Investigate how Deconstruction and the Grotesque has significantly impacted the perception of idealised norms within women’s bodies and beauty
This dissertation explores the oppression which women endured for centuries. The objectification of women has become a perpetual scrutiny as the objectification of women has become normalised by society. An aspect, in which I would like to investigate in depth, is how female objectification can alter beauty and body ideals within modern society. The Oxford dictionary defines ‘objectification’, as ‘The action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2019). This definition constructs a strong foundation for my essay, as my essay assess the conducts in which women are treated and how this is challenged within modern society. The harm caused by widespread female objectification can be epitomized through varying spectrums including media, culture, fashion, and society.
Media projection on traditional, gender stereotypes-
Media projections on traditional, gender stereotypes can be seen as dominant in objectifying women. This is because women’s bodies are widely utilised, as a strategic tool to sell and promote their products. This is evident through ‘Kim Kardashian West’s KKW Beauty eyeshadow advertisement’, as Kardashian can be seen utilising this same approach, which is escalating the exploitation of the idealised body. In this advertisement, Kardashian can be seen attired in a silver leotard paired with translucent knee boots. The selection of this attire can be seen accentuating her typical assets of boobs and her figure, which is highlighting the idealised form, which women desire to attain. This advertisement was deemed to be controversial and igniting an outrage, as her dress was more of a prevailing subject than the eyeshadow she was wearing. This can be echoed through Twitter’s concerns citing ‘Why is Kim Kardashian going naked to advertise her eyeshadow? Am I missing the point as to where the eyeshadow is supposed to go?’, and ‘Eye shadow collection… Couldn’t you just show us your eyes?’ (Semtex, 2019). From these concerns, it is evident that Kardashian’s intention was to flaunt her figure while advertising her eyeshadows. This can be seen enforcing a narcissist persona of Kardashian, as she is taking advantage of her idealised body and the beauty standards she represents. The constant portrayal of this can be seen as reflective in this advertisement and several appearances she modelled for.
From this advertisement, female objectification can be seen dominant through the utilisation of implied nudity. This can be apparent through this quotation, where the Kardashians stated on how ‘nudity is acceptable when it is performed with ‘class’’ (Grady, 2017). From this quotation, it is apparent that the Kardashians will continue to utilise nudity. This is because nudity for them can be seen as a depiction of hierarchal domination, as they are posing for famous brands, which is a signifier of their high wealth. Hence the ongoing cycle of objectification can be seen perpetual, as the definition of nudity can be seen as interrelated to distinct classification of ‘class’.
Figure 1- Kim Kardashian Eyeshadow Advert Backlash. Picture: Instagram, 2018
Opposing judgements on the conducts of women within Western and Middle-Eastern cultures-
Saudi Arabia and the UK can be recognised for favouring opposing conducts on women’s treatment within modern society. The opposition of these conducts can be seen equally enforcing female objectification through a distinctive act. This is because in Saudi Arabia, women are expected to adhere to Islamic doctrine, which stems from the Qur’an. The Qur’an can be seen as offering religious teachings, which is utilised to dictate the ways in which women should live their lives. These include strict dress codes, gender segregation in public services, and necessity of a male companion etc. The conservative mentality of this can be seen strictly regulating women to think more about their sanctity of life over their quality of life.
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This can be reflective through this chapter of the Qur’an entitled ‘Believing women’, where it stated that women should ‘draw their veils’ (Ferraris, 2008, 96) and ‘not display their beauty except to their husbands’ (Ferraris, 2008, 96). The insertion of these phrases can show how society is socially constructed through secreting women’s presence within society. The fact that women have to go through controlling lengths to conceal themselves, can be seen as suppressing the rights and basic freedoms of what women are entitled to.
The Qur’an can also be seen echoing the equality which should be present amongst both sexes. This can be apparent through the phrase ‘be you male or female-you are equal to one another’ (Arif-fear, 2015) and ‘verily, women are the twin halves of men’ (Arif-fear, 2015). From these phrases, it is apparent that gender differences seem to be a social construct rather than a religious obligation. The passing down of traditions can be seen straying Saudi Arabia from being an egalitarian nation. This is because the phrases specified that men and women should be treated equally and that both genders are not pole opposites. Here this teaching can be seen as overlooked, rather ignored, and that the name of religion is utilised to enforce inequality within society. The delusion of this can be seen as imparting a negative perception on the treatment of women within Saudi Arabia. This is because women are perceiving rights as a privilege not an obligation.
