Monday, May 28, 2012

Analysis 1: Aesthetic Surgery



Sander Gilman, in his work, Making the Body Beautiful, offers us a rich history of how aesthetic surgery has come to prominence through various cultural ideals of beauty, normativity, and moral value. In his chronicling, he establishes a social theory of “passing”, an idea that I wish to focus on in this analysis.
            For individuals in the 18th and 19th centuries, physical characteristics came to be associated with moral character and social values. Specifically, groups of inclusion and exclusion were frequently determined by visible markers, such as the shape and size of the nose (a racial determinant), weight, muscle mass, etc. (88). During this time period, accessibility of aesthetic procedures increased, allowing an opportunity to normalize these differentiating characteristics and thus move from a group of exclusion to a group of inclusion, known as 'passing'.
            Gilman asserts that 'passing' in aesthetic surgery is important, because “the patient believes that there is a desirable category of being from which he or she is excluded because of reasons that are defined as physical” (22). One can therefore enter this normative/desirable group by altering the physical attribute that keeps them outside of it and by convincing the members of the in-group that the attribute is authentic. This is 'passing', as the individual becomes an accepted member and has thus passed the boundaries from one group (outside the norm) to the other (the norm). Gilman also asserts that symptoms of unhappiness became centered within the individual body during this period with the rise of individual responsibility, and so curing the individual of their difference became the cure for those symptoms: “If one can cure the [physical] anomaly, the attendant changes in physiognomy that represent psychological damage can be ameliorated. If you don’t look different, you will act better and be happier” (94). Thus, normalizing one’s physical appearance allows them a means to pass into a more desirable social group, and to be happier with themselves.
            However, passing consists of an additional element, which Gilman highlights in his work. He asserts that in order to pass into a preferred in-group, one must in some ways be rendered invisible. A physical character that uniquely defines you (the “anomaly”) as belonging to a group outside of the norm must be altered and homogenized if you are to pass back into the norm of socially acceptable beauty. You thus transform yourself to look more like everyone else, you become happily invisible once more. Let us look to the image I have included with this post to see how these techniques of passing play out in contemporary aesthetic surgery.
            If we examine the accompanying image, we see that the male in the picture looks quite happy. He holds a sign, which reads, “I’ve just had my chest done. But everyone comments on my smile”. One can thus infer multiple lines of commentary from the image. Most importantly, and strikingly, is the viewer’s overwhelming sense that this person is much happier now that they have had their aesthetic procedure. In fact, he is so happy, that everyone comments on his smile. This reaffirms the idea that a person's happiness is dependent on how their outward appearance is received by others, as the man is pleased that other people notice his smile (rather than his chest). Secondly, his happiness reflects the joy he feels at having taken personal responsibility for his unhappiness and fixing it himself (by fixing his chest) and passing back into the normative (nice-chested people).
            This image also suggests the more subtle consequence of entering the normative group of beauty, which Gilman points out as in his work: one must be made invisible to become visible. Perhaps before the procedure was done, people only ever noticed the man’s non-ideal chest. He was stigmatized, categorized into an abnormal social group by his physical anomaly. However, now that he has “had his chest done”, he appears normal and can 'pass' back into the sea of normal-looking people. Only in this category does he become a person of interest, a person with social value. Now other members of society are free to fixate on other aspects of his physical appearance, such as that glorious smile! This image is thus a demonstration of Gilman’s key points, the desire for physical normalization achieved by attempting to pass into social categories that are viewed as normal and defined by physical appearance. This analysis also demonstrates the contemporary emphasis on individual responsibility for happiness, a happiness that is defined by the fulfillment or frustration of that desire (for normalization).

Gilman, Sander. "Judging by Appearances" and "The Racial Nose." Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. Pg. 3-42, 85-118.

