November 25, 2010

Thesis Abstract

This is what I'm going to be presenting (with my slides behind me) It's long, but this is it, if you want to read it:

Thesis Proposal Abstract

My thesis will be a series of 6, 42 inch constructed paper dolls depicting the standard female body shapes of triangle, inverted triangle, rectangle, diamond, hourglass and oval. Through the construction of the paper dolls assembled over found art in the form of vintage women's underwear ads, I will explore standards of beauty and body image in a lighthearted manner.

The 6 body shapes that I will be depicting are some of the shapes that the fashion industry use to standardize the way that women look in their clothes. These body shapes are what they use to define women's bodies.

Magazines focus on the size and shape of the celebrity du jour. Celebrities like Jessica Simpson gain 20 pounds, and there's a media outcry. She's out of control. Magazine covers are filled with images of her in unflattering poses, or catching her eating. If a female celebrity gains 20 pounds, and is a horrendous beast, what does that make the rest of us that don't fit the media's ideal?

Up until the early part of the 20th century, the image of beauty for women in western societies was a voluptuous, “reproductive” form. Women with full hips, thighs and breasts were painted lovingly by artists. Full bodies were popular because they epitomized fertility, which made them more appealing than lean, masculine-like bodies.

The idolization of female thinness is a recent ideal. It is argued that the thin concept in body image began as a marketing ploy by the fashion industry in the 1920's. They set the standard for cultural beauty in most Western societies. Up until the 1920's clothing and fashion were represented by hand-drawn illustrations that were beautifully painted. Shortly after that, photographs replaced the illustrations and were widely distributed through mass-market magazines. These magazines presented a fantasy image of how women were supposed to look in fashionable clothing which required them to mould their bodies because each look suited a particular body shape. Then women began binding their chests and using foundation garments to achieve these desired body shapes.

The trend of slimness continued through the 40's and 50's, with minor adjustments, movie stars became more shapely, but remained thin throughout the 60's until the thin boyish figure of Twiggy became the role model for a new generation of women.

Fast forward to the present era where magazines and designers choose to use extremely thin models to advertise clothing. This influences women to change the size and shape of their bodies to conform to current trends and culturally-defined body shapes.

Vintage advertisements are a good example of how the media and fashion industries say women should look. By wearing girdles and bras to mould their curves and hide their bulges, women could achieve an image of outer beauty. While the message is still relevant for today, advertisements of yesteryear were less subtle with their message than advertisers of the modern era. Placing these dolls over the vintage ads highlights how vintage media isn't much different than today. They just weren't afraid to say it out loud. Besides, these ads are ludicrous in their messages. “Lose 5 pounds in 5 minutes!” How? Wear this girdle. Have unseemly bulges? Slip these underwear on, and they'll flatten your curves so that you look good in clothes.

I want to create a dialog about body image, how it affects women. Looking at a flat image of a woman as represented by the dolls, hanging on a wall is not meant to solve anyone's body issues, it is merely meant to show that women come in many shapes, and within those shapes is beauty. Women feel awkward about their bodies, showing them standing in their underwear represents this awkwardness. But behind this awkwardness is a power and beauty and confidence that is waiting to be shown.

After researching, and collecting imagery for each body type and matching it with an appropriate vintage ad, I will build the boxes that will house the dolls. These boxes will be hand made from wood, without glass. Why put the dolls in boxes? I want to call attention to the notion that women are on “display”. Every day we put on clothes to cover or accentuate our bodies, makeup to highlight our faces. Women are looked upon to make a presence, to be beautiful. Placing the dolls inside a box is a metaphor for the constraints of beauty standards. Also, by not putting them behind glass, I'm making these symbolic references to women more accessible. Yes, we're expected to be boxed in and conform, to follow the rules of the media. To wear clothing that binds and restricts our figures. These dolls break that mold. They step away from society and the media's norms. They remain accessible, looking you right in the eye and they say “this is me, take me as I am”.

When the boxes are finished, the rest of the process will focus on painting and cutting out the dolls and assembling them.

Painting the different shaped women in gouache on watercolor paper likens the dolls to those fashion illustrations of the 20's. Women were painted with a realistic simplicity in color and line quality that I plan on reflecting in my own illustrations of the dolls.

When the entire process is complete, the dolls will be attached inside the boxes and hung side by side, gallery style and at eye level, so the viewer can make eye contact with them.

We've come a long way as a society, from seeing only the extreme ideal of femininity in media. Commercials are starting to feature people who aren't the cultural norm in terms of body shape. Blogs dedicated to body image and acceptance abound, and magazines are starting to stand up and feature women that break away from traditional body sizes.

This is not a fat acceptance project, but a project that hopes to celebrate the female figure in different shapes.

Through the process of researching images and constructing the paper dolls, I want to explore my own perceptions of body image and open a dialog with viewers about how media influences the way that women perceive themselves. I want to see why some women base their happiness solely on how they look in their clothes and why they compare themselves to the people that they see in the media. I believe these paper dolls are a rebellion against what the media historically has told us is the ideal form.

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