Social Class Embodiment Concept
Social class embodiment concept has changed a lot in the past decades. The body in sociology is a very important criterion when it comes to the way that one society views the other. The major links between body and social class position are reflected in the health care, style of clothes, appearance, body shape and fit. The body is fairly called to be the heart of sociology showing the tight mutual connections between personal and social life of the individuals. Social class embodiment and the body are essential factors when the sociologists try to evaluate ethnicity, gender, race, medicine, health condition, sexuality, attitude to sports and death (Morrish). It is very contradictory that though the body is placed at the very heart of sociology, the embodiment of social groups and classes are not paid enough attention to as a single human is not perceived as an important object if taken separately form the rest of the society. Recent social, technological, cultural and political changes that have been brought by the last decades have demonstrated that nowadays the body and the social class embodiment are too obvious to be ignored by sociologists (Morrish).
With the come of so many ways to self-express and to indicate oneself, the researches get many opportunities to make some judgments and see the links between the social group and the person’s body. These new conditions make embodiments and bodies more visible, sustainable and focused than ever before. Starting from tattoos and ending with plastic surgeries, from keeping fit to fashion, from the shallow attitude towards health to strong and long-lasting medications, sociologists of today have the instruments to retrieve ideas for their investigations, conclusions and researchers to get a deeper analysis of the body and the embodiment. Athletics, age, gender, sexuality, and many other peculiarities of the body have to be considered – there are millions of bodies social, and it seems impossible to count them all. The amount of body sociologies is therefore impressive but as all the possible sociologic diversity may be seen through bodies, it is a very positive indicator. Although judging people basing on their appearance is often called a stereotype, the intelligent spectator can always retrieve some useful information from the way the person looks, dresses, talks and behaves. The body “talks” about the social class while the social class is somewhat determinate of the way every single body looks. There are many factors which indicate that the body is a social element as it is not the symbol of the self but also of the society where it comes from.
This interesting ambiguity is that the body is what the individual has and what he is at the same time. The fingerprints of all humans are different but it is still a perfect indicator of the relatedness to the humanity in general. The body is both individual and personal; it is a product of the surrounding influences, and a natural phenomenon that is very individual (Synnott). All people are influenced by the environment they are brought in and by the traditions of their families – this effect is sometimes eliminated but very hard to avoid absolutely. Individuals are judged by the following criteria: clothes (their style, price, and look), make-up and hairdressing (its intensity and relevance for the time and place), age, gender, talking manner, and many other factors that may be retrieved and analyzed basing on the situation (Stark). For example, if the analysis of the social class is done using on the Internet social network page, an individual body may be judged basing upon the language used to describe oneself, write messages, etc. Age and gender are quite contradictory criteria when it comes to defining social class though they are the supportive arguments for other criteria mentioned above.
The analysis of Vicky Pollard and Zoe (“Wasp”) examples in terms of social class embodiment
The example of Vicky Pollard from Little Britain who is a comedy character personalizing “trash” teenager that represents a big part of any society (including the British one) shows how much a spectator can derive from the way a body can personalize the entire social class. Vicky Pollard is the star of “Little Britain” and is played by the actor Matt Lucas. The character is the reincarnation of a young boy that Matt Lucas met – that young gentleman was using the same catchphrases as Vicky does now. It is one of the leading characters of the series as she appeared in all episodes aired except for one. Vicky Pollard is a twenty-year-old girl that can be characterized as a moody teenager that is not capable of anything but gossiping with a strong Bristol accent. Vicky is known for her inappropriate behavior, and is perceived as the representative of so-called “chavs” (Imogen).
This social class still evokes contradictions in the scientific researches as some sociologists take it as working class but the changes that take place in the structure of society make it difficult to define any social class nowadays. It is also doubtful what the primary criteria should be taken into account when defining what working class or “chav” means. This research considers low income, lack of education and culture as the main criteria for social class evaluation. All the other factors that are seen from the body including the way of interacting, get-up, hairdressing, make-up and behavioral patterns come as the consequences of them (Imogen). The make-up of the main heroine in the movie “Wasp” is too bright and unsophisticated, while the hairdressing is messy and not elegant enough. These features peak of themselves identifying the lower working social class of Zoe.
