What is Sexy, a social documentary project focusing on the relationship between women, media & society. I interviewed many women & studied various social constructs which showcase what it means to "be a woman" & what it means to "be sexy"; in addition, how these concepts have impacted people on an individual level & society as a whole. I performed 60 minute interviews with each woman & photographed them after, in two scenarios. The interview questions varied, but all were based around women’s relationships with society, media and themselves. 3 questions remained constant: 1) What is society's idea of sexy? 2) What is your idea of sexy? 3) Can you show me what that looks like?
The purpose is to expose unhealthy messages from media, show how it effects women & society, bring people together based on shared experiences, generate light for topics not openly discussed & to empower us to do something about it.
What’s society's idea of sexy?
What’s Her idea of sexy?
Growing up media reinforced how I felt about myself, I never saw on TV the prized character being larger than a size 4. As I matured, I realized I liked working with my hands & tools were empowering. I like knowing that I could build a house if I wanted to. I think about how I’ve seen this in media & it’s usually portrayed with a woman in a bustier blowing out a welding tip, alluding to oral sex. Which trivializes what these women can do because you don’t see them for their skill, you see them as sexual objects. There is more sexiness in a woman actually knowing how to use these things than just a sexy woman posing with them.
Danica Patrick for example is the only female NASCAR driver, when you see her in ads you don’t see her wearing race car clothing like her male counter parts. Instead you see her in Go Daddy commercials, nearly naked & hyper sexualized. While talking about racing they shouldn’t attract viewers by using her body. It focuses on the way she looks instead of her knowledge & skills.
Women are feeding into is this cycle that is powered by the male gaze & reinforced by media. Women shouldn’t have to rely on men for validation, but that is how our society has set things up. Also women can gain confidence in receiving compliments from other women, so it's important women support each other instead of tear each other down.
If I could give advice to a younger generation, I would say have self-confidence & believe in yourself. One thing that helped me was knowing about Photoshop & how media is morphed, models don't look like that most of the time & to not feel self-conscious about myself in comparison to something that isn’t 100% real & is definitely not all that’s out there. Don’t shape yourself based on what you think someone else will be attracted to. It’s more important for girls to be powerful, have great minds, great skills, and great kindness, than it is to have a beautiful shell.
“I realized I liked working with my hands & tools were empowering. I like knowing that I could build a house if I wanted to.”
My mom sent me to two fat camps. I was teased at both, but Camp Shane was the worst. I’ve never felt more like a prisoner for being overweight. My size affected my self-esteem the most growing up since we’re taught as women, that we must be thin...And some days I struggle with how I look, but in the grand scheme of things I am happier now than I was when I was thin.
I also weighed myself everyday; I would measure every part of my body & pinpoint things I wanted to change. I would draw, like a plastic surgeon on myself, get rid of this, put this here, take this off. Why aren’t we taught to love our bodies; why aren’t they just okay the way they are? Plus, things are always changing...at one point the ideal size was Nicole Richie a double zero & now it’s Kim Kardashian with curves & a tiny waist...We are always shaming somebody somewhere based on trends. Why are we shaming anybody at all? A healthy image should be more than an ideal certain body type; all body types are beautiful.
I looked at so many magazines growing up & it’s definitely a form of brainwashing. I was obsessed with Hilary Duff, she was skinny & perfect, I wanted to be like her. I know a lot of girls want to be like the celebrities & have to be told by a guy they are pretty before they believe it. We set ourselves up for a standard that doesn’t exist & a lot of things society idealizes as perfect are fake...I think if more people talked about these issues, it would be really helpful. Now if I could give advice to a younger generation, I would say: don’t care what people say about you, at the end of the day you are with you. You start off in this world with you & you leave this world with you. So make the best relationship you can, with yourself. And lastly, it’s believing your sexy that makes you sexy.
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“Why aren’t we taught to love our bodies; why aren’t they just okay the way they are?”
