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The Body In Western And Non Western Cultures

1040 words - 4 pages

How do people view the body? The answer varies from location, religion and culture. How western cultures view the body and how the body is treated (our body and others) are different from how non western cultures view and treat bodies. We can see the differences in the western and non western bodies in such works as Anne Fadiman’s account of a Hmong child in America and in articles like Genital Surgeries: Gendering Bodies. Along with the many differences between western and non western thoughts there are also several similarities. Especially when it comes to metaphors of the body.
The generalized western opinion of the body is that it is akin to an object. Like a car the body is composed of several diverse aspects. From a medical perception the body is healthy when all of the parts that compose it are running effortlessly and efficiently. If one part is not up to current standards then it has the ability to be dismantled and rearranged so that it works. From a social perspective the body is only healthy when it looks healthy. A healthy body for western society is slim or athletic, tan, tall and straight, clear of blemishes, clean and well maintained. The medical body and the social body are not always equivalent in western culture.
For example: Athletes appear to be very healthy by society standards. They are normally tall and athletic and give off the appearance of health. However, some athletes use anabolic steroids to help boost their performance. While they look healthy and act healthy these drugs have devastating effects inside of their body such as liver damage and formation of devastating cancers. In this example while the body was healthy by society standards it was not by medical standards.
In non western cultures, especially in Hmong culture, the body is a house for the spirit. The house is a mystery; no one knows how it works. For example, in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down doctors have to reassure patients that blood work will not decrease the amount of blood in the body. To the Hmong the body has a finite supply of blood and by extracting blood to run tests the western doctors are making the patient tremendously more ill. For the Hmong when something is wrong with the house you call upon a shaman to find out what needs be done to help the spirit. Everything that is wrong with the body is related to the soul. The body and soul are one entity. To appease the soul and spirits the shaman doesn’t even need to touch the body. The body is just an indicator and home for the soul.
Although these two opinions of the body are different both cultures see the body as housing other things. The Hmong see the body as a house for the soul while western thoughts see the body “as a house, as fortress, as edifice, cell, cage, box, coffer” (Lupton page 60) It is something to defend and protect against invading forces.
In western culture “sick” means bad. A sick mind mean perverse while death means end and disease is decay. Something...

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