Reynolds, John. "Cosmetic surgey brand shifts marketing focus." Marketing Magazine. Haymarket Brand Media, 30 June 2010. Web. 24 May 2012. http://www.marketingmagazine.co.uk/news/1013288/

Analysis 2: Limited Consumption



For my second visual analysis, I wish to examine two pieces, “The Appetite as Voice” by Joan Jacobs Brumberg and “Don’t Eat That: The Erotics of Abstinence in American Christianity” by R. Marie Griffin. Both of these works explore how individuals understand and utilize their relationship to food in constructing and expressing their identities. More specifically, both readings establish a criterion by which food may be evaluated, a scale determined by how a person’s moral identity is improved or diminished by consuming a particular food. Each criterion established is contextually specific, relating to a particular subject population, but relates back to the theme of identity expression through modified food consumption.
            The first article, “The Appetite as Voice” discusses adolescent women from the 19th century Victorian era and how their relationship to food was influenced by societal ideals and expectations. As Brumberg posits, “food was obviously more than a source of nutrition or means of curbing hunger; it was an integral part of individual identity. For women in particular, how one ate spoke to issues of basic character” (167). This basic character was asserted through various means. For instance, a woman’s sexual morality was seen as questionable if she indulged in foods with strong flavor, alcohol, excessive sweets, or meat. Furthermore, if a woman was too presumptuous or intent on eating a stimulating food, she was seen as socially aggressive, “assuming a male prerogative” (169). Finally, if a woman was thin she was recognized for her “moral certitude” and “rejection of carnal appetites” (170). It is thus clear from this societal context that much about a woman’s identity in the Victorian era could be inferred by her relationship to food, and thus women were extremely careful and calculated in how they expressed that relationship.
            Similarly, in the piece “Don’t Eat That”, Griffith discusses how Christian authors of dietary books have imbued certain eating habits with religious values. In particular, overindulging in fatty foods or processed/modified foods is seen as sinful, gluttonous, and is sometimes analogous to sexual immorality: “fat is sin” (46). In contrast, foods “from the Kingdom of God”, such as meat, vegetables, or fruit, nourishes an individual’s spiritual development and brings that individual closer to God (42). In the context of contemporary Christian dieting, eating natural/divine foods marks you as a moral person.
            Thus, both pieces touch on the idea that in choosing which foods we eat we are simultaneously choosing how we wish to express some aspect of our identity to others and to ourselves. In the image attached to this analysis, the company Heinz is exploiting the relationship between identity and food to reassure the viewer that by buying their food product, they are not indulging in a food marked with negative identity characteristics. Specifically, the ad reads: “NO SIN. MORE TOMATOES. LESS SUGAR.” The ad thus implies that, unlike other foods, eating Heinz' Fit Ketchup demonstrates good, moral behavior. There is less sugar (that evil, sexually stimulating fat) and more tomatoes (healthy, godly, and mundane). While it may be comforting to the viewer to know that this “fit ketchup” is morally healthier, it is also revealing of the continuation of the societal linkage between self-identity (character) and food consumption, as both Griffith and Brumberg have outline in their works.


Brumberg, Joan Jacobs. "The Appetite as Voice." Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. Pg. 159-179.

Griffith, R. Marie. "Don't Eat That: The Erotics of Abstinence in American Christianity. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 1, No. 4. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Pg. 36-47.

Smarty, Ann. "Food Advertisements-What Makes Us Buy It?" Shopping Journal. Directory Journal Web Directory, 2 Mar. 2009. Web. 25 May 2012.

