What Does Body Shape Tell Us?

Endos, Mesos, and Ectos: Does Body Shape Tell Us THAT Much? According to the book Nonverbal behavior in interpersonal relations by Virginia P. Richmond and James C. McCroskey (2000), body type not only communicates certain messages about our characteristics to those around us, but also largely determines personality traits. Bodies are divided into three categories and characteristics are assigned them based on which category each type is placed in. This assertion places too much emphasis on body type as a nonverbal communicator of personality traits. It also doesn’t spend enough time on why, when some people do fit the given descriptions, these traits are apparent in certain body types.

Richmond and McCroskey begin by defining different body types. The three main categories are endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph. The endomorphic body type is round, oval, and described as pear shaped. This type is also characteristically heavy, though not always obese. Mesomorphs have inverted triangle shapes. They are muscular and look firm. They are curved and shaped according to what society finds acceptable. Finally, the ectomorphic body is one that is thin, fragile-looking, and underdeveloped muscularly.

Next, these two authors begin assigning character traits to each of these body types. They use the study of a man named William Sheldon as their source. The psychological type of an endomorph is called viscerotonic. This type is slow, relaxed, sociable and forgiving. The somatonic type that corresponds with the mesomorphic body is confident, hot-tempered, dominant and enterprising. Lastly, ectomorphs are cerebrotonic: awkward, tactful, tense, detached and meticulous.

According to Sheldon, as represented by Richmond and McCroskey, body shape sends nonverbal messages about personality characteristics. While I agree that this is true to a certain extent, I don’t agree that the messages sent are quite as certain or defined in the way the authors explain them.

I began by thinking of all the people I know with different body types. The messages I am receiving from them in relation to body size don’t often have to do with their psychological or personality traits. Facial expressions and body carriage (not shape or size) have more to do with the communicating the traits listed by the authors than does body type.

I asked others what they thought when they saw different body types. While attractiveness was judged by body type, traits such as confidence, affability, tenseness, coolness, dominance and emotionality were assigned by the messages sent in the use of gestures, expressions and posture. Other messages, such as health and eating habits were interpreted as well. But these are not the traits discussed in the book. None of those I talked to seriously thought that body type affects personality traits.

The authors would probably be surprised to see that the number of mesomorphs in student government here at SUU is less that what might be expected. According to the characteristics assigned to mesomorphs, and those assigned to the other two types, one would expect the authors to assert that mesomorphs would be the leaders. Most of the student leaders in SUUSA are actually endomorphs or ectomorphs. Of the executive council, only one in the four is actually mesomorphic (Eric Kirby).

This indicates to me that Sheldon, and the authors by their use of his study almost exclusively, over-emphasizes the importance of body shape in the communication of nonverbal messages that relate to personality traits. Other messages may be communicated and interpreted, but those dealing with personality are not as dependent on body type as the authors suggest.

In relating to those people whose personalities seem to reflect their body type, the authors neglect to spend an ample amount of time on the reasons why these traits can be apparent. Self-image is based largely on how we feel other perceive us. Our perceptions often come from peers, family and society. Those who feel negatively about their bodies can develop the personality traits the authors feel are requisite with certain types by how they perceive others are treating them. An endomorph who was ridiculed as a child as slow and lazy may grow up to be that, while keeping the body. While the authors spend some time on this, they spend far more time just mentioning how body type affects personality traits.

The why behind our self-concepts is every bit as important as the self-concepts themselves. Society also portrays certain people in certain ways. The authors totally neglect the influence of media in our lives, and the media is where many of our perceptions originate. The media is very often the main factor in determining how we choose to interpret nonverbal messages, including those having to do with body type.

If we see ectomorphs as finicky, cool and difficult, it is because we see Ally McBeal every week. She is moody, meticulous and sensitive. When we see athletes (mesomorphs) like Michael Jordan, they are portrayed as sure of themselves, together and dominant. Endomorphs such as Jimmy on The Practice are forgiving, slow moving and soft-tempered. The authors should spend a little more time on why some of these perceptions might be formed. Often, when we see someone in real life, we attach to that person the characteristics we associate with an image from the media.

On a whole, I found that the authors did not satisfactorily explain a case for the way body type influences personality and others’ interpretations of the personalities of others. Despite the fact that people in each body type category may have some of the personality traits that correspond to those the authors give, for the most part others do not base their perceptions on body shape. Often messages are interpreted by watching other nonverbal cues, such as gestures, expressions, posture and tone of voice. The theory would have also been improved if the authors had spent some time on media and societal influences on self-concept. Looking at these factors would have better explained and solidified a case for the development of certain traits in certain body types.

Bibliography

Richmond, V., & McCroskey, J. (2000). Nonverbal behavior in interpersonal relations. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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