Body Against Time

Western modernism takes the human body in the spiral of secularization and aims to increase the domination of human willpower over the body. Hence, the performance of the body appears to be responsible for the health, energy and dynamism of any individual. Sports, habits of eating and drinking, physical appearance, physical energy, become the new criteria of privilege and superiority among social groups. People sculpt their bodies and try to get rid of fat as they modify their eating habits (fearing high cholesterol and fatness), and increase the energy and oxygen capacity of their bodies (e.g., not smoking). The fit, muscular, upright, dynamic body that is exercised almost every day has become the symbol of modernness and even of elitism. Sports turns from a means of competition among talented people to an instrument for individual bodies in competition with time and as a symbol of status. Paul Yonnet suggest that jogging and aerobics provide a summary of Western modernism’s affinity with the body, yet they render different meanings. As a sports activity of mostly men, the former stands for a cultural code that embraces long-term endurance and requires slow but long-term, demanding physical effort and the use of limited energy resources. The latter, however, which represents the attempts of women to take part in athletic endeavors and is called ‘women’s boxing’ by Paul Yonnet, attempts to reform the female body and to protect its fitness. Both of these activities target the preservation of the body’s uprightedness against time, aging, and formlessness.

The principles of equality and of visibility, which are embraced by Western modernism, penetrated the realm of the body and subverted the established hierarchy of ages through their operations against time and aging. The aesthetic of youth is witnessed at the level of clothes as well as of lifestyle; sportswear and stretch clothes have become popular as an expression of the muscular, flexible, and fit bodies. Along with the profanation process, the body increasingly undergoes human control and clings to the ‘present’ time.
Nilüfer Göle
The Forbidden Modern: Civilization and Veiling


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