Growing up and looking at magazines definitely gave me a pretty specific idea of what it meant to be sexy and beautiful. I was interested in fashion from a very young age. In middle school I started to think about myself in relation to the images and noticed I wasn’t that kind of person…Most of the negative reactions I got from people occurred when I was in high school. I have gradually become more comfortable with fashion and I found it as a way to express myself as an art form. When I was in high school, I started wearing different colored lipsticks and I had this blue lipstick...it was an awesome lipstick. I was so excited about it but really nervous to wear it. Then the first time I wore it to school...there was this girl that told me it looked like I had been sucking Smirf dick. I was horrified.
When you’re a little girl viewing those magazines, you look at these grown women - who are really in control of their sexuality, are so glamorous, fashionable, and wealthy, and you think, oh that’s gonna be me when I grow up. I had friends in high school that had eating disorders and really serious body image issues and were definitely affected more than I was by the negative images shown in media. I think a lot of that has to do with my mom, she always raised me to understand that representations of women in the media are not really that true to life. And I’ve always had an understanding of the way images of women are manipulated to portray a certain ideal. So I think that because I had positive messages coming from my family I didn’t feel as bad about myself in comparison.
Growing up and realizing what I do look like, what my interests are and the way I interact with my peers made me realize, I’m not that girl, that’s just not who I am, or who I’ll ever be. I feel comfortable with that now, but it made me feel uncomfortable then (in high school) and I started losing some of my friends because they wanted to be like the “cool” kids and I was into art and I was a weirdo. It was kind of like losing my friends and then noticing how I looked in relation to the women in the media that made me feel insecure.
If I could change one thing in the media, I think having a wider representation of different types of women is really important, people of all body types, ethnic backgrounds and people with various levels of ability. The fashion industry will always be kind of snobby and have a certain ideal in place. It is important to just wear what makes you feel comfortable, powerful and also awesome.
(cannot be released in press)
“…my mom, she always raised me to understand that representations of women in the media are not really that true to life. And I’ve always had an understanding of the way images of women are manipulated to portray a certain ideal.”
When I think of media, I think of the music industry, like rap & hip-hop videos. They portray females a certain way & when you’re growing up viewing that material it makes you think, damn I wanna look like that; I wanna be sexy like that.
The image of women they show as sexy, is light skinned, red boned, long pretty hair, slim waist, big butt, big thighs & that’s about it. They want them to be super light-skinned; the dark-skinned girls aren’t as valued. And fuck, why should I feel less about myself because my skin is darker than the next chic?
The media presents women in such messed up ways. It makes me mad because our young females feel like they have to present themselves in a certain way to be valued & get approval from a man. When really, it’s up to us as a society, to teach our young men that women are more than just objects.
When I was growing up people were always telling me, you’re fat, you’re fat. So I was always wondering, how can I lose weight or be all these other things. I struggled for a really long time trying to figure out how to love me for me...Now as an adult, I realize, either you’re gonna like me or you’re not; either way I’m still gonna look like this, regardless of what you want. I’m voluptuous, I’m a big girl, & now I love it…I love everything about it in fact; it keeps me warm at night & I don’t even need a man for that; it’s like...I’m good.
“females feel like they have to present themselves in a certain way to be valued & get approval from a man. When really, it’s up to us as a society, to teach our young men that women are more than just objects.”
Media is a really difficult thing to talk about because a lot of the ways media affects us is in ways we don’t think about.
There is a lot of talk about rape and how media influences and perpetuates rape. I was raped from age fourteen to sixteen. The first time it happened, I was in a car on the way home and he stopped in front of my boyfriend’s house and raped me for the first time.
After it happened I became more withdrawn and didn’t want to be around my friends or talk about it. I felt like killing myself, but I couldn’t talk about it with anyone because if you tell someone, you’re immediately put into a white room and expected to tell everyone what happened to you. And if you’re not ready to do that then, just nothing, nothing can happen. You can’t talk about it or do anything about it and you’re basically just on your own. I realized I had zero agency over myself. When people found out what happened to me, they called me a slut for it and stopped talking to me. People would throw things at me in class and were always laughing at me and I felt like if someone said something that was nice, they were just making fun of me. Now, I am not very comfortable with receiving compliments.
