Cover story

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



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.

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