Last summer, I had a job that involved a lot of time sitting around doing nothing in the vicinity of a computer. My coworkers, two fine ladies such as yourselves, had taken to perusing a certain website whose title rhymes with “Schminterest.” There, they would scroll the day away, looking at funny cat pictures and instructions on how to make an 8-tiered wedding cake out of nothing but some chicken wire and a can of pinto beans.
Pinterest never particularly held my attention until I became unemployed. In my defense, there are worse things I could have been wasting my time on.
Then I began spending embarrassing amounts of time with my eyes glazed over, endlessly scrolling through hundreds of pages of fall scarves and photos of Dylan MacDermott. And I began to notice something. No, it wasn’t my youth draining away before my eyes. That I still haven’t come to terms with.
Men’s and women’s fashions both have categories on Pinterest, and as I spent countless hours looking through the vast archive of pigeon-toed models wearing oversized caftans, I felt as though something had gone horribly amiss. There was a unifying factor in many of these photos that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, until I realized: A large percentage of the photos that people pin do not show the model’s face.
Okay, so out of five human beings we’ve got… one half of a face. In a painting.
Now, there is a root problem here, which is that, although some of these photos are amateur shots, many of them are professional, which means that the retailers who are photographing these models for their websites are the ones cutting their faces out of the frame. (Zara, I’m looking right at you.) Pinterest users are not to blame for the existence of these photos. But the fact that they dominate the Pinterest feed interests me.
It’s likely that the vast majority of Pinterest users are female. (It’s difficult to tell exactly, but Forbes estimates between 72 and 97 percent of the website’s users are women.) And most of the users pinning to the “Women’s fashion” category are users who are, in fact, interested in women’s fashion. So we can assume that most of these pinners of faceless models sporting peplum skirts and slouchy sweaters are women. They pin things that catch their eye, things that they approve of, things that interest them. And what interests them are headless, objectified female bodies.
What exactly is so objectifying about omitting a model’s face from the photograph? Well, it’s a method of dehumanization. If we can’t see the girl’s eyes (the “windows of her soul,” one might say) or her facial expression, she may as well be a store mannequin. Because we have no insight into her emotions or personality, we allow ourselves to “objectify” her, meaning we literally view her as an object, like a radiator or a bowl of porridge. An “object” is something that cannot think or act for itself. It is something that is acted upon by “subjects”. I am a subject. A map of Guam is an object. You are a subject. A parsnip is an object. When we omit the woman’s face from the photo, we view her as an object to be acted upon, rather than a subject who herself acts upon objects. Because her eyes are not there, she cannot commit the simplest, yet perhaps most significant act one can perform – to look. She cannot see; she can only be seen, the implication being that her body is seen by men, whether she wants it to be or not.
So why should we be bothered that this is happening on Pinterest in particular? Objectification is dangerous for women. It is part of the reason we were considered second-class citizens for thousands of years (and still are today, in many places and by many people). If we are not seen as human beings, anyone has the ability to take away our rights. To violate our bodies. To treat us as though we don’t matter.
So why does it bother me that women such as you and I decide to popularize these images on Pinterest? I think it has something to do with the issue of free will. We can’t stop Gucci and Prada from photographing their models in an objectifying manner. But we do have a choice about whether or not to incorporate these images into our mental lexicon. The more often we see them, the more they become ingrained in our subconscious. Whether we know it or not, we’re supporting the patriarchal structure that has been working for years to keep us from being in control. You feel me?
Don’t take my word for it, though. You can read more about this here:
And this article talks about Laura Mulvey and her theories about the “male gaze”:
I dunno, maybe I overthink these things. Maybe it’s totally harmless and not at all a manifestation of misogynist values. Any thoughts?