When I have told men who I am romantically involved with that I was raped, they always ask me right after if they can do BDSM stuff to me (B: Bondage & Discipline, D: Domination & Submission, M: Sadism & Masochism). Even when I tell them I am not okay with that, they want to choke me and tie me up. This is literally right after they learn I am a rape victim or the next time we are in bed together.
I am always really cautious about this response, for obvious reasons, but also because when you have been raped, your likelihood of being raped again goes way up. I can’t even really explain how bad it feels to get this response from someone that I am becoming intimate with or falling in love with.
When I talk about it, some people stick around because they see me as a victim and see me as somebody they can do these things to. And some people have fantasies about rape and think I will be into it and also think it is a “good” way for me to work through what happened to me.
Ugh…yeah, people have a lot of ideas of how I should work through what happened to me.
“When I have told men who I am romantically involved with, that I was raped, they always ask me right after if they can do BDSM stuff to me (Bondage & Discipline, Domination & Submission, Sadism & Masochism).”
When we’re young, we are trying to figure out what being a girl is all about....We’re bombarded with sexualized imagery from a very young age which affects our mentality around sex & what it should be like. We see media representation of sex before we even have sex, we see it in tv, movies, billboards, music videos, magazines, we see examples of women orgasming everywhere. And because of this, it’s hard for a woman experiencing sex for the first time, to fully let herself go. Especially if you’re focusing on what its “supposed” to be like & trying to experience what they look like they’re experiencing, instead of just enjoying it & not judging yourself based on what you’ve seen. There is a study...women who watched porn before they ever had sex, were far less likely to reach orgasm than the girls who had never watched porn.
The piece I am posing with is a sculpture I made of a female with her legs, arms & head removed, she is like a sectional. She is spread eagle, an over sexualized pose, the white plaster represents purity before sex & talks about race. If you watch porn, the amount of white females plastered all over the screen is obvious. Porn isn’t just this thing I study & make work about, it definitely contributed to how I interact with my partners, my sexuality, how I feel about my body & the way I look. I got into posing nude...so I could become more of the female standard I saw in media. I wanted to be that attractive & I thought that was the only way to do it, since those were the type of images people obsessed over. It’s sick & fucked up & my body was a consequence of the imagery we are flooded with.
I use my past to empower myself now. I make a lot of work about these issues, like the plaster sex-tional I am posed with. I truly feel my best, when I am messing around in my workshop, making my art, being free & finding ways to talk about these heavy issues in a more light hearted or comical way, or at least start a conversation about these issues.
“I use my past to empower myself now.”
I always had depression, but it became very apparent my sophomore year of high school, after my dad was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. I really wasn't doing well and I was hospitalized after trying to kill myself. After that my school stopped viewing me as a valuable member of the community. They started suggesting, maybe you shouldn't go here anymore, maybe you should go somewhere else, maybe you don't belong here. I’m not sure why our society treats people with mental illnesses like they are the plague.
I always felt depressed but I just kind of see it as an undercurrent of my whole life and I never really fit in, physically or otherwise. I realized I was never gonna be the popular girl, so I went on the typical trajectory to be the biggest nerd anybody had ever seen. As I got older, I looked more like people in magazines because I'm tall and blonde, it's like seeing myself in magazines but then not being able to do it as well. Not being as successful as my body type tells me I should be. I mean I don't look like that anymore, but back then it was a weird kind of relationship; the media said to be tall and skinny, yet I was an outsider for being tall and skinny and standing out from everyone else at school. It forced me away from people and more towards books, since books couldn't judge me.
I feel that because of my mental illness, being an artist and being a woman, most of my feelings are discredited and I won't really be talked about seriously until after I'm dead. You don’t often hear people talk about women with mental illnesses until they have killed themselves. Or you don’t hear people talk about influential women in general until long after their death, like Emily Dickinson or Sylvia Plath. So, when you asked me, how would society want to view me, I was thinking, just dead. The more you struggle with a mental illness the more people don't want to see you and don't want you visible in this world. And then surprise, you become visible once you're gone.
