia, and the Polynesians of the Pacific islands. It is unclear whether these populations may be genetically susceptible to late-onset diabetes triggered by rapid social and economic change, or whether undernutrition during fetal and infancy years may be an underlying factor. While in the developed (some might say overdeveloped) countries excess energy (caloric) intake relative to expenditure presents the greatest food-related health problem, in much of the world undernutrition is still a major cause of morbidity and mortality.

Culture and Excess Food Consumption

Ideologies about the body and beliefs concerning ideal body size and shape are highly culture specific and, as such, transform over time, as cultures themselves undergo changes in subsistence, politics, religion, aesthetic tastes, and cross-cultural contact.

Contrary to the medical diagnosis of obesity, social definitions of obesity vary cross-culturally and across different historical eras. In traditional societies, excess body weight has generally been regarded in positive terms. Its value may even be culturally elaborated to such an extent that certain members of the group are deliberately fattened, especially in communities living in environments experiencing extreme seasons or marginal subsistence. For example, in past times when food supplies were irregular among the Nauru peoples of the Pacific, young women were fattened to improve their reproductive performance. Herein, the reproductively viable woman "was supported in her role as the creator of new life, in a community which perceived itself to be under demographic threat" (Ulijaszek et al. 1998, p. 410). Even when Nauru puberty ceremonies involving fattening practices diminished in importance as a result of the introduction of a cash economy, food as a marker of prestige persisted. Likewise, ritual fattening of Annang women in Nigeria is believed to enhance fertility, whereas, among the Azande of Central Africa, fatness is still associated with higher social status as well as greater fertility.

In some cultures, fatness has not only been desirable, it has been evocative of desire, particularly sexual desire. During the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618907) and for long thereafter, plumpness was the standard of beauty for women; wealthy women were over-fed to levels of excessive obesity. Today, Chinese phrases still equate plumpness with health and good fortune; conversely, phrases associated with thinness indicate poor physical and social position.

Turning to prehistory in this context, it is worth noting the numerous Paleolithic statuettes of obese, voluptuous female figures that have been found over a broad geographical region of present-day Europe. The remarkable uniformity of female figurines, which are almost invariably obese and far outnumber male figurines (none of which are corpulent), suggests that a shared perception of a particular female form existed during Paleolithic times. The most famous of such figurinesthe Venus of Willendorfdates from 26,000 to 22,000 years ago. While we may never know whether the Venus of Willendorf was an actual woman, a fertility-cult idol, or a "mother" goddess, she likely represented a widespread ideal of femaleness, one that emphasized obesity. Based on the life-like depiction of the fat patterns and other features of the statue, it has been suggested that she must have been modeled on a real human subject. If so, she would most likely have been exempt from food-gathering and other high-energy exertion activities, implying that collective food resources were devoted to her care.

The positive value accorded to fatness in some cultures has generally been interpreted as a response to the vagaries of uncertain food supply, wherein individuals with larger body size represented better reproductive potential, higher social status, economic success, and/or better survivability during times of shortage. Body fatness does in fact confer considerable advantages in buffering adversity and promoting female reproductive success: the energy store of body fat in adequately nourished women is usually equivalent to the energy cost of a pregnancy. There is thus a direct, biological equation between body size and individual health, and by extension between the body size of group members and group welfare. Since physical strength derives from food (that is, adequate nutrition and caloric intake), controlling a secure food supply is a source of power, and a marker of such, resulting in a symbolic connection: food not only converts into, but comes to symbolize, fat, flesh, mass. Excess body size might reflect food security, signaling the endurance of the collective and its demographic (hence, politico-military) strength. The obese, voluptuous female may literally embody the practical and ideological values of food. Likewise, the pregnant or lactating female figure is a corporeal sign of the body as life-giving food, itself a source of survival for future generations.

With the rise of industrialization, the majority of the population has become emancipated from direct engagement in the food quest and food production, while at the same time food has become more readily available to all.

