Week 4; January 27th- February 2nd Blog Entry #1 (Done by S).

mannequinssidewalk

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.

Sources used:
– 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
44(3):126-131.

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4 Comments

  1. “A ‘window’ into Modifications” presents the concept of free will versus appearance at the most general level: to what extent do we have free will if our appearances are controlled by what is considered ‘socially acceptable’ by those around us? This blog goes a long way in showing that men and women are both subject to this, and as explained in the blog, often at a subliminal level. It never really dawned on me that ads that I do my best to ignore, or that I don’t even acknowledge have some bearing on me. Looking at myself objectively, I can see how much of my appearance is based off of what has been advertised in the media. Whether i’m cognizant of this fact or not, it is interesting to see how big of an affect what is considered ‘cool’ has on me.

    One thing I did not particularly agree with was that white men ‘own’ the bodies of women, who are struggling to adhere to man’s interests and desires. The media, comprised of all types of people are the primary influence on men and women’s choices.
    In contrast, if we were to accuse white men for being the reason women dress the way they do, it must go both ways. There are just as many commercials subliminally advertising how to get women to notice men, as there are commercials advertising how to get a man to notice a woman. Consider Axe body spray: most of the commercials on television consist of dozens of women flocking towards the man who has this scent. Does this mean that all women are the reason men buy Axe body spray? It is unfair to accuse women for being the reason men buy this spray, just as it is unfair to accuse men for being the reason women ‘squeezing, squishing, analyzing and critiquing every square inch of their bodies’. All in all, this blog post is extremely effective in getting the reader to consider societal norms that need to be struck down.

    – M

  2. Throughout this blog I found myself agreeing with your many connections between popular culture and the requirement of living up to society’s standards of beauty. In particular, I definitely see advertisements as crafty ways to sell products while sending hidden messages on the admired entity of ‘ideal beauty’. The constant feed on how to attain perfection has numbed us to what beauty actually is; the uniqueness within us prior to the many body modification options that exist. With that, one thing I found quite preposterous with American Apparels new natural mannequins is while they support free will in the choice to conform or not to societal beauty norms, the mannequins are still conventionally slim, white, and attractive. To me the message reads, “take pride in your natural beauty, that is if you’re slim, white, and attractive”. I see this a bit hypocritical on American Apparels part.

    I can’t say I necessarily agree with your the statement that white, heterosexual men ‘own and operate’ women’s bodies. I think society as a whole, all coloured men and women included, are collaboratively defining what our bodies should look like. Regardless of the gender, both men and women dress to fulfill a personal desire or to impress those of the same and opposite gender.

    – J.

  3. This blog does a really good job of looking into how corrupt the beauty industry is in terms of how they are making young girls feel about themselves daily. We are taught to aspire to be impossibly beautiful and when we continuously find more and more flaws in our complexion, we buy more and more products with hopes of being ‘perfect.’ You spoke about dieting, makeup, and hair removal that are forced upon uus saying that “hair should only exist on the top of your head.” This is so true, we are taught that being beautiful involves all of these different products and procedures to get us closer to perfection, which is ultimately impossible. Popular culture is getting worse and worse with photo shop and this continuing form of advertisement that “if you want to look like this beautiful woman (who does not even look like this in real life) then you must buy this!” We are being taught from such a young age that we are not good enough and need help to become better. I really enjoyed reading your blog it was really well-written and strongly proved your opinion which I really agreed with.

    Although I do agree that men have a big effect on how women view themselves, and how they want to view themselves, I think it is very generalizing to say that “womens bodies are commodities ‘owned and operated’ by the dominant social group of white, male, heterosexual men.” I think it is pop culture that has the biggest effect on women’s decisions. Media can advertise that a man would like you more if you bought their merchandise, but I do not believe that is the case with “all” women. With popular culture being the way it is, you are right, men and women will continue to face themselves in the mirror and compare their reflections to images provided through this.

    -R-

  4. Your intro about popular culture bombarding society with images of the human body was very relatable and made the American Apparel connection appropriate because their mannequins were so different compared to the standard images seen every day. The perspective of Charney’s ad “contributing to the systemic patriarchal confinement of beauty by objectifying women” is one that I didn’t even consider and it was refreshing to read a different opinion, but I’m not quite sure if I agree with it. Your viewpoint on men being dominant over women’s bodies was interesting, although I think it is more of what we see portrayed as desirable that keeps us in hairspray chains. If you meant that men are the ones at the top designing the ads and deciding what is sexy for the people, then that’s is a different story and I understand where you’re coming from. The thought process and unveiling of this blog was really interesting to read and it made me consider an alternate view than the one presented in the article.
    L

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