Vanity Fare

Recently I had to talk to a female student about posting suggestive photos of herself online, and before doing so I did some online reading on the subject. I read a lot about teaching girls that they are more than their appearance, to get value from other aspects of themselves such as academics or sports, and to seek validation from within rather than externally. Not new sentiments, certainly, but the internet does provide even more immediate reinforcement of these old beliefs young girls have about what sort of attention they should seek from males.

This may sound odd, but I found myself feeling just a bit guilty as I read some of this stuff, wondering if I am setting the right example in the way I participate in online communities, thinking of my photography of course. While I definitely do not seek male attention through the photographs I take and share, I do seek to be attractive in all of them. I am guilty of editing out the occasional lump and bump and blemish, and I always want to look pretty in my shots. I also thought about my participation on sites like ModCloth, where my profile exists solely to showcase the nice outfits I put together, as does anyone with a profile on their website. Should I care so much about a great outfit that I want to immortalize it on a website whose sole purpose, let’s face it, is to use those photos to sell women more clothes they most likely don’t need? Is participating in it reinforcing to girls that what they wear and how they look matters so much, even grown women go take photos of themselves so strangers can see how they looked that day in what they wore?

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Clearly the cat’s not impressed with this outfit

I’m far more comfortable with the artistic shots I share on Flickr than the wardrobe photos I have up on ModCloth, but I do also enjoy taking those pictures. I think at heart I am a fashion photographer more than anything – just one who doesn’t work with any models other than herself. Clothing is always part of what interests me in my shots, and clearly hair and makeup is too. I suppose that makes me more superficial from the get-go. I remember someone telling me early on that I shouldn’t categorize my photos as “self portraits” because they really don’t do what self-portraits should do, which is represent through the construction of a setting and the use of props important things about the self. And that is true, I don’t do any of that. Most of my shots are actually devoid of setting – interestingly enough, even my superficial stuff on ModCloth is shot in front of a backdrop, which is unusual for that site as most women are snapping photos of themselves with their cell phones while out for coffee or standing on the front porch.

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Would you believe I took this while out for coffee?

It makes me wonder if my photos in general communicate what they should, or could; and if I should be doing more to send positive messages to girls and women than just, look how fab I did my makeup today and how awesome this skirt flows in the wind. But at the same time, I do love a good makeup application and the movement of an awesome caftan. One of the main reasons I’ve never tried to make my art, whatever it was at the time, a career was so that I would not have to be obligated to do anything other than whatever the hell I wanted, but sometimes I wonder if I want the right things. I don’t want to be hypocritical  by telling young girls they should not seek validation about their self-worth through photographs of themselves online if what I’m doing appears to be the same thing – even if I know it isn’t. At least I think it isn’t.

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This is art, I swear

Thoughts? And I know it’s safe to ask, because my readership has dropped considerably since I took down all my reviews; so I know I’ll be getting honest answers from real followers. At least I think I will. 

10 thoughts on “Vanity Fare

  1. I have mixed feelings about this topic that really only point to my own experiences in this regard. First of all, suggestive photographs in a minor, are one thing. That is completely inappropriate and shows a lack of parental oversight, in my opinion. Women, especially girls, have to be aware of the dangers that sexualizing themselves invite.

    That said, as someone for whom appearance was a primary asset from the very earliest age, I have fought against emphasizing it because no matter what we all believe, the world puts pretty women in a box and it is hard to be taken seriously once that occurs.

    Nonetheless, I have always gone to a great deal of effort to be flawlessly turned out in public. But, I go out of my way to do it in such a way that people will see sophistication, not flamboyance. I like glamour in certain situations, almost exclusively at night. But provocative behavior, makeup, hair, shoes, clothes are not my style. Other than at the beach, back when I didn’t think about the damage that the sun can do, I am extremely modest.

    I see nothing wrong with doing whatever we can, safely of course, to look and feel our best. But it is not the dimension that I want others to relate to primarily when they intereact with me. I like to think of myself as intellect, ideas and creativity. You approach this, it seems to me, through photographic artistry, not primarily ego (unless you say otherwise) and you don’t seem to be teasing your male audience. I don’t know if you are being viewed by minors, but if you were, I just don’t see a problem in your photos. They seem to be broadcasting creativity.

    Wow. Sorry for this long screed. I am thinking out loud, I guess.

    • My husband and I have fought over this issue, actually, because I do NOT see my photos as “sexy” or provocative, and he sees pretty much all of them that way. Not in a critical or I-don’t-want-you-to-share-them way, he just always comments on how “sexy” they are and is genuinely baffled when I say that isn’t my intention. In fact, I used to see it as an insult or a belittling of them until I came to understand that to him, that is the highest compliment he can give and he doesn’t mean to belittle the artistic merit when he says that. But that’s another story entirely so I won’t go too far down that road.

