In the world of pop culture, puberty isn’t always pretty
Internationally acclaimed but locally low-key, we share how bedroom beatmaker Eyedress made it in London
The first time I ever had to see my body portioned into different, analyze- able parts was when I was nine. I was sitting at home watching MTV’s Most Wanted, and someone wrote in and requested Britney Spears’ ... Baby One More Time. I hadn’t seen anything like it before. My eyes and ears didn’t know what hit them. Each frame conditioned my eyes to seeing her body in parts— her boobs, her abs, her legs— and then having opinions on them individually. I became so engrossed in the video. My only opinion on each body part was “Wow, she has them and now I want them too,” changing my ways as a tomboy almost instantly. I was blissfully unaware that I was learning, quite conventionally, how to look at women the way men do. In other words, through the perspective of the male gaze.
Apart from Britney’s major debut, another pivotal moment in my experience of the male gaze was first hearing O-Town’s Liquid Dreams. The eventual failures born from the beginnings of reality television ( Making the Band, if you were born after 1995— ed.) sang of their dream girl as a collage of body parts from different beautiful women of the time:
I dream about a girl who’s a mix of Destiny’s Child Just a little touch of Madonna’s wild style With Janet Jackson’s smile, throw in a body like Jennifer’s You’ve got the star of my liquid dreams
I guess you could say that people had been doing this sort of thing long before O-Town did, but I never heard it in a more graphic way than I did then. It was around the time I was hitting puberty. I was growing boobs and not really feeling too good about myself. It didn’t help when I learned what “liquid dreams” meant shortly after. It took the mental imagery to a whole different level with implications I couldn’t yet understand completely. It also reinforced the idea that the female body was not greater than the sum of its parts. If guys thought certain parts of your body were better looking than others, that’s where you would get your perceived value. A woman was not what she did with her body, but what her boobs or her thigh gap did for her. Consequently, this led me to subject myself to a similar standard that still sticks to this day.
After I completed puberty, I ditched my Lizzie McGuire tendencies and went to high school. I was starting to settle into my own identity around this time. I knew I liked random things and I knew it was okay to like the things I liked, but I still wanted to get people’s attention— boys and girls. I did stereotypical things to try and be the subject of the Atenean or La Sallian male gaze: I plucked my eyebrows, shaved my legs, wore shorter skirts and ate a lot less food when I started bulging in
the belly, all in an effort to get some guy at a soirée to like me.
When I moved away to Australia for college, I started watching more live bands, went to more art exhibits, drank more obscure alcohol, and watched more films that probably had more “artful nudity” than what was required. These became the things I really liked to do. Readjusting my focus on the gaze, I posted skinny girls with bangs and top buns dressed in expensive basics and boys’ sneakers on my Tumblr almost daily. Put most pretentiously, I was finding the way I wanted to look, so I could be the object of desire for the niche crowd that I wanted to attract. I wanted the “discerning male gaze” and looking back, very little sounds more ridiculous.
In between that time and as I write now, I have seen more boobs, butts and other jiggly female bits than my brain could probably store. I’ve put myself in situations where I could’ve even ended up enjoying a lot of this imagery. For a time, I worked in streetwear and screen printing an image of a girl with nothing but socks and a snapback on was common practice. A lot of people I know work in fashion and publishing, where the male gaze is standard procedure, despite the content being directed at both sexes. Sex sells, and it’s hard to find content that doesn’t have parts of a woman in focus. To borrow a phrase from the fur trade, when the selling of sexual imagery stops, the objectification can, too. But I don’t think that’s happening any time soon.
This year, I watched Beyoncé and Rihanna walk around in fishnets and denim shorts that went up to their buttcracks, and I reveled in how good they looked, even when their legs were thicker than the socially accepted norm. Is it really okay for them to consent to the male
TO BORROW A PHRASE FROM THE FUR TRADE, WHEN THE SELLING OF SEXUAL IMAGERY STOPS, THE OBJECTIFICATION
gaze? Does this really adjust the focus of the gaze and return control to the woman? I can argue that it does— that it shows men that you only get to see, in whatever level of glory, the body of the woman not as separate parts but as a single, highly capable being. But I can also argue that it doesn’t— that it reinforces gender stereotypes of women still abiding by patriarchal rules on altered terms.
What about guys being subject to the female gaze? Does a woman’s lingering eye on certain body parts elicit the same feelings of discomfort? The same feeling of having to conform to the requirements of looking aesthetically pleasing? It seems likely that it does. In this year’s Under
the Skin, Scarlett Johansson plays a hot, extraterrestrial creep. The movie, filmed documentary- style, features a scene where Scarlett’s character picks up unassuming males from the streets of Ireland to sleep with her in a nondescript van. These prospects were regular people made to sign release forms after the shoot, but all of them shared a common experience. Despite Scarlett’s conventional attractiveness, they weren’t as accepting of her advances as we would’ve thought. They felt the same level of fear a woman would if the gender roles were swapped. They spoke of the fear of being raped and killed, the same fear of one’s body being wasted more typically felt by women.
If the media flipped the male gaze on its head, would we see more warnings for males to steer clear of suspicious women? Would we see more products and fashion campaigns that zoomed in on male chests and crotches? Perhaps, but it will take some time and some more people to unfortunately fall victim to the ills of the gaze.
Now, is the male gaze really that bad? There’s a lot of undeniable evidence that points to “yes,” even if women have been naked in media since people could first be painted on canvas. Were the women of the Renaissance conscious of their curves or lack thereof? Probably, and they were probably taught to hate other women who were more often seen as desirable under the male gaze of potential suitors, a social stress that rings true even now. Why should young girls be required to associate how many catcalls and “likes” on their selfies to measure their beauty or self- worth, especially when this puts excess pressure on them to meet unachievable standards? Do more catcalls and more “likes” really mean one girl is worth more than another? No, it doesn’t, and it shouldn’t.