---- by Kim Toffoletti
  Across a number of his books and essays Baudrillard reflects on the changing status, role and perception of the body in contemporary western society. He has conceptualised it variously as a consumer object (CS), a fetishised marker of sexual difference (SED) and a genetic code (EC). He has considered it in terms of pornography (S), cloning (SS), obesity (FS), (trans)sexuality (TE), fashion (SED) and torture (CA). Each of these instances represents a 'mode of disappearance for the body' and demonstrates Baudrillard's preoccupation with the body as a fatal form. Under the influence of Marxist thinking, Baudrillard argues that the body is being manufactured into a sign for consumption. In The Consumer Society (1998a [1970]) he proposes that the body, in particular the female body, is produced as a consumer object though investments of labour, time and money toward the maintenance and presentation of one's bodily 'property'. Baudrillard uses the examples of the fitness, beauty and diet industries to illustrate how the body is mobilised as a commodity-sign, form of capital or asset: 'one manages one's body; one handles it as one might handle an inheritance; one manipulates it as one of the many signifiers of social status' (CS, 131). As a sign of ourselves projected to the world, our bodies become our chief mode of display, objects through which we proclaim our health, wealth, happiness, satisfaction and success. This model of the 'functional body' replaces the religious notion of the body as 'flesh' and the capitalist view of the body as labour power.
  It is in the context of the fashion system that the body's remaking as image is fully realised. No longer defined by its reproductive function and biological capabilities, or viewed as innate and unchangeable (unlike the clothes and accessories we wear), the body is transformed through signexchange into an object of fashion in its own right. In this sense, it is not only clothes but the body itself that is assessed as 'fashionable' or 'unfashionable' according to the preferred look for any given season (SED). As is the case with catwalk models, body types (the waif, the supermodel, the ethnic model) are as much fashion trends as the garments and accessories that adorn the body. Plastic surgery procedures also enable the remodelling of the body as a sign, as appears to be occurring with the tendency toward emulating the features and traits of popular celebrities. Fashion functions to give the appearance that the body has been 'liberated' from class constraints and the corporeal limitations of sex, race and disability. Baudrillard uses the example of androgenous dressing to suggest that gender identity manifests via the play of signs of gender difference, rather than through the experience of difference tied to a fixed, bodily 'reality' (SED).
  In subsequent writings Baudrillard observes a change in the way that bodies are experienced and understood in the age of computer culture and digital media. He understands bodies to be manifestations of information codes that can be replicated and transmitted. Baudrillard, who cites the AIDS virus, cloning technologies and DNA mapping as examples of the 'miniaturisation' of the body, questions traditional conceptualisations of the body as a biological entity or cultural construction. As pure information the body is an effect produced by the code rather than the source of selfhood. We can see this in the way Baudrillard speaks about the possibilities of cloning bodies:
  The DNA molecule, which contains all information relative to a body, is the prosthesis par excellence, the one that will allow for the indefinite extension of this body by the body itself - this body itself being nothing but the indefinite series of its prostheses. (SS, 98)
  Inverting common understandings of the body/prosthesis relationship, whereby the prosthesis augments and extends the (bounded) biological body, Baudrillard instead views the cloned body as the prosthesis - the residue or extension of the genetic code (IE).
  It has been suggested that Baudrillard's theorisation of the body as sign and code neglects a focus on the embodied experiences of corporeality (Sobchack, 1991). His remarks about the body as 'useless' and 'superfluous' have been interpreted in some instances to mean that bodies no longer matter in conceptualising selfhood (EC). For social justice movements like feminism, his statements seem to deny the pain, suffering and discrimination often associated with corporeal difference. Yet what distinguishes Baudrillard's take on the body from materialist paradigms is his focus on the conditions under which the reality principle functions to uphold the notion of 'real' bodies in an era of airbrushed magazine pictures, genetic manipulation and cosmetic surgery. In this respect, Baudrillard is not denying embodied experience inasmuch as he identifies a set of circumstances (simulation and hyper-reality) whereby bodies have 'disappeared' as they come to be mediated through models, codes and images.
   § fashion
   § feminism / feminine
   § sex / gender

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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