body image

What's Haunting Dove's Real Beauty Campaign?

Image from Dove's Real Beauty Campaign. Unconventional models of various body types, ages, and races stand, smiling, against a white background

Image Credit: People's Lab

Every image is haunted by the excluded. Every social movement is haunted by flaws. After reading Avery F. Gordon's Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination and Nivedita Menon's Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law, I became a bit haunted by the possibility of subversion. These two texts tell us that ghosts, in various forms, are absolutely everywhere, and after ruminating on their content and methodologies, I started to see ghosts, too.

Lilo & Stitch: The Danger of Beautiful Stories

The alien Stitch lies flat on his face in front of the book, "The Ugly Duckling"

Image credit: captured from

If Frozen (as my previous blog argues) gleefully revises Disney’s traditional iconography, Lilo and Stitch does something far more interesting. Both are, in their ways, re-telling of fairy tales, but Lilo and Stitch proves far weirder, as well as far more intelligent, than its visually-immaculate descendent. We have already discussed Lilo and Stitch once at the Viz blog, praising it for its ability to subvert the “prince charming” narrative. Yet Lilo and Stitch is certainly worth at least one more look. The film is, in fact, both far more critical, and far more thoughtful, than Frozen is. Indeed, the film (despite its rough spots) is sophisticated and thoughtful in a lot of ways that Frozen never dreams of being, and may have something quite important to say about the way we engage with popular children’s stories. 

Frozen: The Anatomy of a Gaze

Elsa from Frozen gazes into the distance

Image credit: The Guardian

The first song composed for (but ultimately cut from) the recent Disney blockbuster Frozen explicitly engages with Disney's presentation of female characters. In the song, entitled "We Know Better," young princesses Elsa and Anna lay out a laundry list of objections to the traditional idea of a "Disney Princess." The film's two heroes refuse to be the sort of princess who "always knows her place," insist that a real princess “laughs and snorts milk out her nose," and maintain their right to mention “underwear.” Though whimsical, the film sets out its heroines' priorities: the only things they take seriously are their sisterly friendship and the political demands of ruling the realm. In climactic two-part harmony, the girls promise to "take care of our people and they will love / Me and you." If films like Tangled and Brave taught Disney that their princesses can (quite profitably) take center stage without dressing up as boys, Frozen insists that its female leads will be more concerned with national policy than with the clothes they wear.

The Visual Scandal of Freeing the Nipple

Image Credit: Huffington Post

In 2005, the artist Jill Coccaro was arrested in New York for exposing her breasts in public. In 2012, Jessica Krisgsman was arrested in New York for topless sunbathing in a park. In 1992, New York courts ruled that banning female toplessness in public violated equal protection clauses and, as a result, it became legal for women to bare their breasts in the state. Apparently, the memo about the legal rights of topless women is still in circulation. Social activist and actress Lina Esco is slated to release her film Free the Nipple in June of this year. The movie will explore American cultural discomfort with the alleged “lewdness” and “indecency” of women going topless. Esco has written several fantastic Huffington Post progress reportsfor her project, chronicling the struggles she has faced in the composition of her movie , struggles like police involvement during filming and battling social media networks that have banned her accounts for putting up pictures of partially nude women. Esco also beautifully captures her own bafflement about what she sees as bizarre standards of American morality, asking why “acts of baroque violence, killing, brutalization and death are infinitely more tolerated by the FCC and the MPAA, who regulate all films and TV shows in the US.” Shooting a film about breasts has proven more difficult that shooting a film about, well, shooting. The Free the Nipple campaign has attracted the attention, and largely benefited from the patronage, of celebrities like Miley Cyrus, whose December tweet on New York toplessness laws generated quite a bit of internet buzz. Her tweet was accompanied by a photo of her flashing the camera, breasts colorfully covered with photoshopped hearts.

Fashion Misfires: The Hunger Games II.

Vogue cover December 2013

Image: author's own, photo of December 2013 cover of Vogue

To round out the fall 2013 season of viz, I follow up on Suss’s latest post re: the Hunger Games and the rhetoric of fashion. As Suss makes clear, the new film Catching Fire portrays style in the districts as Depression-drab-chic (to put it generously). Which is all kinds of problematic. In the continuing buzz surrounding the movie's release, however, I've noticed that it's the outrageous outfits of the Capitol dwellers that capture the most media and corporate attention.

Misusing Miss Universe?

Miss Universe 2013 Gabriela Isler gives a thumbs-up to the camera

Image Credit:

There are some things that even I, in all of my high-minded preachiess, feel squeamish about approaching. The gender studies climate in my field has been influenced by critics who laud the values of embracing “girl culture,” celebrating personal gender choices, and moving away from blaming an insidious patriarchy for indoctrinating women. However, I can't help but notice that social and economic inequality still haunt gender divides, and, politically speaking, it might be responsible to keep harping on glass ceilings and body image issues until everyone acknowledges that sexism, like racism, is still a “thing” in American culture. How does one properly balance these two positions? I struggle with this question constantly. Take the Miss Universe pageant, for example.

Visibility, Physicality, and Size Acceptance: Substantia Jones of the Adipositivity Project

(Image Credit:  Substantia Jones,

Substantia Jones is an award-winning, Manhattan-based photographer whose work has been featured in The New York Times and showcased at galleries and shows throughout the Northeast.  Her website, The Adipositivity Project, is dedicated to documenting and celebrating bodies that are typically invisible--except as negative examples--in modern media.  In her own words, Substantia promotes size-acceptance "not by listing the merits of big people, or detailing examples of excellence (these things are easily seen all around us), but rather, through a visual display of fat physicality. The sort that's normally unseen."

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to exchange emails with Substantia and develop a post that would showcase some of her favorite photographs. Her answers to my questions are in bold. Many of the photographs below are NSFW. 

(Re)Composing Bodies - Giovanni Bortolani's Fake Too Fake

human back with leaf

Giovanni Bortolani, from the Fake Too Fake series

Using some seriously inventive (and at times disturbing) photoshop, Italian artist Giovanni Bortolani has created a series of photos about the composition of the human form.  While the image above suggests a relationship between the body and the organic by superimposing a leaf skeleton on a man's back, most of Bortolani's photos in the series explore bodies in terms of that which is "fake" or constructed.  The images in Fake Too Fake are jarring, but they ask us to consider what we're doing to our bodies in this age of plastic surgery and diet pills.  NSFW (and somewhat gruesome) material after the jump.

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.

The Athlete by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein

(Photo credits:  The Athlete by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein, via SocImages)

Thanks to fitness magazines and the weight loss industry, we've become acculturated to the notion that fitness looks a certain way.  This photo collection by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein challenges our assumptions about athleticism by presenting Olympic athletes with an array of body types, ranging from the typical "shredded" bodybuilder look to bodies that we might view as "unhealthy" in a different context. 

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