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Davidson, L. (2010). Africa Adorned: Body Image and Symbols of Physical Beauty. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 38(2):255-259.

(2010). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 38(2):255-259

Africa Adorned: Body Image and Symbols of Physical Beauty

Leah Davidson, M.D.

African concepts of beauty and adornments of the body reflect a celebration of life in the face of death. They are derived from ancient times and the sense of man as a biological animal, within the context of life with other beasts. Among these, man is the only one who is born naked without nature's protections and adornment, such as fur, stripes, or feathers. The body is therefore an asset which must be guarded and covered and yet be expressive of strength as well as sexual desire, so as to attract a mate. Beauty, as a source of self-regard in African cultures is also often achieved through empathic identification with animals.

Primordial African attitudes to life and death and symbols of beauty apparently influenced Freud's fourth instinct theory conceptions of Eros and Thanotos, as well as Erich Fromm's ideas about life-loving and death-loving societies, as illustrated in selected quotations from their writings.

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