The body is the means by which we interact and communicate with one another, and as such it both connects us to one another and conveys fundamental social information about us, including personal identity as well as general characteristics like age, gender, and social roles, and psychological characteristics such as intentions, feelings, and attitudes. Although our own bodies are in the background during much of our ordinary activity, serving simply as vehicles for our movements and interactions, there are many circumstances when they do become the intentional focus of conscious attention and we represent them explicitly and reflect on them. For example, we attend to our body size when we decide whether a chosen shirt or pair of pants is likely to be too small or too large; we carefully arrange our bodies and body parts in specific, sometimes atypical ways as we learn a new golf stroke or T’ai Chi form; we adjust our body’s movements and posture deliberately to relay meaningful information non-verbally, including shared understandings; we change our body’s appearance by intentionally concealing, adorning, or marking parts of it to enhance self-presentation; we use our bodies strategically as assistive devices or tools when we lean into something to move it or perch our children on our shoulders so they can see better; and we often evaluate the integrity, function, or appearance of our bodies, whether in action or at rest. Thus, we purposely configure and alter our bodies and body parts for particular purposes as we consciously engage the social and physical world. We voluntarily attend to and represent our bodies objectively, forming explicit concepts, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings about their physical characteristics and functional capabilities. And we project our bodily views of ourselves into the past and the future.
When and how do such conscious, voluntary, self-aware representations of one’s own body arise in development? The purpose of the current chapter is to review and illustrate the developmental roots of children’s objective own-body awareness. In research with adults a distinction is made between the automatic, unconscious, continuously updated sensorimotor representation of the body that specifies one’s posture and the location of one’s body in space, and which accompanies and directs intentional action, and the conscious, self-aware, visuo-spatial form of body representation that requires the ability to reflect on one’s body as an object with characteristics such as shape, size, and spatial organization (Gallagher, 2005; Knoblich et al., 2006). Developmental psychologists have similarly distinguished between the non-reflective, pre-conscious, embodied self-perception of infancy and the later-developing ability to make such self-perceptions available to consciousness, to label them, compare them, and remember them (Butterworth, 1995; Neisser, 1993; Rochat, 1995). The former is sometimes labelled the body schema and the latter the body image (e.g. Gallagher, 1995, 2005; Maravita, 2006), a convention we will follow in the current chapter. Whereas the body schema exists at birth and possibly even before, in the pre-natal period (Bertenthal and Longo, 2007), the body image develops over the course of childhood (Davison et al., 2003; Mangweth et al., 2005; Smolak, 2004).