PERFECTION Exhibits

21.06.19 – 06.10.19

Womanhours

Womanhours

Tyler Payne | Australia

2016

WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF SOCIETAL BEAUTY IDEALS ON THE INDIVIDUAL?

Womanhours investigates women’s grooming practices including Brazilian waxing and fake tanning, and asks how these practices have contributed to, and transformed, the social construction of women’s identity. This group of practices, popularised in recent decades, has become part of women’s everyday experience. Their normalisation, or rather, the normalisation of their effects on the appearance of the body has established a strong cultural expectation toward their performance. The aim of Womanhours is to turn the power of the lens against itself so that the tasks of plucking, waxing, purging and retouching, usually hidden from view, are presented for all to see. The labour processes of such ‘improvements’ are documented so that their effects on the female body are de-fetishised. Are such ‘improvements’ aiming for impossible perfectionism? And what’s the psychology behind our desire for a flawless self?

ABOUT

Tyler Payne focuses on the genre of self-portraiture in photography and video to investigate the relationship of women’s embodiment through the lens used in gendered advertising. Her practice concentrates on a study of the recent popularisation of a range of female cosmetic rituals. She analyses, re-enacts and documents how these rituals of bodily transformation have reconfigured the social construction of female gender. Tyler is currently a Ph.D. candidate at RMIT University.

CONNECT

Deeper Dive

Mary Teresa Condren

Visiting Research Fellow, Centre For Gender & Womens Studies, Trinity College Dublin

Women’s quest for perfection has taken many forms. Societies informed by religious worldviews emphasised women’s souls. Unfortunately, however, women’s bodies stood in the way of the route to perfection. Women flagellated and were flagellated. Holy anorectics starved and were starved, sometimes to death. Mystic masochists submitted to obedience, discipline, and various mental tortures to achieve sanctity. The worldview of the Middle Age demanded that female bodies be hidden, disappeared, abjected, disciplined, problematized — all in the interests of salvation. Some Lives of the Saints now offer fertile resources to study the operative psychopathologies.

Some things don’t change. Today, what Foucault calls the deployment of sexuality, the constant incitement to spurious pleasure, fuels gendered and sexual symbolic violence. Competition for Bourdieu’s goods of salvation fertilises the beauty industry, and the bodies (and maybe the souls) of women provide copious currency fulfilling Foucault’s prophecy: that in order to subject everyone to its rule, it was necessary to assure them, paradoxically, that their liberation was at stake.

To paraphrase Foucault, we may have cut off the head of the Pope, but the veils remain in the billion dollar industry quest for bodily perfection. And poor old Freud is still wondering: What do women want?

INTERVIEW WITH TYLER PAYNE (MAY 2019)
What is Womanhours?

The Womanhours series involves performance, video, installation and photography. Specifically, in PERFECTION, the works Fake Tan and Brazilian Wax are videos I have created undergoing these cosmetic rituals. They were shot on DSLR cameras. Both videos were shot several times over a three-year period with mobile beauticians in a professional photography studio space. My methodology of carnal sociology and self-portraiture gave me the experience to explore the vulnerable realities women feel pressured to undergo, to try to attain the ideal of the Glossy Magazine Girl.

What motivated you to create this work?

I began to develop Womanhours as a way to channel my frustration at the growing list of cosmetic rituals that women are compelled to undergo to appear beautiful. I started to ask myself, how many hours does it take to be a woman? Advertising’s ‘Glossy Magazine Girl’ – plucked, waxed, purged and shrunk to perfection – has intervened on women’s relationships to their bodies. Though women’s bodies that have passed through these cosmetic rituals are abundant in advertising, they are not witnessed labouring to produce this effect. What is seen instead is a singular and controlled perspective, a magical product naturalized by the advertisement’s frame. The advertising lens has become a powerful tool for bodily control. Womanhours turns the power of the lens against itself: the labours of plucking, waxing, purging and shrinking, usually hidden from view, are presented for all to see. These works reveal the intractable, comic ‘failures’ in the face of the demands placed on the everyday performance of female gender. The choice of self-portraiture is informed by Louis Wacquant’s ‘carnal sociology’, where the researcher embodies themselves as the research object, experiencing a social world from within, rather than observing it from the outside. Womanhours’ personal engagement also aims to establish solidarity with other women compelled to endure these rituals. I have not observed a kind of feminist sociology of waxing, shrinking, bleaching, tanning and cleansing. I have waxed, shrunk, bleached, tanned and cleansed myself.

What conversations are you looking to ignite with your work?

I have aimed to demonstrate how body-correcting practices have transformed the construction of women’s gender that the new forms of interaction between media and the everyday practice of women’s subjectivity need to be better understood and more critically analysed, in order to widen the perception of beauty and perfection. It seems increasingly important to visually intervene in the circuit of gender advertising in media and the new forms of body correction – and to break the circuit. It has been one of the principles of Womanhours that ‘gender’ as a topic has been written about critically, but it is critiqued much less often in the visual language that is its everyday language. As I am looked at, as I look, I am a gender. This looking is hierarchically structured: it privileges the active male gaze and subordinates the female as a passive recipient of that gaze, imprisoning her in her body. Today that ‘prison’ is subject to more intense and rigorous forms of discipline than ever before. It is my argument that research responding to this new ‘front line’ of feminism cannot rely on the female voice of a raised consciousness as something abstracted and disembodied on the page. It must also analyse what it is like to embody the suffering of the shrunken, waxed, purged, and bleached Glossy Magazine Girl, and to let that suffering speak in its ‘incarnate’ language.