Interrogating the Asexual, Erased Body

While working on completing a visual essay on why our bodies are held to unrealistic standards, I have been looking at various body types in catalogs. I have noticed that the presentation of some bodies is meant to evoke asexuality and humor, while others are meant to evoke beauty and sexuality. The prevalence of this binary necessitates continued discussion. This is something we have obviously not spoken enough about.

More often than not, hegemony deems the “overweight” body as abject; it is mocked and rendered comedic. The following picture* encompasses the sentiment that certain bodies can be devalued; here is a body type that is socially sanctioned for ridicule simply because of its form. This picture presents the overweight body as undesirable and accessible to a mocking gaze. The fact that the costume is being worn by a man adds an additional reading of asexuality: the sexuality of the fat body is made liminal. It is not decidedly feminine or masculine.

The same catalog establishes what is to be viewed as the hegemonically “sexy,” beautiful body. Two pages later, we are given an image that, when placed side-by-side to the costume, presents us with a visual definition of a hegemonically privileged body.   

The signified of this silhouette, the meaning attached to it, speaks to an essentialist perspective: a thin body type is made synonymous with attractiveness, with the erotic; this is not a body that draws a mocking gaze. The visual juxtaposition between these two body types perpetuates a discourse that theorists in fat studies are actively trying to interrogate.

In the anthology Bodies Out of Bounds, editors Kathleen Lebesco and Jana Evan Braziel assert that they seeks to “Resist the dominant discursive constructions of corpulence [by] analyz[ing] the politics and power of corpulence” (1). Their anthology begins the process of repositioning dominant ideologies of fatness. For instance, they ask, “How do media representations of fat people erase and asexualize them?” (Lebesco and Braziel 1). The costume above is a disturbingly fitting example of how fat bodies are hegemonically rendered asexual.

The act of literally and figuratively “erasing” fat bodies (Lebesco and Brazeil’s other point of contention), as well as the saturated privileging of thinness, is most evident in the video “Photoshop: Virtual Weight Loss in Photoshop!”

The ease at which “liquifying,” of removing flesh that is not socially sanctioned as belonging, is discussed and promoted in this video is perhaps the most alarming (albeit, disappointedly not surprising) feature. Within the discourse of editing bodies, it seems as though Photoshop is serving as the ultimate, technological cure; it erases the possibility for acceptance, for a multiplicity of body types. Perhaps most toxic is its assumption that some bodies require editing.

* The pictures are from the very unfortunate catalog, Things You Never Knew Existed…

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3 Responses to Interrogating the Asexual, Erased Body

  1. marina says:

    So I watched the video and it was super disturbing as I was internally fighting my bodily insecurity and my critical analysis. Fat bodies are seen as laughably unsexy and unattractive, appropriate for wacky birthday cards and “oh look its your girlfriend” jokes. Similarly, age is used in this way (for women) as greeting cards use old women’s bodies in the same way. Ha-ha look at this OLD lady, she could be YOU someday. Well she will be! What is so funny about that? In each of these cases and in many cases historically of gendered and racialized bodies such as the “Mammy” achetype – people are de-sexed and thus, as you said in regards to the Photoshop how-to, erased.

  2. Marina, thank you for the comment. My video project started in the space you identified: the internal fighting vs. the critical analysis. I noticed that, despite my knowledge/training, I could not apply the ideas of deconstructing and challenging the normative body to my own body. There is a disconnect there that I am embarrassed to admit, but think it’s worth investigating…

  3. Sam says:

    Fantastic entry. I had never seen anything quite like this video, it astounds me. I cannot begin to comprehend the pressures of our society on the body. Everyday (ads, movies, music videos, you name it) we are presented with what our culture deems to be a “acceptable”, in terms of size, shape, etc.
    For me your last sentence says it all. It comes back to biocultures for me in a way. The society controlling the natural. The natural body is metaphorically edited by hegemonic norms.

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