I'm an apparel designer and if I could change one thing about the fashion industry, it would be to show how bodies are different. I’ve always wanted to make a line of clothing that was accessible to everyone regardless of body type, gender, age or physical ability. It is so important that people see people that look like them, wearing fashion and being represented and respected. It’s so ridiculous that high fashion is reserved for a specified market, for a very rarefied body type. When actually everyone wears clothes, so shouldn’t clothing be up for everyone? I hope that in the future we can see a media that reflects what people actually look like. All we show in fashion magazines is skinny white people wearing pretty clothes. Why can’t we show more types?
“I’m not sure why our society treats people with mental illnesses like they are the plague…The more you struggle with a mental illness the more people don't want to see you and don't want you visible in this world.”
There is a huge difference between the clothes I wear and the comments I receive about my clothes in America versus Pakistan. In Pakistan, I always have to be covered completely. Whereas when I'm here (America) I can wear whatever I want and do whatever I want, then I feel more comfortable being myself. Although here, people will cat call me, even if I’m not wearing something revealing. I have had men ask me what my breast size is, randomly on the street. That makes me really uncomfortable. So in that regard, I like Pakistan more because it's such a conservative environment and no one can really ask you that. So, there are ups and downs to both. I also love the clothes in Pakistan, they are really beautiful, but there are way too many restrictions. I love red, it’s my favorite color, I think everyone looks good in red no matter. Pretty much red is the color of all the western clothes I own. [Jenna: so in Pakistan you feel you cannot be yourself and free, yet you feel more comfortable and safe in public places and on the flip side, in America you feel you can be yourself and free, yet you feel less comfortable and safe in public places.]
In terms of what Pakistani society considers beautiful, that would be traditional Pakistani clothes for formal events, where everything is covered, even your hair. When I came to America I was still very careful about what I wore and was pretty covered up. After a while, I started to dress more westernized, it felt better, I felt more free and comfortable. My parents understand I dress a little differently here to fit in, but they don’t know I wear sleeveless dresses, they would never be okay with that. In fashion shows in Pakistan, the women are in dresses that touch the ground and in America you can be naked.
What was depicted in Pakistani imagery was always super skinny, super tall girls and that’s pretty much it. The problem with models is they create this stereotype that everyone should be a stick figure, which is just not true at all. Look around you, everyone looks different, and that’s OK! I mean, I didn’t accept that fast, it took time, but eventually I came to terms with it. And I have larger boobs and each time they grew bigger I would cry and research breast reductions. [Jenna: And on the opposite side some women get breast implants to have breasts your size. I think one of the reasons for this is that women aren't taught to love themselves for who they are naturally, by the media or their family. If we were taught to love ourselves, maybe we wouldn't all feel insecure and wish we looked different.]
In the fashion industry you mostly see girls with a cup size B, there aren’t many large breasted women featured in fashion magazines and that made me insecure about my cup size. In Pakistan they would phrase it like, Nashra is kind of heavy from the top, like it’s a bad thing. In Pakistan it's ALL about whose thinner and who has the lightest skin. I personally don’t like pale skin, I like to be tan, while everyone else will put on fair and lovely, a chemical which lightens up your skin, and on the flip side, in America people will go to tanning beds. [Jenna: it's crazy how media can influence entire societies of people as to what is considered beautiful.] In Pakistan they idealize western looks, they want light hair, light eyes, light skin. It’s your looks that make you a good bride in Pakistan…nothing else. How you get married over there, is through an arranged marriage. Some woman sees you at an event and calls your parents to say, “I’m interested in your daughter for my son.” Even though she knows nothing about you, it's all based off appearances. I don't agree with this process and I have always tried to fight against stuff I disagree with; I think that’s a better way to live life, than to just be a puppet.
“…everyone else will put on fair and lovely, a chemical which lightens up your skin, and on the flip side, in America people will go to tanning beds.”
Growing up, I lived in a conservative town in the south where women are called southern belles, but I was never considered one. My parents influenced my self worth the most, my dad put a lot of pressure on my mom about her looks, which she projected onto me. For a long time I based my self worth only on my appearance. If I lost weight, I would get texts from my parents saying, “I’m so proud of you”. It took me a long time to realize that’s not a reason to be proud of someone. Now as a more mature woman, I accept myself & have a relationship with my body that’s not dependent on giving ownership to anyone else.
