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The Body + The Lens: Shrink, Wax, Purge, Bleach.

Tyler Payne

"The Body + the Lens: Shrink, Wax, Purge, Bleach" was a creative practice research project that investigated the relationship of (white) women’s embodiment to the lens of gendered advertising. To focus the research, a recently mainstreamed group of female cosmetic rituals were chosen — body-contour wear (SPANX), Brazilian waxing, salt-water cleansing, and fake tanning. The intent of the research was to interrogate the relationship between these body-correcting practices and the idealized image of the "Glossy Magazine Girl" — i.e. preternaturally thin, hairless, and unblemished by shades darker than pink — which now appear with more frequency in women’s everyday life, and have reconfigured the social construction of female gender. The (artistic-research) response to the subject matter was a series of video and photographic works in the genre of self-portraiture. These works attempted to critique the new norms of embodiment emerging through these practices through the researcher’s parodic undergoing of the cosmetic rituals themselves. This "carnal" methodology, following from the methodology of Louis Wacquant, is one that embodies the researcher in the social practices being researched, i.e. body-correcting practices. This method produced research results — embodied and affective — not available to purely observational research, which should interest the artistic research community and feminism generally. The images and videos de-fetishize and denaturalize the embodied product of the cosmetic rituals. My studio-led research reveals the intractable, comic "failures" in the face of the demands placed on the everyday performance of women’s gender. By doing so, it turns these failures to affirmation, as well as critique of the gender norm these practices construct.