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The Beauty Factor

by Joel Carbonnel(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 41 - June 1999

What is your idea of a beautiful body? Wafer-thin, fat-free females and muscular hunks to which a normal mortal can't possibly aspire? But what is the norm? "I doubt there is such a thing as normal shape" was the sceptical remark of a teacher of physiotherapy to whom I was explaining the Mézières Method.

His reservation did not surprise me. I knew from experience that the concept of an ideal shape is generally not popular, even among body therapists. This position is rather illogical though. In physiotherapy, orthopaedics and other forms of bodywork many deformities have been recognised, named and listed. Within these disciplines there is a general agreement that bow-legs, knock-knees, flat-feet and other irregular forms are deformities. In other words they are departures from a standard, normal shape. But to recognise distortions is to admit the concept of normality. Most people have some idea of what bad shape is, but to mention or define good shape is to make the same people shy away. The concept of normal shape does not seem to be politically correct.

Normal, from norm (Latin norma, meaning a rule or a carpenter's square), means correct standard, or accurate measure. It is therefore a shame that 'normal' has come to mean the same as 'average'. The carpenter's square has to be near perfect if it is to be useful and trustworthy in measuring right angles. In this sense, normal and ideal should not differ. To be normal is to be square, as it were, but there is nothing boring about it. I am stressing the original meaning of this word because it is a useful and important one for the student of health; it is also a convenient one without any good equivalent.

In fact, as there are more bad physiques than perfect ones, normality will be the opposite of average. Regrettably, normality is the exception. There is no need to do statistical research to ascertain that the average shape seen in people is not of the finest. That a characteristic predominates or is found in the majority does not make it normal. For example, if a statistician were to look at the teeth of 10,000 individuals he would no doubt find bad teeth (fillings, bridges, crowns and false teeth) in most, if not all, of them. Only a fool would conclude that the average of the pathological state of the human teeth investigated represents the normality. Statistics tell us what is but not what should be.

Yet, we are often guilty of such errors of judgement in health matters. Pathological states are often so common that they are perceived as normal, physiological. Even the experts get fooled: in anatomical textbooks it is quite common to see pictures of slight deformities presented as being normal, in the sense of sound, healthy. If the specialist can get it wrong, it's not surprising that the lay person is confused. Indeed, erroneous ideas about what is normal shape abound. In The Body has its Reasons, Thérèse Bertherat observes judiciously that "...many of us are attached to a detail we consider our 'best feature' or our most charming characteristic, which, in reality, is simply a deformity that can only get worse over the years."

A study of human morphology (shape) will reveal that normality is true beauty. The saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is only true if the beholder has kept intact the sense of beauty. But many beholders' eyes have lost this instinctive ability to distinguish healthy shape from 'bad' shape. In the same way that some people are colour-blind or tone-deaf, others are 'beauty-blind'. This defect that prevents one from recognising beauty in a body is more and more prevalent and is certainly caused by the rarity of the normal shape.

Prof. J. A. Thomson, a noted naturalist, wrote that: "There is no doubt that beauty is the rule in Wild Nature, and we venture to say that it is seen in all fully-formed creatures that man has not meddled with, and that live independent lives." It is true that parasites which, by definition, do not live independent lives are not known to win beauty contests. Prof. Thomson adds that "Just as Nature is all for health, so nature is all for beauty..." "Beauty is the visible outcome of orderly, harmonious, healthy living." This last sentence is very important. It means that beauty is not a superficial quality only good for aesthetic reasons. If you believe the old cliché‚ that beauty is skin-deep, think twice.

We have fallen far below the standard of beauty that should be ours. The beautiful human being is an endangered species and this has serious consequences on the health of the dominant species, the unbeautiful. The relationship between beauty (normal shape) and health and fitness has been largely overlooked and this is why back pain, for example, is reaching epidemic proportions. There is a law, which suffer no exceptions, that says that any departure from the normal shape will cause, sooner or later, some pain, discomfort, stiffness or malfunction. To regain a healthy musculo-skeletal system requires the removal of the cause: to approximate normal shape.

Morphological normalisation is a little known, but powerful therapeutic tool and a sine qua non if one wants to enjoy true fitness.

In the next issue I will go into more details on the important topic of shape and function and will tackle controversial ideas such as artificial or fake beauty, body fascism and the orthomorphist's ('re-shaper') need for a paragon (model). For the time being, just dare to become square.


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About Joel Carbonnel

Joel Carbonnel is unique in combining the disciplines of the Alexander Technique (STAT), the Mezieres Methode (AME), Morphopsychology (SFM), and Natural Hygiene (ISI). From this synthesis he has developed Orthomorphics which is centered around the close relationship of Use, Form and Function. He practises in London and Haywards Heath, and can be contacted on Tel: 020-8747 8583;

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