This can be shown through figure 2, as in this table, the improvement of gender gap is recorded over the duration of 10 years. A selection of countries can be seen itemized, where each country is categorized from being the most improved to being the least. The most improved country on closing the gender gap can be seen through Bahrain, where the statistics increased by 0.214 (21%). While the least improved country on closing the gender gap can be seen through Saudi Arabia, where the statistics increased by 0.147 (15%). This can be seen as significantly low, particularly throughout the duration of 10 years.
Surprisingly, ‘in 2014 Saudi Arabia was named one of the most improved countries’, (Bruce-Lockhart, 2019) despite imposing several restrictions on women within society. From these fluctuating statistics, it is apparent that Saudi Arabia is slowly improving, but is reluctant to accept the drastic changes they need to amend to make Saudi Arabia an egalitarian nation. The possibility of female objectification can still be pre-existing in the future, this is because Saudi Arabia is only altering laws to profit the economy and aid disadvantaged men. This can be apparent through the quotation ‘Overall there are good overdue changes [such as women driving]. But I think that these freedoms are not the main concern at the moment. Many Saudis are currently concerned about the economy’ (McKernan, 2016). From this quotation, it is apparent that women’s rights are not fundamental and that they are only entitled to limited rights at last resort. Here Saudi Arabia is stipulating a leeway for women, but is doing this to boost their economic status.
Whilst in the UK, women can be seen as subjected to female objectification through a distinctive approach. This is because women are entitled to basic freedom, but their freedom is negatively seized privilege for men’s pleasure. This can be apparent through Gina Martin’s up-skirting case (2019), where she was initially harassed by a group of men, which then deteriorated to them clicking private pictures of her crotch and genitals. To define ‘up-skirting’, this is ‘The action or practice of surreptitiously taking photos or videos at an angle so as to see up a woman’s skirt or dress’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2019). When Martin recognised this, she clutched the man’s phone and tried to hand the evidence to the police. Out of luck, up skirting was not illegalised, which left her appeal disregarded.
This empowered Martin to initiate a campaign of making up-skirting illegalised; which went over the duration of 18 months. During these months, Martin received several rape threats and attacks, which made her question the significance of advocating this movement. But Martin went on; this was done through signing petitions with Care2, public appearances, social media to construct awareness, and a BBC3 documentary etc. Through these approaches, Martin became successful and her appeal went to parliament to become legalised.
Figure 3- Gina Martin with her lawyer Ryan Whelan, 2018
Martin stated on how ‘It’s so normalised, women’s bodies are just normalised for public consumption’ (Jarvis, 2019). From this quotation, it is apparent that female objectification still exists and that man’s mentality surrounding women’s rights is still poor. The fact that men still utilise women’s bodies in this approach, can show how society is failing to take effective actions and that outdated laws hinder women from obtaining full equality. Hence the law system is at fault, and teenagers need to be educated on these rising misconducts within society. This can be echoed through Theresa May’s concern as well, as she stated how up skirting is ‘hideous invasion of privacy which leaves victims feeling degraded and distressed’ (O’Malley, 2019). Although up-skirting have been around for a long period, it is pathetic how individuals are identifying this misconduct now, which is apparent through Martin’s case. In today’s society it is apparent that a blind eye is turned upon misconducts against women and that the story is only gained full recognition if it’s a mass problem.
Negative and positive comments from social media-
Figure 4- Facebook
Figure 5- Screenshot from Martin’s Twitter
Figure 6- Screenshot from Martin’s Twitter
Figure 7- @THERESA_MAY Report
Overall between both cultures, it is apparent that female objectification is still existing, but it is experienced through differentiating lengths. This can be apparent through the Saudi Arabia’s treatment on women and UK’s recent misconduct on up skirting. Even though the story of up skirting is negative, the law can be seen as fast to act upon this and had more positive benefits than negative.
Psychology on objectification-
Alan Soble is an ‘American philosopher and author of several books on the philosophy of sex’ (Revolvy, 2019). In the context of objectification, Soble constructed two pivotal theses, which centred on the nature of objectification and pornography. For Soble, ‘everyone is already only an object and being only an object is not necessarily a bad thing’ (Evangelia (Lina), 2018). From this quotation, Soble can be seen providing the realistic spectrum of objectification. This is because both genders are exposed to objectification, but women are additionally inclined to this. The constant act of objectification can form part of our universal instinct, as objectification is recurrent across varying spectrums and had become normalised within our mind.