Being aware that women are thought of as less is an issue that needs to be addressed. I love my parents, but they have serious lenses that distort how they view the world. It’s important that men are aware when they’re catcalling or other things like that, it makes us unequal & their defenses further downgrade us, like the “I was just kidding, chill out” or “you’re being so over dramatic”. This is the most basic example I can think of, but there are larger issues of inequality that span from similar mentalities, like pay inequality, etc.
To see what media portrays as “sexy”, look at any Cosmo mag; it gives you examples on how you should present yourself, when in reality it should be about, what you feel comfortable in. My favorite quote is by Tina Fey, “…add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs...abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine year old boy...and doll tits.” By industry standards “being sexy” is nearly impossible.
The mannequin limbs I’m posing with are meant to compare things that are consumer created, plastic & perfect versus the real human. What are these parts & why is she foundling them? She thinks, could this leg be a section of a sex doll that came in the mail for my husband? He doesn’t want me but wants this plastic body? There is this feeling that she isn’t good enough, she cannot fulfill her husbands’ desires. She obsesses over it & does whatever she can to become it; because then he will want her again. At the end of it all, what does that say about our society: a man who would prefer a plastic sex doll to his wife & a woman who would change everything for someone else? What does that say about peoples’ ability to get off to something that isn’t even real? What does that say about people’s ability to love themselves or others for who they are naturally?
“I accept myself & have a relationship with my body that’s not dependent on giving ownership to anyone else.”
The first images that come to mind when I think of sexy are women wearing revealing clothing, with photo-shopped bodies, being used as objects. I was raised opposite to this, I was taught modesty was more important & showing skin was bad. This worked for me since I was insecure about showing my skin as I have hyper-pigmentation, whenever I get hurt my skin gets dark & leaves a mark. I try to cover up the scars because I don’t want anyone to see them. I always look at my peers or at magazines & see that everyone has perfectly clear skin. The first thing I notice when I meet someone is their skin, when you’re insecure about something that’s what you focus on & notice first in others.
When I was growing up, my mom’s friends would try to compliment me, but they always told me I was too skinny & I should eat more, even though I ate a lot. This made me self-conscious about my body, like how I look naturally isn’t good & I should change it because I was too skinny. Which is completely contradictory from what the media tells us. The media says you can never be skinny enough, it portrays women who are so skinny their hipbones & rib cages are showing, but they are the ideal. And here I am, being told I am too skinny. These types of contradictions make growing up & accepting your body difficult & confusing. Nobody is teaching us to love our bodies as they are. I wish more women thought they were beautiful & didn’t have to deal with all these mixed messages coming from media & society. I wish women could see they are beautiful without anyone else having to tell them first.
I feel the most confident when I am making Cosplay outfits, creating characters & acting them out. I get to live out something I wouldn’t normally get to do on a day-to-day basis. For me it’s a form of empowerment because I feel self-assured when I step into a different character. If a character I Cosplay is strong, then I feel strong, & I try to hold on to those feelings after I leave that character. I was taught growing up that I should be more of the traditional standard, a symbolic reference to this ideal is the traditional Chinese dress. They wore these dresses back then since it was beautiful to be round, that was the standard. The dress doesn’t even show your waist; it’s based on your bust & flows down from there. The Cosplay is more about me being free to behave, dress & feel how I want, & reveal more skin if I wanted to.
“Nobody is teaching us to love our bodies as they are…I wish women could see they are beautiful without anyone else having to tell them first.”
Sexy is subjective. The word sexy is defined as something stimulating, exciting, or sexually arousing so it means something different to everyone. There are no right or wrong ideas about what is sexy unless it leads to the subjugation of any gender. In my adolescent years I struggled with low self-esteem because my definition of sexy was based only on aesthetics and my perception of beauty came from glossy magazines. I was very petite and had no butt or boobs, so I’d fall for all the marketing tactics that promised to add curves to my body.
