The Body in Society – History of the body: Religion vs. Medicine

From the 5th to the 15th Century in the West, medicine was complex and based on guesswork, religion and ‘reason’, illnesses were believed to be ‘God given’ and cutting into bodies was not allowed. Medieval art often depicted a celestial woman with her child in religious scenes, with ‘normal’ people often non existent, suggesting celestial bodies were the most important.

Laqueur said that in the 18th and 19th Century, bodies were ‘ungendered’ and male bodies were the norm, and it was believed that the female sexual organs were the same as males, but internal. Bodies were a site of difference and oppression in the 19th Century, and it was thought that education would ’cause women’s wombs to wander’ and the removal of the womb was common to ‘cure’ hysteria. This was a way to control women using their bodies against them, with the threat of womb removal most likely scaring them into behaving.

From the 19th Century until now, discoveries and inventions meant there has been a massive advancement in science and medicine, with people living more than fifty years longer than those who lived in medieval times. We know a great deal more now on how to look after our bodies, making us more responsible for what we put in them and do to them because we have more control on what happens to us. But because we are living longer, does that mean that our quality of life is decreased?

Textiles has a strong relationship with the body, with many of the aspects related to the body. The most obvious one is fashion, where the whole industry is dedicated to enhancing and covering the body. Other aspects like textiles for interiors also have a relationship with the human body, for example all furniture is designed around the body and the easiest way for people to use it. Even surface pattern relates because it is designed to please the eye, a part of the body. Almost everything we touch is a type of textile, there is no getting away from it.

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