The Hypersexualized Use of Female Bodies in Visual Art11 28 Share Tweet
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. For centuries, people understood and transmitted information by images, pictures, figurines. Collected data shows that, only between the 19th and 20th centuries, with the advent of the industrial revolution rates of literacy approached universality in western countries. Our brain has been trained for ages to absorb visual information. That's why representation matters, which is a fundamental fact for many aspects of our society. Today, for this in-depth article, we talk about the use of the female body in visual art.
In recent years, more and more countries started to adopt stricter rules against sexism and gender discriminatory practices, most especially in advertising. In art history, women were in paintings, not painters on their own. Women as subjects were used to symbolize goddesses, muses, madonnas, and to an extent, any violent act, blamed for humanity's dissolution.
Women's Bodies in Art History
Many of our contemporary problems are as old as the ground we walk. One of these problems is the hypersextalization of women. What does sexualization mean, according to the dictionary? According to Cambridge Dictionary, Sexualization is the act of sexualizing someone or something, (= seeing someone or something in sexual terms). It is worth defining Hypersexualization as well:
Hypersexualization of girls can refer to girls being depicted or treated as sexual objects. It also means sexuality that is inappropriately imposed on girls through media, marketing or products directed at them that encourages them to act in adult sexual ways.
Let's jump up in the timeline and get to one interesting painting, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863) by Eduard Manet. When Manet presented his work to the Paris Salon, it was vehemently rejected, citing that a female nude as depicted in the painting, was not allowed in an esteemed and decorous exhibition.
Looking at this painting with today's eyes, one may wonder, “why is she naked, while the rest are fully dressed?” But for those times, one of the valuables of this piece lies in the act of this woman being naked. Free from the masks of the Goddess, she is depicted simply as herself. At that time, it was almost an act of sexual liberation.
Nonetheless, it was viewed as scandalous, especially in the academic world of Parigian art. She was judged as a woman of doubtful reputation; to them, no respectable lady would have ever posed for something like this. Another irony lies in there, as the vast majority of models in the history of art were prostitutes, posing as madonnas. Funny indeed.
Nowadays, we are constantly exposed to naked female bodies. Women are trying to reappropriate the narrative on our bodies. Still, the overwhelming majority of female body depictions, especially on social media, are perpetrated by men that hypersexualize those images.
Side Effects: Body Dysmorphia
The exposure is so voluminous today that no one is immune to the psychological ramification that this vicious cycle has on the models, the female spectators, as well as men. The side effect of social media is public knowledge: they are complicit in eating disorders, body dysmorphia, low self-esteem, to name a few. Thus, we ask, are those naked bodies enabling this path, or are those subjects empowered by the narratives of these pictures?
The empowerment from a beautiful nude derives from the photographer's talent and ability to create a timeless picture.
Among many artists that have worked around the subject of the body there is Francesca Woodman, who has an incredible body of work. Her self-portraits are mystical and transcend the test of time. The issues addressed in her work are those of a young person in search of herself, and her message is in deep connection with any human:
"...Relationships, sexuality, questions of self, body image, alienation, isolation and confusion or ambiguity about personal identity."
Her quest is present in the photographs as she went on to find herself through her work. We can experience her very introspective thoughts floating around her pictures. She died young, only 22 years old. When she started to take photographs, she was only 14 years old. During that time, when a young person is seeking themselves; her work resulted in the production of 800 incredible photographs. She was able to push the medium of photography by conveying those thoughts into visual elements through the use of her camera.
Slow shutter speed and carefully staged scenarios were pivotal parts of her work. The whole process elevates the image, and the nudity transcends the mere photograph, like a surgeon would present the infected part of an organ for scientific study so that students can learn. The viewer is moved by her feelings. The body becomes just an element of composition and storytelling. We empathize with her, we understand.
Therefore, her art makes you reflect.
A Closer Look to The Male Gaze
The Art Maker
The Guerrilla Girls, a feminist group born in 1985, in New York, whose work is committed to fighting sexism in the art world, stated:
"We undermine the idea of a mainstream narrative by revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair."
In one of their last works shown on their website , they outlined one problematic art term: the male gaze. That is to say, it is the heterosexual point of view on women, and the patriarchal society that represents females as sexual objects. The analysis made by the Guerrilla Girls cleverly pointed out how the personal life of an artist it is inevitably intersected with their work. Abusive, misogynist, and violent men are praised and revered as artists; their question is quite simple and thus strikingly contemporary. "Does life imitate art or does art imitate life?"
Picasso, for example, was notoriously physically abusive to many of his partners. In a very famous painting, "Weeping Woman" the photographer Dora Maar was depicted as inconsolable and desperate in tears. She was having a relationship with him at that time. For years, Dora Maar went on in history as the crying Picasso's girlfriend despite being a brilliant photographer on her own terms. After her relationship with him, she suffered a nervous breakdown and lived in solitude for the rest of her life. For a long time, Picasso's portrayal of Dora Maar in his painting was successfully and widely accepted.
We got to the conclusion that an image may sell more than a thousand words, as for a Picasso painting can be worth $245 million, making him one of the higher artists quoted on the market. Advertisement in 2021 made 763.2 billion of USD. That's why many countries have started to regulate gender representation in advertising, a lucrative market per se. Take for example the pioneering Nordic region. They have published a report to show gender discriminatory practices in advertisements.
It is foolish to be unconscious of what we do and how we use our images in our contemporary world. Behavior matters, money matters, and how we see or portray ourselves matters. All of the above have a tangible impact on us to be or not to be functional members of society.
Are those naked bodies active players or just a pawn?
When our body is cherished, uplifted, we express our female power. The female body is beautiful and our curves are expressions of sensuality and love. Appeal to sinuous and alluring silhouettes is only natural. We are the vehicle of life itself; attraction is part of it.
But where is the line between art and objectification? How can we evolve from mediocre stereotypes?
When we show a naked body, we are sending a message. Where is the added value of your subject stripped of the clothing? Robert Mapplethorpe was a marvelous photographer who broke boundaries of identity and gender and shined a light on the LGBTQIA community in the '80s, at that time, decimated by the AIDS epidemy. His nudes are surely direct: there are no filters; other than the marvelous elevation to poetry that the impeccably composed, wonderfully lighted portraits transmit to the viewer. His work reclaimed the beauty of his community. There is meaning in his pictures; there is the intention for a message. This also goes back to how Francesca Woodman herself used and reclaimed the female nude.
In the end, if we use something as important as our physical form, we should always try to give significance and meaning to our bodies.
We want to know what you think and how you feel: as a photographer, have you ever worked with nudity? How do you approach the subject? Have you ever asked yourself these questions before? Were you aware of those issues? Do you consider yourself to be mindful of your photography when including nudity? Share your point of view with us in the comments below to have a constructive and positive discussion.
written by eparrino on 2022-01-29 #culture #visual-art #woman-s-body #feminism