The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

coming up, short
Do you ever check yourself out in the mirror and think, "I hate my body"? Ever wish you could chop off your too-fat legs, too-boney arms, and any other offending body parts? If you're like most people, you have at one time or another.

Still, I bet you never took such thoughts to their logical conclusion, like taking a shotgun to your leg or asking a surgeon to lop off your limb. Body Integrity Identity Disorder, or BIID, is a condition that impels people to desire the removal of a limb, or limbs (or, I imagine, other body parts) in order to achieve peace of mind.

BIID has gotten additional exposure lately thanks to the documentary film Whole, by Melody Gilbert. It's already suspected that serial plastic surgery patients, notably Michael Jackson, suffer from this syndrome. If awareness on BIID spreads, I'm guessing more people will start seeing signs around them, and perhaps within themselves.

This topic brings to mind a lot of ethical issues, mainly centered around how the body plays into a person's sense of identity and, indeed, self. From the City Pages piece:

Perhaps Western culture's aversion to BIID doesn't lie in our objection to the surgical transformation of the body, or even in a distrust of the notion that the body can adequately represent identity. Maybe our discomfort stems from the moral worth we assign to that identity in the first place. Dr. Michael First, a BIID specialist featured in Whole, compares BIID to the desire for plastic surgery, a largely socially acceptable practice despite the fact that people have their skin stretched, their fat sucked out, and the ends of their noses shaved off just to feel more like themselves.

A long while ago, I was listening to a philosophy lecture on the radio that dealt with how we perceived our relationship with our physical selves. It was insightful. Think about how often we consider our bodies to be not so much who/what we are, but instead merely a casing for our minds or souls--our "real" selves. This tends to be the case most often in the above example of hating how you look in the mirror: If it's bad news, you try to dissassociate yourself from it any way possible. But you can experience it even when considering what you like about your bod.

The truth, of course, is that we're much more the sum of our parts than we'd like to contemplate. We are our bodies, our bodies are us--we're stuck with each other (at least for the foreseeable future, cloning and astral projection notwithstanding). It's hard to accept sometimes, as it can lead to be objectified into what you look like instead of what you feel like. But as much as we don't want to solely identified by our outer shell, what we look like and function as is a vital part of who we are.

I'm not totally sure where BIID, or any other body modifications (even dieting or healty eating) fit into all this. If you're not satisfied with how you look, there are relatively safe options. How much such modifications actually do the job, especially mentally, is debatable.