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…