      I also do notice a lot on Flickr that a photo I might see as artistic gets a lot of comments about either what I’m wearing or how I look; it used to make me wonder but now I accept that as part of what people might pick out of the photo to notice, and it’s fine. At the same time, though, I am concerned about the immediacy of sties like Instagram and how they might make us all more fixated on what we wear or how we look than we used to be or need to be, and how these things affect young people in particular. There’s a more superficial focus on ourselves in general when it comes to the internet actually – we all get to engage in image-making and present a fairly false front to others whom we know even in real life. So to what extent am I engaged in that image-making and to what extent am I being honest? Or, does being artistic trump being honest? I think it does, which is why it’s more my participation in the Instagram aspects than the Flickr ones. Not that I’m on Instagram because I’m not, but to me the ModCloth profile is similar to it,

  2. Personally I don’t find your photos to be sexy at all not in the clothing or the poses or even the looks on your face. I find them to be fun, out there, funny, cute, but not sexy.

    But again I guess anyone could call it whatever they wanted because we are not all the same and something’s are different for everyone what I find cute someone else may find it sexy.

    For me sexy photos are of people wearing slutty clothing in half naked body’s posing in a sexual way taking a selfie, nothing artistic about that.

    You can be sexy with out being slutty. Same with the pies you can be fully dressed but pose sexy.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with the photos that you take and if someone does they know where to go lmao

    • Thanks Lana, that is how I feel about them! But you are right, people are going to see what they see. For example there are people who have foot fetishes and since I am often barefoot when jumping they will swarm those photographs and comment on my toes! I’m like, yeah, wasn’t think about showing my feet at all but OK. Same for when my hair was real short, LOTS of people on Flickr with a short hair fetish. And curly hair fetishes too…the list goes on and on.

  3. Just another issue that women have to deal with. I think you have struck a good balance. Nice when a man we have been married to for more than a few weeks still thinks we are sexy. 🙂

    • I won’t get too into it here but I am pretty lucky in that regard, I can gain weight, stop showering, wear sloppy sweatpants every day and never put a stitch of makeup on and I’m still fighting him off LOL! Truly – we met online and although I saw a photo of him before we met, he NEVER asked about my appearance when we were communicating via phone and email. When we spoke on the phone and agreed to meet I asked if he wanted to know what I looked like before we did so and he just said “No, I already like you, I don’t care what you look like.” That really impressed me. Funny since I am very meticulous about clothes and makeup and all that. The downside is that he usually doesn’t notice a change in haircut or a fabulous outfit, but I’ll take it 🙂

  4. Is this one of those damned if I do and damned if I don’t questions? No, dear, your photos aren’t sexy at all. (Hidden subtext: you’re not sexy). Yes, dear, your photos are scintillating because you are so hott the screen is on fire. (Ick).
    Sigh. I was thinking about a related topic yesterday. When I was younger, I always wanted to look stylish and be considered pretty and attractive. I still do, but it’s a losing battle at this point. But I never wanted to look particularly sexy. I didn’t want to BE unsexy, but the thought of putting on a mini (for the purpose of showing legs) or squeezing my boobs together and wearing something lowcut in order to look sexy to others was never in my comfort zone. When I see these young girls striving for this, it makes me feel sick. It just seems to me that it’s a deadend and a focus on the wrong things. Then maybe I’m just a prude.
    OK, now that you know that about me, I think your photos are fabulous and definitely art. But maybe that’s the thing. These kids love to take pix because they have technology that allows them to make great photos easily. So maybe they can be encouraged to take it to art and not just shameless exhibitionism. Maybe it can be a creative outlet for them if they are guided in the right direction?

    • That’s a good point!

      One thing I do wonder about my art is: how am I going to deal with my own aging? I hope to embrace it and find a way to accentuate the beauty of getting older rather than start to slather on too much makeup and over-edit my shots. But at the same time there are already battles I’m losing, like the increasing visible sun damage on my neck and chest, that distracts me and I want to eliminate when editing. …so yeah, this probably is a damned if you do damned if you don’t sort of issue.

      I think ‘sexy’ is defined differently, but to me I dress modestly and can still be told I’m trying too hard if the right person sees me, because my clothes DO fit which means at times a curve is hugged. Plus, parts of me (the bottom) are ample, and it’s pretty difficult NOT to have that show in my clothes, which for some people is going to be “sexy” because they like big butts! So, what’s a gal to do? Just make herself happy I guess and let the judgment fall where it may.

      • Exactly (re the last paragraph)! Re the first one: you will be gorgeous when you’re older, it’s clear. You have exactly the sort of looks that even get better with age. You are so lucky.

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