The positive value and the aesthetic desirability of obesity common in traditional societies tend eventually to subside with modernization. In late-twentieth-century Western societies, fatness became associated with sloth and laziness, and the cultural ideal emphasized a slender body form and even implied a moral virtue related to thinness. In spite of these new ideals and well-documented negative health effects of being overweight, obesity has nonetheless emerged as an epidemic health problem worldwide (reaching levels as high as 60 percent of adults in the contemporary United States). Tragically, moreover, the excessive ideals of thinness allowed to perpetuate in the fashion and cosmetics industries have contributed to the rise of another major public health crisis in Western societies, in the form of eating disorders, such as self-starvation, or anorexia nervosa.

Ideologies of the Anorexic Body

Food's central role in mediating the cultural construction of the body is as true in the case of such wasting diseases as anorexia nervosa as it is for obesity. An extremely complex psychological and somatic illness, anorexia nervosa is a life-threatening eating disorder defined as a refusal to eat that results in a body weight of less than 85 percent of the individual's expected weight for height and age. Features of anorexia that shed light on the relationship between the body, the self, and culture include an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image of being fat (even when the anorexic may be emaciated in actuality), absence of regular menstrual periods, and in some cases, binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse. Anorexia predominantly strikes females, especially in their teenage years; only 10 percent of sufferers are males. Conservative estimates suggest that 1 percent of females in the contemporary United States develop anorexia, and approximately 4 percent of college-age women in the United States suffer from the binge-eating disorder of bulimia.

Anorexia in its contemporary form is generally regarded as a negative symptom of the current popular culture ideal of female slenderness that valorizes an emaciated and androgynous supermodel-type of figure, characterized by an unrealistically thin waist, willowy limbs, and small breasts. The disease is thus shaped by the cultural concept of the female body in the West, a concept in which food and food symbolism play a central role alongside gender roles and expectations. According to feminist theories, patriarchal ideologies juxtapose the masculine body as an active working thing (energized by caloric intake and a very carnal, consuming relationship to the external world at large) against the feminine body as a passive vehicle intended to provide gratification, which exists in order to be used, to be itself consumed. In short, the masculine subject depends for its existence on the construction of the feminine object as an arena for action and penetration.

In this context, anorexia has been interpreted as both a symptom of a woman's imprisonment to patriarchal society and as an attempt to resist its pressures. On the one hand, an anorexic woman enslaves herself to the impossible ideals of thinness, and by practicing self-starvation literally internalizes and embodies dominant culture's tacit attempts to minimize and control her. On the other hand, by not eating, the anorexic attempts to assert autonomy over her body and body boundaries, and thereby free herself of external incursions. In both events, food acts as a metaphor for all foreign (contaminating) substances, and food abstinence becomes a measure of self-discipline, self-reliance, and purity: the anorexic shuts out the world, with an autonomy on display and visibly performed in the figure of her thin, model-like body. Yet food consumption is also an expression of desire. If women threaten to become active subjects through the expression of desire in the form of a voracious appetite, then the patriarchal definition of womanhood is under-mined. In the logic of this equation, "flesh is appetite made concrete" (MacSween) and appetite is a form of voice (Brumberg, p. 19). Female fat thus becomes an external sign of female desire that intrudes into masculine space. While power might commonly be equated with size, it has been noted that, as women become more powerful and visible in society, they also paradoxically become less massive. In other words, the successful woman is a thin woman. On the surface, the dominant theme reads that a successful woman has the willpower to not eat; at the same time, however, there exists a hidden and contradictory subtext: that women should really not be visible or powerful. With a rise in female power, then, there is a corresponding loss of female flesh, and, paradoxically, a symbolic cancellation of female presence.