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Vicky Pollard’s vocabulary is very limited as she tends to give the same replies to anything she dislikes using strange catchphrases that are sometimes difficult to understand because of the speech speed and a heavy Bristol accent. Vicky defends herself with “What Eva!” or other rude phrases when it comes to discussing her behavioral issues and dubious actions. Vicky’s usual conversation turns into tub-thumbing that involves much gossip and information that has nothing to do with the subject. She always promises to get back to the original point of discussion but it never happens. Her fast speech appears to be absolutely incomprehensible most of the time but she seems to be unaware of the possible irritation and discomfort she might have aroused for the surrounding people.
When it comes to analyzing the appearance of Vicky Pollard, it is needless to say that it is very descriptive for the social class she belongs to as well. The term of “chav” which is considered to be personified by Vicky Pollard appeared a lot later after the creation of this television show character. It means that the appearance of Vicky Pollard is the essential indicator of how the lower social class including uneducated people with poor income and culture level look like. Vicky’s typical clothing is the pink Kappa sport suit, and her hair is always pulled up in a ponytail that practically lifts her entire face. Although Vicky’s appearance may seem overwhelming and funny to other people, she seems to be unaware of this or simply doesn’t care claiming that she is “fit” and attractive. Vicky’s clothes or hairdressing does not look tidy, and her suit speaks of the shortage of both income and taste. She has an addiction for smoking, and this bad habit does not prevent her from violating the rules too – she tends to smoke in the forbidden areas, and it is a bright example of the gap in her cultural education and the lack of politeness. Vicky Pollard has a weight problem as well – probably, she is not very interested in doing sports, having healthy diet or checking her weight.
This is reflective of the way she is interested in her health in general – Vicky does not care because of the ignorance she demonstrates. The research of a sociologist Oli Williams proves that people coming from the lower-income backgrounds are generally less motivated to keep the track of their health condition (2011). The perception of health and body depends largely upon the communities that individuals live in and the entertainment and leisure opportunities accessible in the areas. The body shape and health decisions are not limited to the individual’s character but are also defined by many other factors – low-income bodies may be simply short of the swimming pools, gyms, spas and other health-related institutions (Rose). It is an interesting paradox to notice that socially advantaged individuals start getting dissatisfied with their appearance and body while socially disadvantaged individuals seem to care much less.
Egocentrism of Vicky
Vicky’s egocentrism plays a low-down trick with her as she always gets into embarrassing and stupid situations because of it. On the other hand, Vicky may get interested in the lives of other people only if there is some gossip or life problem involved. Her manner of speaking is very descriptive of the way Vicky evaluates words (The Telegraph 2010). She does not care if her speech is comprehensive for the ones who try to listen to what she is saying. Her catchphrases are often just balderdash, and the effect is even strengthened by her heavy accent. The way of interacting, as well as the contents are frequently not worth listening to, and Vicky seems to always lose the track of she just said herself. Vicky Pollard does not sound like an educated person, and her unawareness extends to the way she perceives herself as her self-esteem is very high, especially when it comes to the appearance.
It is difficult to understand whether she does not care and tries to create some excuses or she really thinks that she is “the fittest girl” of her community. In any case, this perspective of hers is also typical for many other representatives of the “chavs”, especially the teenagers who are too self-confident and very rebellious (Imogen). When it comes to the rebellions of Vicky Pollard, she is frequently arrested for minor crimes and is called to the court on a regular base. “Chavs” as a social class are known to have problems with the authorities and the law, so Vicky Pollard’s usual behavior is also typical for a large group of people (Califato). Vicky also has multiple spouses, and therefore, “at least 12 children”. Although Vicky is a comic character, some of her actions and life stories are the tragedies of people who belong to the low-income social class with the lack of education and culture (Skeggs). Such families tend to have many children with different partners, and there are cases when these children are sold. The same comic drama happened to Vicky when she decided to sell one of her kids for a CD. It is not the only time when Vicky was trying to make her ends meet or earn some extra money cheating, lying, or swindling. Trying to get money with a fake lottery ticket, selling heroin, behaving naughty is descriptive for the Vicky’s system of values, difficulties and life problems.