Analysis 3: Enhancement Technology



The next work that I wish to incorporate into a visual analysis is Carl Elliott’s book, Better than Well, in which he examines various enhancement technologies and how they reflect a growing desire for self-improvement and modification in contemporary US society. Two chapters in particular focus on different physical expressions of individual identity and how there is a growing trend in modifying that external self in order to achieve desired self-representation.
            First I wish to examine more closely Elliott’s chapter titled “The Perfect Voice”.  He discusses the current trend of accent reduction clinics in the South, computerized voice technologies for those who cannot speak, and new surgeries for transgendered individuals who wish to match their external voice to their internal gendered identity. The theme of this chapter therefore emerges as the struggle for finding a voice that meets socially constructed standards of the norm while remaining authentic to that individual’s self image. Elliott also focuses on the idea of “passing”, as Gilman did in his piece on aesthetic surgery discussed previously in my analyses, and specifically, how it “always exists in tension with the moral ideal of authenticity” (20). To take this idea further, Elliott is interested in how the newly transformed identity of the individual, while seemingly a more accurate representation of what they imagine their true inner selves to be, is contingent on being accepted by society as authentic. By this I mean that the passing actually has to work; society has to believe that the individual has always belonged to the specific group they are trying to pass into, lest that person be considered a fraud. This tension complicates the matter of self-transformation and provides an element of risk in presenting an altered version of oneself to a society in which individuals are inescapably visible.
            In a somewhat related chapter, “Amputees by Choice”, Elliott introduces the rare phenomenon of perfectly healthy individuals desiring to have a limb amputated in order to feel more like their true, inner selves. Currently these individuals are labeled as “apotemnphiles”, and as a doctor who has been performing elective amputations describes and which Elliott cites in his work, they all share “the feeling ‘that their body is incomplete with their normal complement of four limbs.’” Elliott goes on to speculate that “perhaps it has less to do with desire than with being stuck in the wrong body” (211). This brings up an interesting connection with the previous chapter in which individuals wished to alter their outward physical expression in order to reflect their perceived “true” selves more accurately. Specifically, Elliott gives evidence of many successful amputees who felt much happier after they had their limbs removed, as they indeed felt more like their true selves (209). It is this search for self-transformation that I wish to analyze in the following image.
            The image here displays a self-enhancement technology, specifically a cosmetic cream, which is intended to mask the contours of the face and, as is clear in the ad, hide the more masculine features of a female impersonator. This ad demonstrates the themes found in both of Elliott’s chapters, in which the person featured wishes to express an altered form of outward appearance, perhaps to reflect a more accurate representation of their inner self (letting the inner woman be reflected on the male body). However, as discussed in “The Perfect Voice” chapter, the ability to express an authentic self is in tension with the ability to pass in society with that transformed identity. This tension is clearly present in the ad as well, in which it states, “What’s the secret of my success? It’s Adobe Photoshop Day Cream.” There is an interesting implication here that passing is otherwise difficult or may be altogether unsuccessful without this cream. To not pass as female would be a failure, all the more so if the individual is trying to present a newly transformed self. Elliott thus offers us an interesting perspective from which to view a field of technologies that is rapidly improving and made more accessible at present, and which complicates the possibilities for identity and self-expression.   


(There is a second and more interesting analysis of this image, in which it is clearly a critique of the use of PhotoShop to enhance beyond the point of recognizability, and the ability of advertisements to utilize this power in their promotion of images. However, while I would be interested to include that in my work, it is not the focus of this analysis)


Elliott, Carl. "The Perfect Voice" and "Amputees by Choice." Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2003. Pg. 1-27 and 208-236.

giopetsgraphicart. "Photoshop Day Cream: La Wanda Gastrica." Advertisement. Photobucket, n.d. Web. 25 May 2012.