Hence, by not desiring food, a modern anorexic makes her body desirable according to the norms of dominant society. By making her body a mirror of starvation, she simultaneously makes herself less threatening to patriarchy. These parallels between desire and food, modesty, and morality also underpin a type of "holy anorexia" that pious medieval women were known to practice. In Europe in the early Christian Middle Ages, asceticismincluding abstinence from food consumptionwas considered a form of religious piety, and anorexia in particular was a chosen path for women wishing to express their religious fervor. Like its modern counterpart, medieval anorexia may have served to order women's behavior according to dominant values, but also to exercise a kind of resistance. In a historical epoch with few or no birth control options, medieval women anorexics (whose symptoms generally included irregular menstruation) could free themselves of the burden of fertility, while manipulating the powerful imagery of female fertility. For both the medieval and the modern anorexic, then, self-starvation has been part of a larger struggle for liberation from a patriarchal family and society, in the former case, to achieve greater spiritual purity and in the latter, to succeed in the secular public sphere.

Food and Body Connections

For a variety of reasons, males are less associated with food and food symbolism than are females, a situation that largely holds across cultures. Ideologies about the ideal male body in contemporary Western societies tend to focus on muscular body build achieved through energy expenditure and exercise regimes, rather than through food intake or abstinence. Men who suffer from anorexia athletica (compulsive exercise) may abuse food in the form of undereating or binge eating, along with steroids or laxatives, in attempts to achieve a model physique.

Perhaps because of the ideological links between musculature and virility, red meat (primarily beef) has popularly been regarded as "man's food" in contemporary society. The common cliche "real men don't eat quiche" captures such gender assignment of food in a Western "you are what you eat" cultural paradigm. Salads are seen, by contrast, as the preserve of women, though not simply based on caloric levels, since while meat has higher calories than lettuce, salad dressings are likely to be calorie-rich. Chinese culture provides another pronounced example of food categorization schemes, wherein most foods possess either a yin or yang nature, categories that also align with female or male connotations, respectively.

In sum, culture-specific body image plays a prominent role in consumption patterns and types of food consumed, based on gender and dominant ideologies. As food consumption is "worn" by the body through processes of human growth and development, it might be said that beliefs about food are "worn" by the body as a reflection of cultural norms. In various cultural and historical contexts, the body, as an index for food, has come to symbolize individual and collective welfare, fertility, morality, sexuality, power, and/or resistance.

See also Anorexia, Bulimia ; Aversion to Food ; Body Composition ; Consumption of Food ; Eating ; Evolution ; Gender and Food ; Obesity ; Women and Food .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Beckett, Chris. Human Growth and Development. London: Sage, 2002.

Bell, Rudolph. Holy Anorexia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Bogin, Barry. Patterns of Human Growth and Development. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Brumberg, Joan Jacobs. Fasting Girls: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Crews, Douglas E., and Ralph M. Garruto. Biological Anthropology and Aging: Perspectives on Human Variation over the Life Span. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

de Garine, Igor, and Nancy J. Pollock, eds. Social Aspects of Obesity. New York: Gordon and Breach, 1995.

Gabaccia, Donna R. We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Johnston, Francis E. "The Ecology of Post-Natal Growth." In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Growth and Development, edited by Stanley J. Ulijaszek, Francis E. Johnston, and Michael A. Preece, pp. 315319. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

MacSween, Morag. Anorexic Bodies: A Feminist and Sociological Perspective on Anorexia Nervosa. London: Routledge, 1993.

Sobal, Jeffery, and Donna Maurer, eds. Weighty Issues: Fatness and Thinness as Social Problems. Hawthorne, N.Y.: Aldine de Gruyter, 1999.

Ucko, Peter J. Anthropomorphic Figurines of Predynastic Egypt and Neolithic Crete, with Comparative Material from the Prehistoric Near East and Mainland Greece. London: A. Szmidla, 1968.

