A “Window” into Body Modifications
Living in a society obsessed with the physical form, I am inundate daily by images of the body through beauty, fashion, health and fitness. Popular culture has literally taken over every corner of my world through; newsstands, convenience stores, billboards, online ads and shop windows. Images assault consumers parading pictures of the ‘ideal’ physical form, the ‘perfect 10’, and ultimately telling individuals what is beautiful and what they need to look like. If consumers don’t measure up, and let’s be honest, who can, no need to fear because you can change yourself. There are a plethora of body modifications one can submit to in the lifelong struggle to attain the holy grail of human perfection set out by society. Easing in gently beginning with make-up, dieting follows fast on its heels; a ‘rite of passage’ from childhood to adolescence, and the overabundance of hair removal products indicates with great clarity that hair should only exist on the top of your head. With that being said, in January 2014 artist Dov Charney teamed up with the clothing company American Apparel, injecting new energy into discussions that target the question of free will in regards to body modifications when they featured more ‘natural’ looking female mannequins in their East Houston Street storefront. Clothed in sheer undergarments the female forms sport a healthy growth of pubic hair, helping to renew interest in the question of how much free will do we have concerning our appearance?
Free will is a controversial topic of discussion that often ends up incorporating philosophical viewpoints in accordance with ethic and morals. I believe that the concept and right of free will is a concern for every individual. Within societal norms and laws individuals can decide how much free will they choose to exercise and over what aspects of their lives. In my opinion combining free will in accordance with body modifications and representations of beauty portrayed through popular culture creates a relevant discourse in understanding the ways in which society influences individuals but highlights the question, is it possible to overcome this in a structured patriarchal society?
Advertisements are a powerful source of subliminal messaging. It doesn’t take much conscious effort to internalize the pictures and the attached meanings from what is portrayed to us. Following fashion week on TV how many of us find ourselves drawn towards the ‘new hot colours of the season’ the next time we’re out shopping. Apparently we learn quickly and advertisements work. The powers that be within society tell us what we should look like and we work hard at making it happen. Body modifications are done everywhere in the world, the outcomes being specific to what the culture deems as beautiful. With that being said, North Americans are significant participants in the business of body modifications. We are our bodies; we wax, pluck, shave, pierce, snip, and colour them choosing what we hide or strut. Whether the conscious choice is made to pick up a magazine and read it, or purposefully watch that television ad, or actively window shop, a glance is all it takes to plant the visual seed that tells us that we don’t measure up. Glorification of our body parts through advertising propaganda and questionable publicity has created a perversely distorted view of normality, where creams and potions are considered ‘child’s play’ in the world of body modifications and surgery is a one’s best friend.
There are reasons individuals stand in front of the mirror squeezing, squishing, analyzing and critiquing every square inch of their bodies; distraught at the discovery of some new bump or wrinkle. I believe bodies, specifically womens bodies are commodities ‘owned and operated’ by the dominant social group of white, male, heterosexual men, having claimed jurisdiction they maintain control through popular culture. “It is through these visual medias that we learn what a ‘proper’ height/weight ratio may be, even if we end up harming our bodies to attain it. We learn that filling out that C-cup will make us more confident. We learn that we must not have scars or stretch marks and our genitals must look like those we see in magazine photos…” (Bond).
Since popular culture presents the ideals of the dominant class there are messages that will be seen and those that won’t. Having chosen to go outside the conventional ‘box’ of advertising Charney’s mannequins are on display for society to gawk at and react to. Being a white woman who looks affluent she remains on the safe side of race and class. However, being a white woman who looks like a businesswoman she is branded by sex role stereotypes that accuse career women of being masculine aggressive, and pushy (Hurn 2012:130). Struggling through work and family conflict perhaps she is unable to take the time for her own personal care and grooming. She is socially acceptable by remaining tastefully sexy in her sheer undergarments only to be objectified by her gender through the presence of nipples and sheer nylons reminiscent of pornographic images. Inside the controlled boundaries of hegemony and popular culture, Charney’s ad pushes the limits of beauty; what is beautiful and what is socially acceptable. However, it can also be viewed as contributing to the systematic patriarchal confinement of beauty by objectifying women and attributing value to them as objects that should be scantily clad having merit only in their physical form.
Having come full circle in the question of free will over appearance; choice is an option that includes shades of grey but only inside the black and white rules maintained by social control. Women and men will continue to face themselves in the mirror and compare their reflections with images provided through popular culture. They will make choices to wax, pluck, shave, pierce, snip, or colour the offensive parts and some of those choices will be based on their personal desires while others will be their response to the control of others in society. In this way society continues to create the ‘perfect 10’ and the cycle of beauty continues.
– S entry.
– Bond article taken from http://www.bookslut.com/21st_century_fox/2004_12_003784.php
– Photo and article topic taken from http://gothamist.com/2014/01/16/american_apparel_mannequin.php
– Hurn, Brian J. 2012. “Removing the boardroom glass ceiling.” Industrial and Commercial Training