Monday, March 19, 2007

So, the next time you see me, and it's clear that I'm wearing false eyelashes, think "ethical text."

Today someone came into the studio to buy yoga mats, looked around, and then asked us about the pictures of naked women she'd heard about. We do, in fact, have pictures of naked women in various asanas on the walls of our studio. Many. I found it interesting that the woman had heard of them, but did not notice them on the walls (there are seven in the boutique alone) until I pointed them out. She didn't mind them, she said, as long as they were tasteful and there were no nipples showing. But there are nipples in some of them. Nipples seem to bother people. Even the word. Nipple. Nipple. Nipple.

1. Female nudes are mainstream, if you want to cause a stir, display pictures of nude men.
2. I am glad that there are no pictures of nude men at the studio.
3. Female nudes are mainstream because both women and men are used to thinking of women as sexual objects. Duh.
4. Whether or not being a nude woman or looking at nude women is empowering depends on all sorts of things, like how one comes to be the nude woman or the person looking at the nude woman.
5. As I've written before, breasts, whether they are displayed ironicaly, for art, or to convey some kind of spiritual ideal (or some combination of all this an more), are still sexual. This isn't neccessarily bad, but let's be clear. Sex and objectification doesn't go away.
6. Etc.

When I first started taking classes here, I noted the pictures. Most are black and white, or in sepia, with moody drapes and lighting. All of the nudes are women (although the photographer does have some male nudes as well). They're very stylized and slick. They're supposed to be celebratory and, I suppose, inspiring. I either ignore them or find myself staring at the models' breasts. If I were a teenager I might feel uncomfortable around them. So, the woman who came in wanted me to pass a long a formal complaint about them to the directors. They're not pornographic, but they are female nudes. A lot of people comment on the pictures, but this is the first time anyone has complained about them.

This ties in with something Nada wrote about a few days ago (and for some reason, the computer I'm on won't let me post a link just now, so I'll have to do that later). So I'll quote:

"Is my extreme self-consciousness in fact a kind of “false consciousness” (a phrase I was reminded of reading a review of abook on poverty in the Times today, in which a woman rationalizes her extreme poverty and alcoholism by saying that she must have committed some grave sins in previous lives)? Am I deceiving myself that I am reclaiming roses and ruffles, and that because everything I do is steeped in performative irony I am not buying into received notions of womanhood? That my parade of images of myself is not in fact a true narcissism but rather a going-to-extremes of self-consciousness in order to work through it, as an aspiring Buddhist might lose himself in alcohol and promiscuity on the way to enlightenment? Aw, hell."

I wrote about this in the dialogue Jessica and I published in Traffic--I'm interested in heightening the substantial gray area between what is real and what is artifice. This isn't an especially new Feminist tactic or anything. It's pretty basic, but I think that we (Feminist experimental poets) need to keep talking about performance, artifice, and recieved notions of womenhood--so I was especially happy to read Nada's post for that reason.

Again and again I rely on my ability to play (BE) a sweet, sunshiney, (and sometimes Californian) blonde as a way of manipulating recieved notions of womanhood, and recieved notions of what a Feminist, politically aware experimental poet should look and act like. Although manipulating it to what end, I'm not sure. Maybe it's just as simple as Kristeva's idea of an ethical text. Which, to generalize and paraphrase in Lorraine language, is just a text that makes the reader aware of how it is constructed. An ethical text says, "look, someone made me. Here are my seams, here is my form."


mark wallace said...

If I'm understanding this, are you saying that the woman had written a letter of complaint before she'd even seen the pictures? She came in, saw the pictures for the first time, and handed you the letter of complaint?

Small Fry said...

Yes, she'd never seen the pictures. She had heard about them, and then handed in her letter of complaint after she bought her two yoga mats.

So, exactly: the fact that she complained wasn't strange, it was the fact that she wrote the letter of complaint having never seen the pictures, then she came in to buy something and still didn't notice the pictures, and then she saw them and at first thought they weren't too bad, and then she changed her mind when she saw nipples, and then handed me her complaint letter.

Jessica Smith said...

this is maybe kinda beside the point of your post, but once i belonged to an all-women's gym, which i liked quite a lot, and there were many naked women pictures (as well as many real live naked women, but no men) but i liked it, i found it very comforting. lots of healthy female bodies in various states of undress.

but naked women are all over the place. so much public art (sculpture, billboards, reproduced paintings) is of nude or scantily clad females. it's pretty ubiquitous. it's how you read it that counts.

Nada said...

So are you glad there are no pictures of nude men because

a) they would be sure to cause a stir (the last thing, I guess, one wants in a yoga studio), or

b) you disapprove of them (this I'm somehow doubting)

c) you would find them distracting and/or stimulating?

Male nudity can be very amusing. Did anyone see the scene in "Art School Confidential" (a film, incidentally, based on my place of work)with the male artist's model "stretching" in front of an attractive female artist while on his break?

Small Fry said...

Well, the earthy-we-are-goddesses vibe of the female nude photographs bothers me, not the fact that they are nudes. And if I weren't being sarcastic, I'd say I'd also want some male nudes, but if there were male nudes, they'd be pseudo Shiva male nudes, which is just as bothersome earth goddess nudes. I think that the super slickness in the name of a potentially content free spirituality bothers me.

But I really like my yoga studio. I think I excuse these things because I live in Carlsbad, which is probably wrong.

Male nudity can be very amusing. Yes, this is a good reminder, Nada.

Actually, I wish that there were more amusing nudes in general.