I’m from Russia and the first six years of my life were spent in an orphanage, because my mother and father were drug abusers. I was extremely malnourished for those six years, which is why my body is so petite. They had so much control over us in the orphanage, it was like a prison. There was a garden with flowers, but we were always kept away from it. If we behaved, they said they would let us walk in the garden; but they never actually did. It was used as a tool to make us feel like we had no power.
Most people consider it rude to comment on the weight of people who have extra fat, but for some reason that rule doesn’t apply to skinny people. Almost everyone who meets me makes a comment about my petite frame as if I’m a phenomenon of nature. People say things like: do you eat at all, what is your secret, do you shop in the kids department, you look gross, and so on. I’ve had strangers yell at me to eat a burger, there is so much aggression, just because I’m petite. I tried to eat over 5,000 calories a day to gain weight and it didn’t work. The comments got under my skin and I went through a period of trying anything to get curves. People come in different shapes and sizes and one type is not better than another. In my opinion, anyone who makes fun of others for their size, is someone who lacks character.
It wasn’t until I was older, at age 27, that I felt sexy in my own skin. This change was due to several factors, the most prominent being a change in career. I decided to become an entrepreneur and start my own clothing company. I read endlessly about entrepreneurship, leadership and interpersonal psychology. I became obsessed with female leaders and how they carried themselves. My perception and my way of thinking started changing. I also have an amazing boyfriend who I’ve been with for 6 years, he always tells me I’m beautiful inside and out. It took me believing that about myself for his words to mean anything.
My idea of sexy is intelligence mixed with kindness and a sprinkle of adventure. I actually rarely use the term sexy anymore and opt instead for beautiful or engaging. For those of you who have experienced or are currently experiencing body shaming, don’t let it get to you. Instead focus on working towards your dreams and on people who inspire you.
“In my opinion, anyone who makes fun of others for their size, is someone who lacks character.”
What affected my self-worth and identity the most growing up was definitely media because I lived in a rural town and everyone would watch TV all the time. That was our inlet to the world. Reading Seventeen magazine also affected me because I was constantly viewing all these beauty tips that were supposed to empower girls and make them feel better, but it was always a white girl with straight hair. I would want to do those things, but couldn’t because it didn’t work on me. Now I just don’t look at those kinds of images and I try to find beauty gurus online who look similar to me. Because the beauty industry is so targeted, you really have to search for the niche beauty market that applies to you. If I don’t spend the time searching for things that apply directly to me, then it’s all just white girls. Growing up I always looked at women who were successful, I noticed that none of them ever looked like me. And what pisses me off the most is not getting to hear from different voices in media or life in general.
I have done a lot of things to my body because I didn’t feel good enough. I remember I would sit in the sun for hours with peroxide on my skin because I thought it would bleach my hair. And I would apply a bunch of chemical processes to get my hair straighter, which is really bad for it. Sometimes I feel I cannot express myself through clothing or with my hair because it would be considered “inappropriate”. Or, if I wanted to see what my natural hair texture looked like, I don’t feel like I have a safe space to explore that. I think people would react with disgust and shun me, probably even my friends - just for letting my natural hair go. Black people in media have always had to make their hair look more like white people’s hair, which is one of the reasons people don’t see natural black hair often, if at all. I don’t even know what my natural hair texture looks like, which is a pretty fundamental knowledge one should have. As a kid my mom would chemically straighten my hair, so my hair has always been changed in some way. I’ve always had fake hair or straight hair. If you want real human hair or a nice weave, which are more socially acceptable, that’s gonna cost you a lot. There is literally so much thought that goes into doing your hair as a black woman.
Also, my body is something that’s difficult to deal with. Most clothing isn’t made specifically for people of color. People of color are shaped differently than white people. Of course, there is the stereotype that black girls have big butts and big boobs and are curvy, but that is not always true. But the ratio from hip to waist to bust is usually different and more extreme than the average white person. They don’t show my body type in the media because I am very curvy, my measurements are a strange ratio, I’m short; which means I’m not considered ideal for television and photography, or basically anything. We need a variety of people represented in media because it’s human nature to feel accepted when you see others who are similar to you. I think growing up, coming into who I am as a person and my sexuality really changed my life for the better. I think being yourself, is actually really hard and people underestimate that.
