Theorizing the Body

The Vitruvian Man

by Casey Sloan

We rely on images of the human body in advertising, in art, in visual arguments, and, quite simply, in navigating everyday social life. Over the years, many philosophers and theorists have grappled with questions like: What constitutes the body? Can the body think? How is the body produced? Why are some bodies more socially acceptable or desirable than others?

Scopophilia in A Game of Thrones

Headshots of female characters from A Game of Thrones

Image Credit:

An incessant struggle for dominance. A never-ending vigil against opposition. A fierce match of razor-sharp wits. A game, one might say, of thrones. Wait, no. I meant a game of feminism.

Nudity, My Dear Watson: Sherlock and The Woman

Text gives information Sherlock gleans from the type of suit a man wears: left side of bed, horse rider, public school

Image Credit: Personal Screen Capture from Amazon Prime

BBC's ongoing show Sherlock is a present-day adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's nineteenth-century detective stories, and it gleefully delights in its modernity by incorporating new technology and polishing up old visual tropes associated with the rationally-minded crime solver. Whether it's confronting viewers with just how resistant Sherlock himself is towards the popularity of his infamous deerstalker or transforming a first-person narrator's short stories into fodder for a personal blog , Sherlock 's self-referentiality invites its fans to think about the implications of these alterations. The alteration of the media used to tell the tales of the Great Detective Sherlock Holmes also introduces some arresting issues. If Sherlock's deductions were shrouded in mystery or only available to readers through Holmes's own explanations, the show actually allows viewers to “see” the detective's thought processes by stylistically superimpos i ng text onto the show's images.

Bathroom Stalls In Orange Is the New Black

 Poster for Orange Is the New Black. Various inmates look out at the camera from bathroom stalls without doors

Image Credit: Heroine TV


Given my fascination with what's visually acceptable and what's considered outré or even repulsive about women's bodies, I'm personally shocked that I haven't yet made time to talk about Orange Is the New Black, a semi-new Netflix Original Series. Season 1 appeared en masse on July 11, and I, for one, lost a few days of my life greedily devouring every single hour-long episode. The premise at first gave me pause. An upper-middle-class white woman, Piper Chapman, is incarcerated years after the fact for helping an old girlfriend smuggle drug money across some international borders. Trials and tribulations for her ensue in a women's prison. I was a bit concerned that the show would make light of its own topic and elide very real health, safety and human rights issues facing minority women serving time. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtful, sympathetic way with which the show attempts to deal with sociopolitical issues. The cycle of poverty, drug use and LGBQT discrimination all get decent airtime, and, though I'm a bit removed from the experience, I can't recall many particular moments that made me cringe (though I do plan on using a later post to discuss the show's treatment of abortion).


A Very Viz-y Halloween: The Horror of the Female Body

Samara from The Ring sitting in a psychiatric ward, hooked up to wires

Image Credit: 

At least once a year, my fevered, candy-addle, jumped-up-on-Halloween brain grapples with the compelling notion that the horror genre somehow contains the key to unlock some delightful secrets about our cultural, if not our human, condition. The genre fascinates because its appeal rests on its ability to draw forth all of the emotional and physiological reaction we, as a species, have been conditioned to be very, very wary of. I can understand why romantic comedies command so much cultural popularity, but horror movies? Revulsion, repulsion, terror, horror, disgust...the viewer is bombarded with stimuli that are designed to make you feel as though you should flee as quickly as you possibly can, and yet, riveted we sit, consuming horror with more fervor and delight than we consume popcorn. So how does this genre relate to gender?

Press(ing) Matter

Picture that shows a Google View of the space on the public road from which the photographer took the topless photo of Kate Middleton; juxtaposed with overhead views of the road and the Chateau d'Autet

Image Credit: BBC News

Only a scant 23 days elapsed after TMZ leaked nude photos of Prince Harry that French tabloid Closer printed images of Kate Middleton sunbathing topless on the balcony of a Provence guesthouse. In addition to the frenzied speculation about the photos themselves (Is the queen upset with her grandson? Was Middleton truly in private, since she was photographed on a terrace? Are there more images that will emerge?) it’s interesting to note that the press itself has been the subject of equal amounts of scrutiny.

Lee Price and Exposed Eating

bird's eye view of a woman eating a lot of food in a pretty living room

Lee Price, Sunday.  H/t to Jezebel, Sociological Images

Lee Price paints photorealistic portraits of her subject (usually herself) consuming food that we might label "bad:" for example, McDonalds, cupcakes, pie, and so on. While Dr. Lisa Wade's piece for Sociological Images focused on the way these paintings make public what is often a shameful, private act and elevate it through the use of "high" medium (painting), I was most interested in the way these images seem to acknowledge these commonly held beliefs about indulgent consumption even as they complicate them. I'd like to take a stab at raising more questions about Price's work and how it formulates an argument about bodies, pleasure, shame, and excess. Pictures after the jump are NSFW.

Reboot: Bodies of Evidence by Emily Bloom

Museum of Fat Love

Image Credit: The Museum of Fat Love

H/T: Layne Craig

Amidst massive media coverage of the “obesity epidemic,” visual arguments have emerged online that challenge the terms of the current debate.  One example is the website, The Museum of Fat Love, which presents a collection of photographs of smiling couples.  Similarly, Newsweek ran a series of photographs on their website titled“Happy, Heavy and Healthy” in which readers submitted pictures of themselves performing athletic feats.  Both websites called for volunteers to submit evidence that individuals classified as overweight or obese can live healthy, happy lives.  The use of visuals in both instances is striking—both websites are predicated on the understanding that overweight individuals have been misunderstood (perhaps even vilified) in the course of public debates on obesity and public health.

A Posterior for Posterity

Temeca Freeman white dress

Temeca Freeman via J'Adore Magazine

On 10 March, 2011, Germany’s Pro7 TV aired a story about U.S. “po” model Temeca Freeman in New York City for Fashion Week. As a butt model, Freeman voluntarily welcomes people to stare unabashedly at her backside.  But Pro7’s story went beyond a curious stare and into a visual “fressen” – a German term which means to devour, or consume like an animal.  NSFW content after the break.

History Written on the Body: Of Another Fashion

Young African American woman relaxes by a window

Alfred Eisenstaedt, Life Magazine, via Of Another Fashion

This week, I want to focus on a site I discovered when I was trying not to work. While browsing fashion blogs, I encountered Of Another Fashion, a digital archive of "the not quite hidden but too often ignored fashion histories of US women of color." In recuperating these women as alternative icons, the site emphasizes the complex historical intersections of public and private as they play out through clothing choices. It also provides needed role models to counter the often problematic and still white-dominated fashion industry.

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