The same situations are typical for the social class that she comes from (Imegoen). The episode Little Britain USA shows that the representatives of social workers group are trying hard to make life easier and better for the social class of “the lost” but these efforts are often useless as the example of Vicky Pollard shows. She resists the caring attitude of her coach and even responds with rudeness. By the way, some of her kids that appeared in the episodes of Little Britain were dressed the same way as Vicky Pollard – this proves the influence that the family and the social class have on individual bodies. The list of Vicky’s occupations is also a tragicomic reflection of the lives of dozens uneducated low-income young women coming from difficult families (Imogen).
Dancers, chicken slaughterers and retail assistants come from similar families, speak similarly and dress in the same ways (McLaren & Kuh). Another bright example is the image used in the short movie “Wasp” that was directed by Andrea Arnold. The single mother Zoe is starting to feel herself a woman after long years when her boyfriend asks her out all of a sudden. However, it is quite impossible because she has four little children. The beginning of the movie is one of the brightest moments that show the clothing of both children and mothers. The girls’ hair looks quite scrubby; their clothes are dirty, untidy and have holes. Their mother also looks like a person who always lacks time to take care of herself. Both Zoe and her girls make obscene gestures to the neighbors, shout and scream insults after Zoe had finished the fight. The embodiment of the lower social class is also reflected through their foods too: the children are used to having chips, chicken wings and other fast snacks.
The influence of social class embodiment on social life and social mobility
When it comes to the way an individual makes judgments about his or her body, it is important to consider not only the influence of the social class but the intergenerational social mobility and the social class of the family origins. The relationship between the “childhood” social class and the perception of one’s body and appearance is quite close (Skeggs). Social mobility is the movement of individuals in the direction of change in their social position over time. It is applicable to social groups, ethnicities, or the whole nations taking into account the level of medicine, education, and literacy. However, social mobility is more about the individuals and their families – it is the phenomenon taking place mostly because of the income changes. Socioeconomic levels mentioned in sociological researches are generally vertical (up or down) and turn out as the result of marriage or job promotion. However, sometimes individuals change their social status but stay on the same level, and it is horizontal social mobility then. If the change of social status is found between some individual and their family (or previous generations), social mobility is called intergenerational (Laureau & Conley).
On the other hand, if the change has happened during the lifetime of the individual, this social mobility is called intra-generational. Social mobility may also be absolute if the amount of people who changed their social status is considered. It is generally done over one generation (for instance, when socioeconomic shifts for the entire group or nation improve the life levels of all separate society members). Relative social mobility takes place when the probability of upward or downward social mobility of a separate individual is evaluated in comparison with the same probability level calculated for the member of another group. Higher intergenerational social mobility rate is perceived as a positive sign in the society as it stands for higher equality, fairness, and identical opportunities available for all the members of the society. Lower social class mobility is found in the case of the main heroine “Wasp” is obvious – it is a great challenge for Zoe to pay for her beer, and changing her monthly income is also very difficult.
It is possible to evaluate social mobility using so-called “capitals” (Vannini)
- The first one is the economic capital that stands for the economic factors influencing the life of a family or an individual. It may be the income amount or the difference between each individual’s salary level and the average level of the country.
- The second one is cultural capital. It is considered to be enriched if the level of awareness of the society members is improved. It includes higher education, rise of qualification, broadmindedness and increased cultural overview.
- The third type of capital is the human one, and it is closely connected to the cultural capital. Human capital shows how competent the member of the society is in relation to his occupation and labor. It also reflects the level of readiness to do one’s best and put as much effort as possible into the job that is carried out (Skeggs).
- Social capital is the level of comfort that each member of the society feels inside a group or a collective. This is the support, commitment, loyalty and group interest devotion that each individual may receive or demonstrate.
- Physical capital stands for the availability of the equipment and tools necessary to manufacture and product. In economics they are frequently called as “means of production”. This is also a crucial factor for the social mobility.
- Symbolic capital is more applicable to the individuals that may be called celebrities and are publically famous for some successes or failures. Their status is clear to the rest of the society members. Official titles and status class also play an important role for this kind of capital (Skeggs).
