Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Blogfavor: It's a little too pretty in here

I'm sure those of you who have never been to California think it's a place where shark-faced denizens grin maniacally while simultaneously touching up their tan and helping themselves to a hypo or two of botox as they beat their illegal-immigrant housekeepers for missing Fluffy the Pomeranian's pedicure appointment, probably all while driving their gigantic SUVs and shouting into the cell phone tucked in the crook of their shoulder. And if you thought that, I would say to you: yes. Yes, all the people in California are exactly like that everywhere and all the time. Yes. Mm-hmm.

But a little more seriously, I don't know if it was the recent annual Running of the Hippies (ok, that was more like ambling) I witnessed that started me thinking about beauty standards or some of the more disturbing comments my students have been making, but I am in need of some material to pass around in my class.

As part of my Secret Plan to Convince the World of the Necessity of Reading Literature (SPCWNRL), I passed around this book last week and suggested they read it for pleasure sometime, and I think I have the novel-recommending part down, but now I'd like to also hand around some visual documents, just to startle my students out of their very local culture a bit. It shouldn't be a complete mind-fuck to consider that many people do not get cosmetic surgery of any sort done. We won't even mention their reaction to my comment that hairy-legged feminists actually exist. And really, they need to accept the fact that we will all get old and die --- it's the one commonality that holds us all together, unless you're picky and point out all the people who die before getting old.

So what I need are ideally some books of photos that I can pass around while I'm dealing with roll and collecting homework and setting up the class ---- books that emphasize the variety and imperfection of the human body, images that are not tweaked and sculpted and carefully lit and photoshopped into perfection and pressed into service as a commodity, photos that suggest there are other ways of doing things outside of my sheltered students' experience.

Since I just want to devote a tiny bit of time to this --- the whole class is set up as a smorgasboard of appetizers, no more than a taste of each topic --- I want to avoid any collections of art that bring the idea of representation into question: nothing really deconstructive or satirical or layers of postmodern irony or whacked-out performance art that pushes the boundaries of the aesthetic realm. I won't be talking about these books, so they need to be able to get something useful from the images on their own. So no Cindy Sherman or Kara Walker stuff --- at least not in this particular course. (And here I could raise my usual complaint that while I love Sherman's ideas, she, like many female artists working at that time, would never have gotten picked up and lionized as much as they did if they weren't drop-dead gorgeous and thin. I don't see many homely women creating self-portraits as Botticelli's Venus or whatever. )

I would really like to pull an exhibition book or two from the art library and easily hand it around --- something with positive images of older women, perhaps, or disability studies, or those masectomy-scar-and-proud-of-it photos someone did a while back, or something like the BMI Project over at Shapely Prose, which exposes how arbitrary and silly it is to determine health and self-worth by standardized charts and numbers --- unfortunately it is too much of a pain to hook up computers or video in my section classes, which is why I want a book with quality photos (I printed some stuff off the web and color pics just don't show up well enough to bother making handouts with them).

Ideally I don't want them to be all white images either, although I'd be ok with handing around a white-centric book one week if I could balance it in the other weeks. I'm not sure how "world culture" I could go though without risking the exoticizing, National-Geographic-scholar gaze, since I wouldn't have the time to really counter that. Well, yeah, you have the same problem of objectification when you're displaying any woman's body, I understand, but there's no way really out of that dilemma.

So, here's where you all come in: suggestions? Books? Groups to consider? Any other links or resources that might be good? If anybody knows where I can get a good book on the Radical Cheerleaders (hmm, that group looks more clean-cut than the local one, but it's the best vid I can find) or that cross-dressing Bears activist group I don't remember the name of, please let me know!

And all this may put me in the mood to see and blog about art again, since Tenured Radical and Historiann have recently written about the Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution exhibition I saw a while ago. So look forward for weirdness forthcoming.

7 comments:

Bardiac said...

I'm not sure, and it's not a book... do you know the work of the performance artist Orlan? She really pushes questions of body and art, surgery and modification.

Or I could just send you a picture of my hairy legs...

kermitthefrog said...

Or hey, since I'll *be* in CA this week, why don't I just stop by an casually model my hairy legs? That might frighten your students too much though.

Otherwise, I'm sad to say that I have no idea.

Me said...

The only thing I can think of off the top of my head is "Body Alchemy: Transsexual Portraits."

Let us know what you find!

Susan said...

It's old, but Diane Arbus?

soupymama said...

Wendy Chapkis's *Beauty Myth*--stuck w/ me as an undergrad MANY years ago. It may be a bit dated...

Horace said...

Of course you KNOW Orlan would work (good call Bardiac) but that may be too pomo for your purposes. In that case, I'd totally pick up Diane Arbus, whose work is fascinating, fairly straightforward, but also critically controversial.

Elle said...

This may be more mundane than what you're looking for, but I just ordered this book for my mom for Mother's Day: This Is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes. Yeah, I ordered a copy for myself, too. I haven't seen it yet, but I was persuaded by the four sample pages and the customer reviews on Amazon.