The Importance of Beauty Salons in the Age of COVID-19

The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego.

Posted May 11, 2020

Have you wondered why beauty salons, barber shops, hair salons, and gymnasiums have been among the first businesses to open as Americans attempt to return to the normalcy of the pre-COVID-19 world? During lockdowns, food stores have been considered essential services. After all, we cannot physically exist without food. As Americans emerge from an enforced hibernation, they now have the ability to take care of the outside of their bodies.

Certainly, we all agree that the body which we inhabit is the body which the outside world sees. Yet, sometimes the body we feel we have is different from what others see. Each culture has different value systems of what constitutes a “perfect” body: the perfect male body, the perfect female body, the perfect androgynous body, etc. etc. What do we see when we look into a mirror? Are we happy or unhappy with what we see? Is it any wonder that the cosmetic and physical health industries are so important in our culture?

From the perspective of people needing to take care of their bodies (how they look, how they think they look, and how they feel), it is no wonder that beauty salons, barbers, hair salons, and gymnasiums are very important to people’s lives.

So why is the body so important?

The Bodily Ego (The I)

In 1923, Sigmund Freud understood that the structure of a person’s psychology developed from sensations from within his or her body. Freud said, “The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego.” He noted that “the ego is ultimately derived from bodily sensations, chiefly from those springing from the surface of the body. It may thus be regarded as a mental projection of the surface of the body.”

The term, “ego” was coined by Freud’s translators as the English equivalent of the German, “das Ich” (the I). Subsequent psychologists and psychoanalysts differentiated the concepts of a person’s sense of self and a person’s ego. Yet, from the perspective of everyday language, the term ego is utilized as originally conceived, the “I” or the sense of oneself.

It is important to appreciate the distinction Freud made between the perception of bodily stimuli and the perception of external stimuli. Freud conjectured that internal perceptions were basically inchoate inner feelings. Importantly Freud felt that the development of the ego (the I) resulted from an interaction of perceptions of the inner body and the perception from the outside world.

Contemporary Neurological Notions of the Development of “the I”

Antonio Damasio, one of the most noted contemporary neuroscientists, has studied extensively the neurological underpinnings of mental life, including the study of emotions. He has noted that a positive emotional state is an indicator that an inner psychological equilibrium has been reached. Whereas a negative one is a psychological signal which indicates a need to reinstate an emotional equilibrium. Damasio notes that feelings emerge spontaneously without any conscious will on our part.

These feelings that emerge from within our bodies play an enormous role in the development of our consciousness and our sense of selves. However, similar to what Freud posited almost a century ago,  Damasio has demonstrated that these bodily roots of the self are affected by the interactions with the outside world from the beginning of life.

The Mother as the Baby’s First Mirror

The psychoanalyst Paulina Kernberg has studied how the actual behaviors of young children looking at themselves in a mirror are related to how their mothers related to them from the beginning of their lives. Normally, mothers automatically help their children differentiate which of the mother’s facial expressions mirror the child’s internal state and which expressions belong to the mother. Mothers accomplish this by maximization (“motherese”); they tend to exaggerate facial expressions when they mirror the child’s emotions. As development proceeds, the mother’s responses are internalized by the growing child as he or she becomes an adult.

Is there any wonder why establishments that cater to the improvement of the body and body image are among the first to open for business?

References

Damasio, A. (2003). Feelings of emotion and the self. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1001(1), 253-261.