Factors that have a tremendous influence upon the social mobility level
These factors can be taxation, public transportation, education, welfare, religious trends, caste divisions, openness of the nation, fair promotion system, cultural values or the geographical residence. The example of Vicky Pollard demonstrates the lower level of social mobility available for her in spite of the numerous opportunities that the society offers (Birke). Why does it happen? Vicky cannot get rid of her background, and is not willing to. She always repeats the patterns followed by the lower-income unprofessional unqualified members of the society who suffer from unstable income. In spite of the great equality offered by the Western society, Vicky Pollard is stuck with her own stereotypes about life and liberty. The problem remains that her success in the society (her social move upwards) cannot happen rapidly without the change of her body. The range of operations he needs to conduct with her appearance include losing weight, introducing a healthier lifestyle, learning to put on attractive make-up and hairdressing, wearing elegant clothing and changing her manner of interaction. But these outside changes may take place only if individuals such as Vicky realize how sufficiently her life may change (Imogen).
This is a shift in mindset that may be reflected in Vicky’s appearance. Social mobility here is a vicious circle, in fact, when Vicky doesn’t go upward because of her looks, and she doesn’t look better because of her lower social position. Vicky is short of many benefits that are freely accessible for women that belong to middle class or the elite of the society. On the other hand, she has no intention to see the difference that may be brought to her life by the appearance changes. Vicky Pollard is completely satisfied with the way she looks and claims herself to be “the fittest girl” of her community (Caposella). The researcher arrives at the conclusion that it is not merely appearance, income amount, social position, or interests that people are different in. The system of values is the foremost criterion to consider in social mobility. When it comes to discussing the social life quality in general, the body is an essential dialogue between different viewpoints and trends that exist in the society. The body should not be perceived merely as a nature’s creation but also as the vessel of humanity, personhood and society concentrated in one single personality. The meanings of the body as an object and as a subject cannot be separated from each other. Developing this idea, the embodiment is the process of transforming the body as an object into the body as a subject by means of experience (Skeggs).
The body is used by each of us to perform, interact, make decisions, express ourselves and show subjectivity to the others. One of the best ways to retrieve the characteristics of the body is interaction. Today’s interactionism shows both the body and embodiment articulation along with the range of different approaches that stress out peculiar characteristics. The line between social interaction and individual life that is inside each body cannot be separated from each other because of the extremely high level of integration between these two processes (Imogen). Meanwhile, this close integration can still be controlled, customized and configured as the distinctions and borders are lost. The space for manipulation between body-as-object and body-as-subject can always be found (Skeggs).
There are several major kinds of embodiment in the society (Vannini):
- The first one is reflexivity. It means that the society and social groups are created by the individuals who happened to have mutual understanding and glances. As soon as the individual tries to comprehend the peculiarities of the society around him he opens his own soul and mindset to be investigated by other society members. This is a very important influence that embodiment has on the social life as this is the way to understand and to be understood meaning that it is the foundation for harmony and informational or emotional exchange between people (Rose). Is there any other way to understand who we are, how our bodies look like and whether they are good or bad without the prospective of the surrounding individuals? The elements that arise from the embodiment as reflectivity are: the way individuals imagine their appearance in the eyes of the others, the way individuals think of the first judgment of this appearance, and mortification or pride (Smith & Holm 2010). Let’s revise the example of bulimia and anorexia: the image of the skinny body represented by the fashion models stirred the minds of millions of women who started to believe they are not beautiful if they do not follow this body example. Some women started their diets while others got really fanatic about the idea of extra skinny boy and died of anorexia. It is a sad story about the wrong manipulation created by the society. Separate skinny individuals promoted their idea of beauty into the society, and the society pushed it onto the other individuals throughout the world (Caposella). It was not connected to any moral values, income or intellectuality – the skinny body here was associated with success and recognition. Although Paul Peter Rubens demonstrates the passion for the ladies in flesh a couple of centuries ago, the body image changed over time. Probably, it was connected with the contradiction: only a small part of women in the world could afford being chunky in the time of Rubens, and in the twenty first century the civilization offers too much comfort to remain skinny and fit naturally. In spite of everything, connection between the body and the society remains very strong and has a significant influence on the social life (Skeggs).