Analysis 4: Feminine Ideals



For the following image analysis, I wish to examine the works of Susan Bordo, titled “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity”, and Jacqueline Urla and Alan Swedlund, titled “The Anthropometry of Barbie”. Each work considers the role of specific images of femininity in 20th century American society and how they contribute to the overall discourse of femininity. By discourse, I mean how femininity is constructed through various channels, the ideals and expectations that are set through standards, and how these ideals are interpreted, talked about, and acted out in daily, lived experiences by actual women.
            Let us first examine Susan Bordo’s work, in which she traces the transforming image of femininity through disorders that have been prominent in the last two centuries. She focuses heavily on anorexia nervosa, a disorder in which women purposefully and willfully starve themselves in an endless effort to achieve an ideal of thinness. Bordo sees anorexia as an extreme pursuit of an unrealistic ideal that society dictates as the norm, a norm that is pushing women to the edges of healthy bodily expression. However, Bordo goes a step further in examining the motivation of the anorectic. She posits that beyond striving for a feminine societal ideal, anorectics use starvation as a means of obtaining characteristics outside of the feminine realms. Starvation is an illusory means of entering the male economy of power: “At this point of excess, the conventionally feminine deconstructs, we might say, into its opposite and opens onto those values our culture has coded as male. No wonder the anorexia is experienced as liberating…” (179). Thus for the anorectic, her control over her femininity, to destroy her feminine body, gives her a sense of power and control, traits typically assigned to males in contemporary US culture. However, as Bordo argues, this sense of liberation is merely an illusion. The anorectic is not free, as she continues to reinforce the gender hierarchy that she is attempting to transgress, by pursuing that ideal feminine trait of thinness and ultimately clinging to the masculinity of power. The anorectic woman thus fails to escape the pressure, the anxiety, of perpetuating the socially constructed image of femininity.
            The second article, by Urla and Swedlund, examines the well-known image of Barbie in contemporary US society. Specifically, the authors discuss how Barbie has changed over time and how her message has changed accordingly to promote a message to young girls about how to exercise, and thereby fulfill, expectations of femininity. Interestingly, Urla and Swedlund discuss Barbie’s image as a linkage between typical feminine expression (thinness, made up, dressed up) and consumerism (accessorizing, fashion, etc.). As the authors demonstrate in their piece, “Through these play scenarios, little girls learn Ruth Handler’s lesson about the importance of hygiene, occasion-specific clothing, knowledgeable buying, and artful display as key elements to popularity and a successful career in femininity” (281). The key to a ‘successful career in femininity’ as these girls learn by playing with Barbie, is not only to appear feminine, but to buy into femininity as a commodity.
            Both of these articles are thus reflected in the image I have chosen for this analysis. Interestingly, the image is a critique on how the Media (that influential entity consisting of news, magazines, and the internet which offers an unrealistic and heavily edited vision of beauty) promotes the socially constructed ideals of femininity to its audience, specifically being Skinny, and how in turn this conveys a false sense of liberation. The ad states, “The Greatest Freedom is to be skinny” accompanying an anorexic and aged Barbie. The most obvious critique is of how the Barbie doll endorses and propogates an image of impossible thinness and idealized beauty to consumers. However, the more subtle message seems to be that there is indeed the freedom to be skinny, but in that exercise of freedom women become trapped as they endlessly pursue an unrealistic ideal (the Barbie). This demonstrates Bordo’s perception of an illusory sense of liberation and control in the pursuit of thinness, which ultimately just perpetuates and solidifies unattainable ideals. Women thus become blind to the coercion of the Media, as they freely choose to struggle after thinness. Furthermore, the ad seems to be criticizing the Media's (advertisers') role in strengthening the desire to be more feminine by offering a means to purchase femininity. This reinforces the notion that a woman should desire to be more feminine, more thin, and thus more desirable themselves and is therefore extremely problematic.


Bordo, Susan. "The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity." Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Pg. 165-184.

Desizn Tech. "Being a Creative Critique: 40 Best Spoof Ads." Image 13, "Skinny." Wordpress, 14 Aug. 2009. Web. 24 May 2012.

Urla, Jacqueline and Alan C. Swedlund. "The Anthropometry of Barbie: Unsettling Ideals of the Feminine Body in Popular Culture." Deviant Bodies: Critical Perspectives on Difference in Science and Popular Culture. Ed. Jennifer Terry and Jacqueline Urla. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Pg. 277-313.