“Black people in media have always had to make their hair look more like white people’s hair, which is one of the reasons people don’t see natural black hair often, if at all. I don’t even know what my natural hair texture looks like, which is a pretty fundamental knowledge one should have.”
There is this thing with the fetishization of the Asian woman. They make her overly sexualized like a doll and submissive. I picked the Lolita dress because in Asian culture girls dress up as dolls, wear lacy things and are doe-eyed. Playing on the cute factor is a form fetishization because Asian women are seen more as objects than as actual women.
I feel pressure to be feminine because if I don’t try, people will think I’m butch. Sometimes I just want to wear a suit and tie, but it starts becoming an issue when it comes to romantic relationships, because the way you dress definitely influences who is going to approach you. These days, I’m trying to dress more for myself, but there’s still a bit of, ‘well maybe you should wear a skirt instead of a pants suit or maybe you should try to put more make-up on or try to do stuff with your hair.’
I grew up in Chicago in a predominantly white neighborhood, so there weren’t many Asian influences. I was confused because my Eastern features were so different than my Western friends. I asked myself, should I look more Western, or look more like the fetish objects of Asian culture, or the stereotypical smart brainy Asian.
The media has not helped with my Eastern identity; there is a lack of Asian representation in media. You have maybe one or two really prominent people like, Lucy Liu, but she’s one person. And then there is white washing in movies, especially when it comes to Asian parts. White washing is when you have a role that historically is supposed to be played by another ethnicity but instead is filled by a Caucasian actor. As I grew up I did not see Asian characters, animated or otherwise. When you don’t see your type in the media it makes you feel a bit weird. Once you realize you don’t have representation, you start trying to understand why. Had I seen more actors of my ethnicity I would have been able to relate. Representation on the silver screen is so important.
I’ve struggled with beauty standards all of my life and still do. It’s really tricky when you aren't someone who falls into the typical American beauty standards, like me. And when you don’t have the Asian role models to relate to. You just have to grow up and out of the narrow beauty standards fed by the media, you have to start shaping your own ideas or else you will live your whole life thinking, well then, I’m just not pretty.
The idea of sexy definitely deals with concepts of glamour and perfect physical attributes. I know I'm not “sexy”; I wake up in the morning and I look like a carrot. But you see, I cannot and do not want to live up to these concepts of what it takes to be “sexy”. The concepts of “what is sexy” should be changed, to be more inclusive and to bring light to different types of beauty. Until then, I will just have to find a way to see myself as sexy carrot.
“You just have to grow up and out of the narrow beauty standards fed by the media, you have to start shaping your own ideas or else you will live your whole life thinking, well then, I’m just not pretty.”
I had a very healthy upbringing and my family is very important to me. We moved a lot, I was born in the United States and then I moved back to Nigeria when I was four. We visited the US every year, so I got to identify with being an American citizen but being Nigerian. I am not sure which one I feel more comfortable identifying with because I sort of feel like a chameleon in both places. In Nigeria, sometimes I don’t feel Nigerian enough and then I ask myself, what does it actually mean to be an American in this country. I consider myself Nigerian first and then the additional identity of an American. Every American has different privileges depending on how they look – like a white American versus a black American, or any other color in America. Society pre-judges people based off of their skin color - and that in turn opens and closes doors for two different types of Americans in their own country.
People have expected me to teach them how to Twerk and other weird things that they suppose a black American should do. Even though I am not African American, that’s how they saw me and that’s what they put on me. There is a different in being African American and a black American. I had to navigate through that space by clearing the air and explaining, “I’m actually African.” When I first came to America and I heard the term person of color, I was like what? It was weird for me because I realized that everyone who wasn’t white was referred to as a person of color. And that didn’t sit well with me, because everyone is a color. The human color spectrum is so diverse, I see it as ranging from the whitest white to the darkest dark, rather than seeing white as this blank piece of paper and black as the other.
Someone freshman year of college said, “Wow I really like your style, you’re very Afrocentric.” Because I wore traditional Nigerian fabric, I said, “Well I’m not Afrocentric. Afrocentric infers that I’m putting on an African “inspired” look, but I’m actually just being myself, I’m wearing what I know, where I come from, these are the clothes we wear back home.