- The embodiment in social life is expressed through performance too. The body from the point of view of every day dramaturgy has to be dressed, sustained and maintained properly to fit into the daily roles that the life offers. It is not enough to simply interact using your body but it is also crucial to support the argument with corresponding symbols that are perceived by the society in a typical way. For example, dressing the body into an elegant suit means setting one’s mind for serious interaction, and when the suit is expensive it is also a way to speak for the one’s social position and prestige (McLaren & Kuh). Every person is the playwright when it comes to picking up costumes and necessary lines for the performance.
- The body and its materialization in the society is also a trace of culture. Today’s embodied selves continue on cutting calories and sugars from their diets to stay fit, while other cut their hair to march in step with contemporary fashion. More severe actions would include plastic surgeries that modify the shape of the body. This is a special politics of the embodiment – the body acquires so many meanings that the spectator can judge about the individual’s culture easily analyzing many details available to observe (Crosley). As soon as an individual starts managing one’s appearance and attempts to attempts the environment with look manipulations, certain traces of cultural representation are left on it immediately (Caposella).
- The body in sociology can be described as a story to tell. The narrative body is a way to send the message about our interests, life stories, tastes, preferences and challenges. For example, scars are physical and are caused accidentally but the surrounding people may drive at the conclusion that the scarred individual used to serve in the military. Young people tend to demonstrate their affections for music, people, ideas or certain values with the help of tattoos, badges, T-Shirts, bracelets and other fashionable attributes (Calefato).
In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that the body is the heart of sociology, and it is impossible to investigate the entire groups of people with no consideration of each individual separately (Skeggs). It is not reasonable to separate the human’s mindset from the body as the soul and its vessel are divided only in death. The phenomenon of the body and embodiment is that it can indicate practically all the sociologic trends and central ideas with the tiniest details that should be studied thoroughly. The example of Vicky Pollard shows how descriptive the social body can be if the spectator is attentive to the details. Everything is important starting from the body shape, gender, age and weight ending with the accessories and clothes put on. Social class as a group can be easily represented by one single person originating out of it (Morrish). Although the latest technological and political changes are distorting the classical understanding of the social class it is useless to give up on this concept (Lareau & Conley).
Social classes still exist, and today’s sociologists define it by the income size and level of proficiency in a particular field. Vicky Pollard is the representative of “trash” social layer with low motivation for education, culture and distorted moral values (Caposella). Her appearance is typical for “chavs” and talks for itself before Vicky even opens her mouth (Imogen). Coming from a difficult family Vicky personifies millions of low-income uneducated women who have to make both ends meet by means of cheating. Gossip becomes the only entertainment, and sexual partners are countless for such women because the lack of awareness. Although the appearance and behavior of Vicky is somewhat grotesque, all her major characteristics are very narrative of her background and the social group she originated from. Social mobility is defined as an individual’s ability to change his social status over time. Vicky Pollard is an example of slow social mobility that was not caused by the inequality of the society she lives in but by her lack of education. Education and knowledge are proved to be the best leverages for improving the social mobility sufficiently (Dorling). Higher social mobility would mean a fairer and freer society with no restrictions and limitations. The low social mobility is seen with the single mother from “Wasp” – it is difficult for her to both find a better job and to get married with a successful man.
The embodiment plays a very important role in contemporary social life. It is the instrument of telling about oneself to the world, self-expression, and understanding of one’s identity. The world is reflected in the way that every individual looks, and the world itself is created by large groups of individuals (Skeggs). It is also a tool of preserving certain cultural values. The body is applied to perform and to play roles that the society wants to be played: at school students are expected to wear uniforms that cultivates discipline but a strict classical costume won’t be relevant at a cocktail party. The cultural background of the individual can be derived from the small details of one’s appearance (Rose).
The image of the person, the things that may be expected from him or her are frequently based upon the impression we get from his body. For example, we do not think that a young man with a funky T-shirt, long hair and dozens of tattoos may become a good director for a big company even though he has never opened his mouth in or presence (Calefato). It is interesting to notice that the higher the social status of the individual gets the more attention he or she tries to pay to the appearance. Age, health problems and other things are masked with the help of body manipulations (Dorling). Body and society are two inseparable phenomena that cannot be judged while isolated. The rising attention for the body in sociology of the last few decades is a positive indicator that proves the weight of one individual and one life for the entire community or society.