By Malia Mendez
Spanish artist Yolanda Dominguez uses art to raise social awareness, especially pertaining to gender and consumption issues. In her 2011 project, “Poses,” Dominguez assigns a group of real women to translate poses of women in fashion magazines to everyday scenes. One participating woman lies contorted in front of a flowerbed, and a disturbed passerby inches closer as though attempting to decipher an abstract painting. People rush to her aid with the assumption that she is having a stroke. Another stands at a museum entrance, elbow cocked and hand resting at the crown of her head until police arrive to reprimand her.
These positions, as Dominguez clearly demonstrates, are ridiculous. Dangerous, even. In other words, to follow the parameters set for womanhood by our mass media, we directly endanger ourselves. In Dominguez’s Ted Talk, “Revelando estereotipos que no nos representan,” or “Revealing stereotypes that do not represent us,” she shows children responding to images like the ones that the women in “Poses” copy. One young boy insists that if he saw a girl like this, he would take her to the doctor immediately because she is clearly sick. The women we see in magazines, the archetypes of femininity, are, as Dominguez puts it, “submissive, weak, sick.” Some may argue that these inhuman poses are merely examples of artistic expression, but what is it exactly that they are expressing?
Women are constantly evaluating themselves with media as their metric. We see a woman on the cover of a magazine and make her an icon to emulate. And if these hardly human-looking figures are the examples that inundate our consumption, what do we become?
I’d like to think that people do not regard magazine images as realistic, but when we’ve heard men insisting over and over again that they prefer women with no makeup — obviously meaning that they like airbrushed skin and impossibly supple facial features — I am doubtful. These images teach us to expect performance from others, especially women, and encourage an attitude of consumption toward them. Not only that, but we are trained in unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Real women do not act like this — it is unnatural, and people recognize that in everyday settings — yet we continue to produce fashion magazines and hoards of online images that portray them that way.
Dominguez offers a poignant critique of our mass media, and especially fashion publishing, as harmful and providing us with a deeply distorted schema for “woman.” She is sickly, intended as a spectacle. And despite the notion that magazines are not intended to portray reality anyway, we do not see nearly equal levels of distortion in images of men, nor do we deny that magazines directly impact our perceptions of “the real world.” I leave Dominguez’s project thoroughly amused, but too disturbed at the inhuman characters these magazines offer us. The messages they send about what women should be and how we should treat them are rooted in a subversive genre of misogyny.
Contact Malia Mendez at mjm2000 ‘at’ stanford.edu.