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The McKelvy House Scholars will host a dinner discussion Sunday evening on the cultural evolution of “idealized body forms” and methods for reaching these extremes, such as dieting, purging, and plastic surgery.

Dinner will begin 6 p.m. at McKelvy House, 200 High Street; RSVP by Saturday to or x4035. Led by Paul Germain ’04 (Coral Springs, Fla), a double major in English and art, the discussion will start at 6:30 p.m. and requires no reservations.

The topic of “idealized body forms” raises a number of questions that Germain will bring up during the discussion:

  • Is plastic surgery truthful to oneself and others around?
  • What has the advent of such procedures done to the confidence and self-esteem of Americans, and is it morally right to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities?
  • Are the participants the ones being taken advantage of, and where does this bizarre obsession with body control come from?
  • Where did today’s idealized (e.g. Britney Spears) body form come from?
  • Do other cultures have such radical forms as their perfect model of beauty?
  • Must the cultural design of beauty be extreme in nature and how has the ideal body form (for men and women) changed throughout the last few hundred years?
  • Can this form be redefined in a “healthy” direction?
  • Has it always been this unattainable?
  • As inhabitants of America, how and where have these images been presented to us throughout our lives and how have we dealt with them?
  • Why do so many people desire to become these images that are thrown upon them?

“You can see that there is a lot going on with this topic, and I suspect that we will have much to discuss,” he says.

Germain recommends the following Internet sources for background:

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Birthmark”. Here’s a man way ahead of his time on cultural theory. It’s an enjoyable story and it will bring a lot to the discussion.

An essay entitled “The Benefits of Plastic Surgery” on the web site of Dr. Capuano, a plastic surgeon. Note the pictures on the page and how it is used. Is it an advertisement or a medical reference?

A “Body Image Timeline” speaking about Western culture specifically.

The following quote is from an article entitled “Redefining Ideal Beauty”: “The 18th century adage that suggests that beauty lies in the ‘eye of the beholder’ is just as false, as this dictum gives us far too much credit as individuals. The human animal, it seems, is flawed. The foible in our genetic make-up is that we somehow allow our perception to be steered by our eyes and controlled and/or manipulated by our compatriots. The very existence of the phenomenon known as ‘trends’ supports this claim.”

Since 1962, the McKelvy House Scholars program has brought together Lafayette students with a wide range of majors and interests to reside in a historic off-campus house and share in intellectual and social activities. Weekly Sunday dinner discussions that engage the students in debate and exchange of ideas are the hallmark of the program. Most members also contribute to the annual McKelvy Papers, written on a topic of each person’s choice. McKelvy Scholars participate in activities together such as field trips to plays, concerts, and exhibits, and sponsor events for the campus as well.

Past McKelvy discussions in 2003-04:
Feb. 22 — Countercultures
Feb. 15 — Eternity
Feb. 8 — Bisexuality
Dec. 7 — Anger and frustration toward computers and technology
Nov. 9 — “Unnecessary” crimes
Nov. 2 — Genetic alteration
Oct. 26 — Social construction of gender
Oct. 19 — Greed as an economic force
Sept. 28 — Value

Categorized in: Academic News