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This can be apparent through the aspect of pornography as well, as Soble stated how ‘there is nothing wrong, according to Soble, with treating pornographic actors and models as objects for sexual pleasure and deny their humanity’ (Evangelia (Lina), 2018). This can be seen as astonishing, as pornography is deemed as an act of immorality and obscenity, which is condemned within modern society. Soble saw this act as positive objectification, as the engagers of the act (both men and women) are good at carrying out sex. Hence this expertise can be seen beneficial, as the engagers are earning money and utilising their lives in performing the expertise they are good at. Martha Nussbaum can be seen critiquing this thesis, as she stated how ‘making women into objects for sexual enjoyment is something she finds morally unacceptable’ (Browne, 2005). Being a feminist, Nussbaum and Soble can be seen in polar opposition of this thesis on objectification. This is because; Nussbaum supports objectification, but felt that objectification doesn’t have to be solely negative. This can be apparent through the passage of the ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lovers’, where positive objectification is present. In this book, Nussbaum focused on the sex scene between two lovers, named Connie and Mellor. Both characters can be seen enduring a rough plight of ‘social equality and respect’ (Evangelia (Lina), 2018), but when the characters cast their eyes on their bodily organs they‘… put aside their individuality and become identified with their bodily organs. They see one another in terms of those organs’ (Nussbaum 1995, 275). From this thesis, Nussbaum can be seen emphasising how both characters are in need of objectification to be over their external differences. Here both characters can be seen respecting both bodily organs, as they came together of what they saw, despite featuring distinct genitals.
Similarly on the Psychology Today website, self-objectification was investigated through the conducts of mini test. The test had been conducted by Juliana Breines Ph.D alongside her colleagues Jennifer Crocker and Julia Garcia. In this mini test, Breines Ph.D and her colleagues wanted to explore the internal impacts of self-objectification in relation to well-being and feelings. The initial test included giving questionnaires to female college students, which was conducted in the duration of two weeks. From this investigation, it was evident that students who had high self-esteem, felt attractive in moments of self-objectification. While for students who had low self-esteem, those students experienced a detrimental decline in self-objectifying themselves. This is because they felt unattractive and pressurised to conform to society’s standards of beauty.
From this investigation, it is apparent that self-objectification is an instinctual act, which women persistently do. This showed that when varying factors like media, culture, fashion, and society objectifies women, it doesn’t matter. The act of ‘self-objectification may be a double-edged sword’ (Breines Ph.D., 2012). This is because when women receive positive attention, they want the praises to be sustained. If the praises are lacking, this could construct havoc surrounding their internal health. While self-objectification is negative, it can come with positive benefits. This is because when women objectify themselves, they paint their own idealised imagery of beauty, which they want to sustain. From this, idealised beauty can be seen self-constructed and not necessarily fixated on society’s standards of beauty.
Female objectification through fashion-
In this book entitled ‘Experimental Fashion Performance Art, Carnival and the Grotesque Body’, Granata examined how designers and performance artists subverted the depiction of the fashionable body. This can be seen through one of the chapter I intend to analyse, entitled ‘The proliferation of the Grotesque: Lady Gaga’, looking at the sub-heading ‘Lady Gaga and fat drag’. In this section, Granata explored how Gaga’s weight gain incited negative retorts, and how ‘fatness’ is scrutinised in the media. This can be apparent through this quotation ‘fatness remains one of the most problematic and ‘revolting’ transgression’ (Granata, 2017). From this quotation, it is apparent that society strongly defies the inclusivity of body types, and that everyone should be ‘skinny’. This is because Gaga can be seen embracing her body, while the public is in opposition of this, connoting how society has expectations of what Gaga should look like and because she didn’t meet these expectations, her body was frowned upon.
To comeback from this, Gaga decided to wear a garment from Comme des Garçons 2012 flat collection, which featured an over-exaggerated silhouette concealing her former silhouette. The concealment of this, was ‘reminiscent of a fat suit’ (Granata, 2017), which was worn to satirise the public’s negative retorts.
Figure 8- Meaty: Lady Gaga showed off a fuller figure as she sported her favourite carnivorous creation in Amsterdam on Tuesday night, 2012
Figure 9- PHOTO: LAWRENCE/SIRC/SPLASH, 2017
To define ‘Feminism’, this is ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2019). This movement can be perceived as influential in eradicating female objectification, as feminism sought to contest for women’s rights and equality amongst both genders.
