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Skin Deep

- Billy Stroud - Friday, May 20th, 2005 : goo

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Skin Deep - an art exhibit.
Chicago, I-space gallery June 10 - July 9, 2005

In the art world in the United States and Western Europe, concerns over the human body, body image, and cultural representations and signifying processes have been a major topic of creative practice and critical inquiry for at least two decades. 1

Feminist scholars have devoted a lot of attention to the ways in which the media inform how women and girls see their own bodies, and the ways in which individuals cope with social and media pressure to conform to certain body images. We are interested in taking these insights from feminist and gender studies into the understudies realm of the gay male body image, and what it means for the self-perception of gay men and the construction of gay cultures.
One of the most significant ways in which gay men have examined this issue is through art; from Tom of Finland to David Hockney to Robert Mapplethorpe, to name only some of the most well known, the range of artists who deal with the gay male body is significant and worthy of
further study.

The marginalization of gay men may contribute to a preoccupation with body image and the public self-consciousness of the gay man. Body dysmorphia or reverse anorexia, a condition where men who are already large and muscular see themselves as puny and weak, and because of this other body image issues associated with the idealized male physique may exist in order to relieve fears of masculinity and social placement among gay men and boys. This is a condition that is not confined to only gay men but has become pervasive in straight (heterosexual) male culture. In a work by Billy Stroud, called Every Body’s Doing It, most of the images are taken directly from mainstream, ‘non-gay’ fitness or fashion media.

Gay men are constantly exposed to the supreme “Adonis-like” perception of masculinity which has become part of the fabric of the gay sub-culture. This image of a “ripped” and “cut” male body has become a dominant feature of the brand personality of gay male culture. Even research 2 reflects findings that say gay men give high priority to the physical attractiveness of a partner and an increased pressure to achieve a body like that seen in the media has spurred the trend. Because of this, gay men are predisposed to be more body conscious and actively pursue what they consider a healthy life yet the reality is that in gay sub-culture that healthy image often coincides with more unhealthy or destructive activity like recreational drug use, excessive drinking and the use of non-approved nutritional supplements and steroids.

Placing value on appearance rather than content becomes central to appreciating an object’s worth. And in this case the body becomes an object absent of individual identity or content. The idealized physique of the gay male body image confuses the lines between identity based on one’s attributes as a person and those physical features considered desirable – by one’s self or by the spectator. Gay men have fetishized their personal existence, their bodies and the bodies of men, in general, despite their personal identity as men. Gay men have “outed” personal desires by reflecting them in images of the body and through the commodification of the body as valuable and acceptable according to the standards of the images we consume in society.

This project called “Skin Deep” only scratches the surface yet explores many issues, images and facets of the gay male body image through art. As mentioned, one of the most significant ways in which gay men have examined this issue is through art. Artists who deal with the gay male body and the socio-cultural issues surrounding it is significant and worthy of further study.

- Billy Stroud, 2005 -

1 The insights provided by Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Roland Barthes and other post-structural and postmodern thinkers have shed light on the constructed nature of gender and the role of the media and other representational practices on self-image and the development of the human subject. (What Foucault would call ‘technologies of the self’.) In particular, Laura Mulvey’s now canonical and influential essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (Screen, vol.16, no. 3, 1975), highlighted and extended the Freudian notion of scopophilia, or the erotic gaze, as a major component in the way that the cinema voyeuristically functions to inform and sexualize the dominant male gaze. Her use of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic insights to understand the ways in which human beings enter the symbolic order of modern society has been the starting place for feminist and queer studies of gender and the role of visual culture in constructing and maintaining the heteronormative status quo and the hegemony of the straight male within it.

2 Gay male body obsession is not exclusive to the mature male population. Being gay affects teen body image, as well. In a report conducted by Harvard University and presented at the National Lesbian Health Conference in Washington, D.C. in September 2002, researchers said that gay and bisexual boys - ages 12-17 - were 15 times more likely to report binge eating and twice as likely to admit to dieting within the last year. Lesbian or bisexual girls were half as likely, than heterosexual girls, to have dieted within the last year.

This article has been viewed 25115 times in the last 10 years

Pea: 31st May 2005 - 02:42 GMT

Billy-- Thank you for sending me this article you wrote. I remember our discussions in the studio when you were begining to gather your ideas for this show. Your article describes the issue of body image as it relates to your work as well as others. I hope to see this show-- how long will it be up? -- Pea

Mike Clark: 1st Jun 2005 - 20:39 GMT

Hey Buddy,

I REALLY liked your piece! As usual it was articulate, insightful, and your passion for the subject fairly leaps off the page. If only I were in the area I would LOVE to see the show. Hmmm, roadtrip anyone???
Post Script.....what the hell does commodification mean?

elaine: 1st Jun 2005 - 21:33 GMT

commodification is about turning something which is not 'naturally' a commodity into one. historically the body has been seen differently in different cultures, but typically as the mortal carrier of the soul, whether sexually celebrated or abnegated on the way, and whether incidental or expressive of that soul. early capitalism (and historically any imperialistic culture that traded slaves) treats some designated bodies literally as commodities, to be bought sold worked and sexually used. femininity as a modern construct typically objectifies women as things, and in late capitalism/modernity with the soaring rise of consumerism at a certain stage makes femininity into a set of assets the owner of the female person has to buy to experience her femininity. and at a certain point men, and not just gay men have been pulled into this alienated consumtion of the self as well. branding of everything allows all of us to consume ourself and to sell ourselves to ourselves and others as objects with branded characteristics - a good example of this is the book though not the film of american psycho. baudrillard suggests that we now even have to buy back our leisure time which is packaged up for us as rental events set against our earnings. his chapter on this in The Consumer Society is a harrowing read. if you decide to check him out further there is loads on the net, but Seduction is a very interesting heavier and more intense read.
we have lived in an era where, if you can sell something you will. we are happy to buy bottled water, and you can even buy air. we use the metaphor 'i don't buy that' when someone says something we don't agree with. commodification is endemic to late western capitalism, or, if you prefer the metaphor, postmodernity
i hope that helps...

Tbennow: 5th Apr 2007 - 18:15 GMT

I know alot of hot looking ladies but there the ugliest people on the inside, Whats the number one way of getting people back thats right the Net. The ones that were picked on now getting back on the www easy to do they can be who ever they want. To many people getting hurt from all this B.S. Take a close look at the plastic people they look it and there face is falling, Bring back the strudy babes with a little meat on there bones nice curves bigger is better.I want a real woman if I wanted a fake one I would order the one Howard stiern has in his studio,

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