Analysis 5: Gendered Consumption






The two works that I will focus on for this image analysis are “Flex Appeal, Food, and Fat: Competitive Bodybuilding, Gender and Diet” by Anne Bolin and “Gender on a Plate: The Calibration of Identity in American Macrobiotics” by Karlyn Crowley. These two pieces focus on how diet, which is generally incorporated into gender constructs, can instead be used as a means to transgress typical gender boundaries by making them fluid or altogether nonexistent.
            In Anne Bolin’s work, she discusses diet as the central locus for developing the bodybuilding identity, as it is the strongest influence on physical body expression. It is thus a potential source for reaffirming the cultural boundaries between gender in which food takes on imbued meaning (power, manliness, daintiness, frailty). However, Bolin asserts that instead food works to dissolve these boundaries in meaning as both men and women bodybuilders incorporate diet into their identities in the same way, toward the same ends. As Bolin suggests, “Both sexes pursue the same diet. Differences between the sexes on the diet were regarded as differences of degree, not kind” (201). And because both sexes pursue the same diet, toward the same end of muscular expression, “as male and female bodybuilders diet, their bodies come to resemble one another more and more…As women lose fat associated with the secondary sexual characteristics, they lose cultural insignias of gender difference” (203). Bolin thus demonstrates how the bodybuilding diet breaks down the socially constructed boundaries between genders expressed through food consumption until they altogether dissolve into one fluid expression of genderless strength.
            In a similar sense, Karlyn Crowley examines the macrobiotic diet made popular in the 1970’s and discusses the fluidity of gender offered by the diet’s key principles. Macrobiotics emphasizes the necessary balance between yin and yang foods, in which yin is composed of feminine energy and yang masculine energy. By over-consuming yin foods, one can begin to express more feminine characteristics in their daily life, and in turn, overconsumption of masculine foods can generate masculine behaviors and tendencies. For example, Crawley offers us this example: “Kushi says that ‘a large volume of extreme yang foods-such as meat, eggs, cheese, and poultry…produces a more aggressive and offensive attitude [yang qualities]…and a large volume of extreme yin foods-such as milk, fruits, hot spices, and alcohol-produces fear and exclusivity [yin qualities]’” (39). Thus, by controlling one’s intake of yin or yang foods, they have control over gendered expression of identity. Crawley thus posits that gender is not fixed but is fluid and controllable, offering the individual a sense of freedom over their socially constructed gender.
            I thus offer with this analysis two images of soda ads which are marketed to specific genders and thereby reinforce the notion that gender is encoded in the foods we eat and furthermore, solidifies the boundaries between which foods are socially acceptable for “feminine” and “masculine” individuals to consume. As we can see, the first ad depicts a thin woman drinking through a skinny straw, a skinny can of Pepsi with a giant zero on it, depicting the amount of calories. It is thus clearly marketed to women as a food product just for them: Drink this femininely skinny can of Pepsi, and you will become thinner and more feminine as a result. The ad thus reinforces the linkage between food consumption and the touting of socially constructed gender boundaries through expression of feminine traits (thinness, control over diet, etc.). In contrast, the diet Dr. Pepper ad is targeted explicitly to males, as the ad reads: “It’s not for women.” More interestingly, the can boasts that the drink has “10 Bold tasting calories.” This drink is clearly for those with masculine tastes, who can handle the bold flavor of the calories, and is therefore “not for women.” Once again this ad caters to the constructions of gender that are expressed through food choice, and seeks to solidify these gender boundaries. I wish to utilize these images to demonstrate how new food practices of consumption which may transgress these constructed boundaries (as offered in the readings) are both beneficial and necessary in reimagining the fluidity of gender. Especially in a society in which difference is maintained through various public and cultural means, as is evidenced in these extremely gendered ads.


Anderson, Mae. "Dr. Pepper Ten 'not for women'." Image. USA Today Online, 10 Oct. 2011. Web. 24 May 2012. http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/story/2011-10-10/dr-pepper-for-men/50717788/1.

Bolin, Anne. "Flex Appeal, Food, and Fat: Competitive Bodybuilding, Gender, and Diet." Building Bodies. Ed. Pamela L. Moore. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Crowley, Karlyn. "Gender on a Plate: The Calibration of Identity in American Macrobiotics." Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. Vol. 2, No. 3. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Pg. 37-48.

Teach Media. "Pepsi's Skinny Can." Image. Wordpress, 13 Oct. 2011. Web. 24 May 2012. http://www.teachmedia.org/2011/10/13/pepsis-skinny-can/