Zoe Buckman is a versatile artist, who constructs ‘sculpture, installation, and photography’ (Battista, 2018), which explores predominant notions surrounding ‘feminism, mortality, and equality’ (Battista, 2018). These notions can be shown through one of her installations entitled ‘Every Curve’, as Buckman can be seen utilising her embroidery expertise, as a feminist declaration on women’s oppression. The inspiration behind this installation stems from her childhood. Buckman, who was brought up in East London, was viewed as a feminist and activist member who embraced Notorious B.I.G and Tupac Shakur when she was younger.
In this installation, a wide array of vintage lingerie can be seen suspended in the air. Each piece of lingerie is embroidered with lyrics inspired by iconic rappers Notorious B.I.G and Tupac Shakur. Here Buckman can be seen valuing the legacies of both rappers, as she is seen incorporating their lyrics in a positive manner. The vintage lingerie is sourced from different periods ranging from 1900s to the 60s, which narrate the progression of what women would wear throughout these periods.
‘Every curve’ can be seen explicitly reinforcing the hip-hop’s persona. This can be apparent through Biggie’s lyrics from his song ‘The What’, which says ‘Welcome to my center, honeys feel it deep in their placenta’ (Hernandez, 2016). Similarly this can also be seen reflected in Tupac’s both songs entitled ‘I get around’and ‘Keep ya head up’ (Hernandez, 2016). In ‘I get around’ (Hernandez, 2016); the adoration of adultery and promiscuity is expressed within women. While in ‘Keep ya head up’ (Hernandez, 2016), the exploration of black women’s plight is emphasized. These fragments of the lyrics can be seen sewn on top of a range of vintage lingerie’s. Here a clear juxtaposition can be seen constructed, as Buckman utilised explicit words on top of soft vintage lingerie. The dainty embroidery and the colour of the panty can be seen alleviating the explicit nature of the lyrics, which can be mirroring the overlooked plight of women.
Figure 10- Bethanie Brady Artist Management / (c) Billy Farrell / BFA.com, 2016
In Comme des Garçons, S/S 1997 collection, Garçons wanted to challenge the binary opposition of beauty vs grotesque within women in modern society. This was done through the utilisation of padding in eccentric areas like the abdomen, hips, and the back. The padding can be seen widely overstated but subverted from its prior meaning. This is because in the 1980s, padding was utilised as a tool to broaden shoulders, which emitted a sense of dominance and masculinity. But in this collection, the utilisation of padding was utilised to ignite femininity, which is seen through the exaggerated outline of the maternal figure and the curves. The gingham pattern can also be seen igniting femininity, as this pattern is connoted to domesticity and labour.
This collection received some criticism, as ‘Both Vogue and Elle made an indirect critique to the Japanese designer’s work by photographing the collection with the pads removed’ (Anon, 2019). From this quotation, it is highly conventional for mainstream magazines to do this, as they want to depict women who conform to idealised standards. The action of doing this can show how mainstream magazines are reluctant to progress into an unconventional dimension. Hence the removal of the pads was done to paint an image of normality. Both fashion magazines can be seen constructing a distinct representation of what Garçons intended for, going for a gender stereotypical route.
Positivity of this collection can however be echoed through this quotation, as Cunningham stated how he ‘like the way the shapes of the costumes change on the bodies’ (Anon, 2019). From this quotation, Cummingham can be seen accepting the realist state of women’s bodies altering.
Figure 11- Comme des Garçons S/S97
Overall, from the varying aspects I have analysed to answer my question, I can strongly say that female objectification had to an extent effected idealised norms within women’s bodies and beauty. This can be apparent through the examples of Saudi Arabia and the UK, as both distinct cultures are exposed to objectification in different ways, irrespective of being conservative or free. However I do believe that conceptual art/fashion movements can be declining this effect of female objectification. This is because; this platform can be seen as provoking the audience to question conventional ideals within society. Although Comme des Garçons designs outrage many, it is indeed innovative in filling the gaps of what fashion was missing. This artist can be seen as relatable to my topic on female objectification, as I utilised padding and deconstructed a shirt to signify a notion of change from conventionalism. In terms of the psychology of objectification, I think this can be subjective, as individuals perceive beauty and bodies ideals in a distinctive way, which is not approved by everyone as society has expectations on what women should conform to. This can be seen through the juxtaposition of Kardashian and Lady Gaga as Kardashian is seen conforming to idealised beauty standards, while Gaga is rejecting of what body society wants her to conform to.
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