Ulijaszek, Stanley J., ed. Health Intervention in Less Developed Nations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Ulijaszek, Stanley J., Francis E. Johnston, and Michael A. Preece, eds. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Growth and Development. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Kyra Landzelius

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body

bod·y / ˈbädē/ • n. (pl. bod·ies) 1. the physical structure of a person or an animal, including the bones, flesh, and organs: it's important to keep your body in good condition. ∎  a corpse: they found his body washed up on the beach. ∎  the physical and mortal aspect of a person as opposed to the soul or spirit: a duality of body and soul. ∎ inf. a person's body regarded as an object of sexual desire: he was just after her body. 2. the trunk: the blow almost severed his head from his body. ∎  [in sing.] (the body of) the main or central part of something, esp. a building or text: information that changes regularly is kept apart from the main body of the text. ∎  the main section of a car or aircraft: the body of the aircraft was filled with smoke. ∎  a large or substantial amount of something; a mass or collection of something: a rich body of Canadian folklore. ∎  (in pottery) a clay used for making the main part of ceramic ware, as distinct from a glaze. 3. a group of people with a common purpose or function acting as an organized unit: a regulatory body. 4. technical a distinct material object: the path taken by the falling body. 5. a full or substantial quality of flavor in wine. ∎  fullness or thickness of a person's hair: designed to add body to limp and straight hair. PHRASES: body and soul involving every aspect of a person; completely: the company owned them body and soul. in a body all together; as a group: they departed in a body. over my dead body inf. used to emphasize that one opposes something and would do anything to prevent it from happening: she moves into our home over my dead body.DERIVATIVES: bod·ied adj. [in comb.] a wide-bodied jet.

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Body

Body

a number of individuals spoken of collectively; a general collection of things or ideas; a mass of matter; the main portion of a collection or company.

Examples: body of inferior clergy, 1732; of cold air; of dialects, 1875; of disciples of Christ, 1886; of discourse, 1599; of divinity, 1659; of facts; of horse, 1769; of laws, 1699; of light; of natural history, 1711; of opinion; of philosophers, 1647; of precepts, 1860; of principles, 1860; of scriptures, 1593; of troops.

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body

body body and soul the corporeal and spiritual entities that make up a person; the term is traditionally often used in the context of the difficulty of sustaining existence, as in ‘keep body and soul together’.
body politic the people of a nation, state, or society considered collectively as an organized group of citizens; the term is recorded from the early 16th century.

See also know where the bodies are buried.

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Body

BODY

The principal part of anything as distinguished from its subordinate parts, as in the main part of an instrument. An individual, an organization, or an entity given legal recognition, such as a corporation or "body corporate." A compilation of laws known as a "body of laws."

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body

body (bod-i) n.
1. an entire animal organism.

2. the trunk of an individual, excluding the limbs.

3. the main or largest part of an organ.

4. a solid discrete mass of tissue; e.g. the carotid body. See also corpus.

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body

body (payload) The part of a cell or packet in a network that holds the information supplied by the end-user for transmission from the sender to the receiver.

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body

body OE. bodiġ, corr. to OHG. botah (MHG. botich, mod. Bavarian dial. bottech body of a chemise); of unkn. orig.

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body

bodybody, embody, Irrawaddy, Kirkcaldy, noddy, Passamaquoddy, shoddy, Soddy, squaddie, toddy, wadi •secondi, spondee, tondi •anybody • everybody • busybody •dogsbody • homebody •bawdy, gaudy, Geordie, Lordy •baldy, Garibaldi, Grimaldi •Maundy •cloudy, dowdy, Gaudí, howdy, rowdy, Saudi •Jodie, roadie, toady, tody •Goldie, mouldy (US moldy), oldie •broody, foodie, Judy, moody, Rudi, Trudy, Yehudi •goody, hoodie, woody •Burundi, Kirundi, Mappa Mundi •Rushdie •bloody, buddy, cruddy, cuddy, muddy, nuddy, ruddy, study •barramundi, bassi profundi, Lundy, undy •fuddy-duddy • understudy •Lombardy • nobody • somebody •organdie (US organdy) • burgundy •Arcady •chickadee, Picardy •malady • melody • Lollardy •psalmody • Normandy • threnody •hymnody • jeopardy • chiropody •parody • rhapsody • prosody •bastardy • custody •birdie, curdy, hurdy-gurdy, nerdy, sturdy, vinho verde, wordy •olde worlde

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