Representations of the body are a reflection of the socio-historical and cultural processes through which societies establish body norms and associated values, defining what is regarded as ugly or beautiful, healthy or unhealthy, accepted or rejected. Never before has there been so much talk of the body, diet and health. Overweight and obesity are constant concerns given the significant increase in their prevalence. At the same time, a model of beauty associated with thinness is increasingly valued and there has been an increase in eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. In the construction of
representations of the body, medical, biological and socio-cultural factors come into play. As a result, researchers must take an interdisciplinary approach as they seek to understand how certain representations are produced and become entrenched. Among the multitude of factors that condition the way we eat, representations of the body have a significant influence, and food is increasingly seen as a tool for controlling and
constructing the “ideal body” (from both a medical and a sociocultural perspective). In this context, our first line of research in this area focuses on analysing representations of the body – considering differences of gender, age, social class and ethnic group – and their implications for eating habits. We also seek to gain a better understanding of social, cultural and gender factors related to obesity and eating disorders.
Body concerns are also related to the environment. The social perception of risk and dangers posed by pollution revolve around the body and how exposure to chemical compounds affects human health. In our second lines of research in this area (Toxic Body), we analyse how these threats are constructed and corporeally represented. The internal contamination that makes our bodies susceptible to the health effects of environmental
pollution affords us an opportunity to investigate the borders between nature and culture, and between the individual and the environment. The permeability of these borders puts the contemporary body at the centre of experience and social discourse. It thus becomes the arena where a significant threat to our health and future, both individual and collective, is represented. Diseases caused by low-dose exposure to synthetic chemicals (pesticides, preservatives, dioxins, etc.) and endocrine disruptors that affect fertility and cause other hormonal problems are significant issues in relation to new global health problems we face in the 21st century. Thinking about the creation of new body identities that avoid this chemical threat (and the uncertainty and permeability it entails) means immersing oneself in the world of food restrictions or opting to go back to “nature” as an alternative to capitalist development.