“People have expected me to teach them how to Twerk and other weird things that they suppose a black American should do.”
I was born in Ethiopia and everything was fine. But my mom died. Then I was in the orphanage. Then I came here (to America). When I say Ethiopia, I don’t want to only talk about the negative things about my country. I love my country and there are a lot of great things about it; there are a lot of bad too. Just like everywhere else in the world. Rape is really common in Ethiopia; like for someone to be raped when they are young is not news, it just happens.
Growing up over there was so different. People there are definitely friendlier, and you know your neighbors and you’re always playing outside. We didn’t have video games, we didn’t really watch TV, we only maybe watched TV on Saturday. So it was very active and a lot of playing outside together.
I never had a problem with my self-esteem growing up. I had an older sister that I always looked up to. She did really amazing in school and other people looked up to her as well. She was a great role model, so I was really okay when it came to how I felt about myself.
You know the industry I’m going into; I mean the fashion industry. Well there is a lot to say about all of it. The media definitely portrays women like they are just objects. And everyone knows what the “ideal” woman portrayed looks like: straight hair, tall, curves, skinny, colored eyes. But the ideal woman to me is someone that knows who they are and where they are going. They have a dream; they have a goal. They know the kind of life they want to live and they go for it.
I think the biggest problem in the way we represent women is that they only care about our boobs and butts. There is more to us than boobs and butts….and….twerking. We have brains. We’re not just an object. It makes me sad. All of us are made differently, just look around; not everybody looks the same…So who are they? Whoever they are, to decide what’s beautiful?
As a designer...I want you to feel classy and sexy at the same time. I don’t want you to put on clothes to impress somebody; you wear what you wanna wear because you wanna look beautiful for yourself. The fashion industry plays a huge role in all of this…so big. There was a fashion ad where a woman was being held down aggressively by a bunch of men. It’s so sad that the defense was: well it sells, so we’re gonna do it. Maybe they don’t realize how many women are getting raped, or maybe they don’t care. A lot of men think they can do whatever they want to a woman just because of how she is dressed, like “she wanted it”. They have the mentality of: I see, I want, so I’m gonna get it, no matter what. They don’t see us like humans; they see us as objects, as a trophy, that they want to get.
“a lot of men think they can do whatever they want to a woman just because of how she is dressed, like “she wanted it”…They don’t see us like humans; they see us as objects, as a trophy, that they want to get.
Jenna uses published research, data and statistics to further her understanding of the media and its impact on women, self-esteem, societal expectations, actions and interactions. With her own life experience and a statistical understanding of what causes harm, she then studies specific trends, marketing ploys and advertisements in the media which are directed at women and have negative impact. With a goal and a purpose, she creates media that has a positive impact on women and the way people view women. She creates artwork and imagery that exposes certain information to the public, believing that change cannot occur unless people are aware and educated about the problem. In this project, she brings awareness to these topics by finding others who talk directly about their experiences being a woman. After an extensive search for subjects, each woman is interviewed and asked a set of questions and each woman bravely reveals deep and personal life stories. This discussion between each person and Jenna, which is recorded with permission, creates an unbelievable dialog that reveals a vast range of topics and issues. After each of the one-on-one interviews, which is based largely around the woman's personal life stories and things that have impacted how she feels about herself inside and out. Jenna asks these concluding questions: 1) What is society's idea of sexy? 2) What is your idea of sexy? 3) Can you show me what that looks like?
This project displays stories from 15 different women, 30 varying GIF animations to communicate different ideals, 4 hand built miniature rooms about a young girl’s upbringing, an integrated video which speaks to the audience as they walk through the interactive experience and a twenty-five page thesis paper detailing information and topics discussed in the project.
This project and/or any of its content, should not be released in press or in any other form without final written approval of Jenna Carlie. Before granting permission for any other entities to share this project, Jenna Carlie must approve the way in which you intend to share and display her work. Once it is approved she will sign a permission to release form and email it to you. If you have not received a signed permission to release form, you do not have the right to post this work. For inquires please email: firstname.lastname@example.org