Dove can make all the empowering viral content it wants, but the beauty standards society demands of women appear to be here to stay. A new photo series goes further than merely diagnosing this problem–by showing the full extent of how corrosive it truly is.
“The Fanciful, Monstrous Feminine” is a collection of otherwordly images that depict the maddening toll that our collective cosmetic obsession takes on women. Created by Melbourne-based visual artist Jessica Ledwich, each photo is a surreal document of how the ways women are conditioned to treat themselves often involve physical violence. Whether the series’ heroine is using a car buffer to wax her legs to an unhealthily pink hue or sever fingers for manicuring purpose, Ledwich elevates everyday beauty regimens to a level of sublime grotesquerie.
“Like most women, I spent a lot of time reading beauty and fashion magazines, and I was amazed at how it shaped both my own and my friends’ perceptions of how we should look,” the artist tells us. “When I got into my 20s, I was suddenly aware of the increased pressure on young girls to look a certain way and the blatant way that the media–who purports to speak to these women and have their best interests at heart–pushes these beauty agendas.”
The menacing versions of so-called womanly duties in the series are juxtaposed with those of household chores. Cooking of eggs in one photo, for instance, is a task that is now mashed up with the injection of fertility drugs, while another image reveals a woman vacuuming her house while giving herself liposuction. Although the composition in these photos is masterful, apparently the artist left room for spontaneity while creating it.
“I always have an idea of how I want the shot to look before I start,” Ledwich says, “but there is always a level of experimentation until it’s just right.”
The whole project took a number of months to create. Each entry in the series is shot in a number of takes, depending on the number of elements in the frame. Ledwich developed her surreal shoots with an eye toward keeping the digital manipulation in them to a minimum. The body scarring, for instance, is created through special effects makeup, rather than added on a computer. It’s one of the more realistic depictions in some photos whose exaggerations will likely hit all too close to home for many.
“While the series employs an element of the absurd, the reality of what women put themselves through is not so far from the truth,” Ledwich says. “Some procedures might just be uncomfortable, but others are downright dangerous–all so we can aspire to look like a model that is digitally manipulated in the first place.”
Have a look through more images from the series in the slides above.