« I'm Not Part of What They Call the Model Minority | Main | Language and Culture »

What is Ideal?

Excellent example of paper 1 by Jillian Ensign - Spring 2009

Dashing into Macy's shopping center, I stroll pass the perfume counter and smell a hint of sweetness and bitterness all at the same time, while approaching the juniors section I spot the perfect pair of jeans and they are even on sale. After trying the perfect pair of jeans on, I have an epiphany that the junior department at Macy's will never have the correct length for my five foot tall stature because they don't make them in my length. As I have been reading the text "Sociology in Everyday Life" the authors discuss, many ideas about the significance of how society shapes our minds and what the "Ideal" may mean to our social structure. Looking onward, I would like to talk about how the "Ideal" within our social structure and institutions has resulted in us placing labels on almost everything in our society.

While having a grandmother and mother who both stand only 5 feet 2 inches, I was predisposed to being shorter than the "normal" woman in our society. This has affected my own body image as an adult because I've felt as though I wasn't a "normal" height. Going into the grocery store and trying to reach the breadcrumbs on the top aisle is not possible because it is simply too high for me to reach. On the contrary, I seemingly "fit in" very well at college because everyone seems to be under the age of twenty five and similar in height but, if I go to a church function where all of the women assume that I am much younger than I actually am because of my height, I don't feel accepted. This has led me to really appreciate what C.Wright Mills states within the text book "Sociology in Everyday Life".
In his book "The Sociological Imagination" (1959), Mills states that the task of sociology is to understand the relationship between individuals and the society in which they lived. He then speaks that if we are to understand an individual we should look at the history and the biography of that person. The idea of gaining the knowledge of social and historical context in which an individual lives was Mill's main argument. When we look into my family history we can see generations of women who are small in stature and then come to the realization that all the women in my family (with only a few exceptions) are shorter than most other women within their society. I have traced back documents in which my great grandmother supports her oppressed state for being a different height than other women in her culture. That would be the historical context in which the women in my family lived which, still affects me today. To find the social context in which I live we would look at the present day. This class has already made an impact on my personal feelings about how society pushes an "ideal" on individuals today. I struggle with fitting into my society because of my small stature. I went bowling just the other day and my friend was even implying that I looked like a "midget". This is very hurtful and wrong. I wouldn't know that being so short was even an issue if society hadn't made me feel different. I look in the mirror at my three inch high heel shoes and wonder if I look somewhat "normal". This is what Mill's suggested would be my social context. Somehow there are "ideals" placed in the society that we live in and it can have a really negative affect on people.
For some reason, we are to look and act a certain way based on what social institutions imply. From the text book, "Sociology in Everyday Life", Mill's states (20), that social institutions confront individuals at birth as given systems of behavior and that they transcend individual experience. What I may consider to be a normal height (which is five feet and two inches) is not what society considers being a "normal" height. That makes me feel different from others in my society and that I am not what everyone believes to be "ideal". In the text "Sociology in Everyday Life" (5), Mill's made a distinction between troubles and issues within society. He stated that troubles are privately felt problems and issues affect large numbers of people. I believe that we are often made to feel like the situation we are dealing with is much bigger than what we feel alone because of the influence society has on our lives. When reading the online article "Body Ritual among the Nacirema" I was baffled at how their tribe could live this type of barbaric way. I then came to the realization that we are the "Nacirema" and I felt so ashamed that I could place judgment like that on a group of people just because they to me were considerably different from my society. In all actuality our society has influenced my thoughts about the medicine man and my shrine because I visit them very often and would never refer to either of them in the manner the article referred them too. Is there an "ideal" placed on how we go about our daily lives? Yes, I believe that is true and this article support that concept. Our social institutions have conformed many of us to believe certain "ideals" are the right way to live by. We are not to question anything but, rather go along with what we are told is the "ideal" in our society. Can we change any of these views that our minds have been conformed to believe?
When we think back to what C. Wright Mills suggests, that an individual's history and biography play an important role in our society, then there may be room for change. Although everyone has a history or past we can only in our present lives (biography) create our own history within our social institutions (our family). Individually we could take out the "ideal" within our society by not allowing our families to conform to what all other social institutions think are "ideal". Would this be logical to impose? I am not sure it would work without our families being looked upon as outcasts in our society. We would be the rebels and stick out like a sore thumb because we wouldn't be acting in the same manner as everyone else. It may be possible. Implying the idea that not conforming to what society thinks is "Ideal or Normal" would give us a fresh start on a new history line. There are so many issues to consider as I think about how our social structure has placed so many labels on people within our society.
Having two young boys of my own, it is really important for me to teach them how to be individuals and protect them from being brainwashed by our society. I grew up thinking that my small stature wasn't "ideal" in my community and my boys are also small in stature and will be dealing with this very issue. I really want to impact their lives in a positive way to help them feel as though they are truly just the same as the tallest kid in class. This will be a very difficult task because just as Mill's suggests social institutions conform individuals at birth as given systems of behavior. This then reflects why social institutions are able to influence our views and our daily practices so much.
When looking at the "ideal" in our society, I believe that it is important to take a stand with our youth and teach them about how our social institutions try and conform our view of the world. They suggest that certain practices should be done a certain way and we are all to have a certain body image. If we do not follow these practices within our society we may feel anxieties or possibly depression because we are not what our society thinks of as normal. The next time I think about being shorter than the average women, I will remember that my small stature is just what the good Lord intended me to be and there is nothing wrong with that.