Many women all over the globe celebrated their emancipation and freedom yesterday, on International Women’s Day. For many of them it is still a bit worrisome, though, that despite the big advance of the movement of women’s rights, gender stereotypes still permeate media, thus, influence people’s perceptions of women’s bodies. Floriane Misslin, a creative researcher and a woman herself, explains how important it is for people to understand the ways media influence people’s perceptions of the body, and how this can raise awareness about the gender conventions deeply rooted in society.
Women’s bodies are everywhere nowadays – in popular TV shows and series, on photos in magazines and online, on billboards at highways. The woman’s body and its image permeate media these days. Floriane Misslin – a creative researcher and a graduate student of the Design Academy Eindhoven, studies the ways in which media represent women’s bodies and what effects this has on people’s perceptions of them.
“Most of my projects have a common pattern – they are about the body and its image. The image you make of your body with the clothes you wear, your haircut, and everything. They are also about the image of the body as pictured in media – TV series, social networks”, Misslin explained. The specific part she studies is the social conventions and the cultural expectations about the body image.
“I have been studying the expectations people have on the appearance of the body, how the body is pictured in media, how you are going to picture your body in media, and how this is going to influence the ways people look at it.” She gave an example of how twenty years ago people used to have certain expectations of the way women looked like while nowadays, two decades later, these expectations are completely different. This is a gradually evolving process, according to her, and it evolves not only with the people in the streets but mainly with how media picture women.
“For example, how are women pictured in a TV series which everyone watches? All these images influence people a lot. Gender is the most rooted convention in our culture”, Misslin furthered.
For the last five years she has been trying to fight with the gender norms in society with different projects. One of them – Uni Sex, is about the genderless passion. “I took six unisex fashion campaigns from the last five years and analyzed them. I studied how men and women were represented in images that pictured them genderless. How can you actually represent a man and a woman without a gender?”, Misslin wonders. She is also trying to find an answer as to why these unisex campaigns are failing: “Is the unisex idea too utopian? Is it too ideal?”, she asks herself. She is presently expanding her project and planning to go to the brands which she studied with a proposal as to what better unisex images can work with people.
In another of her projects – Getty Images, she decided to search for the term “beauty” at GettyImages.com: “I was curious what images you will have when you type “beauty”. And then I had photos of all these perfect ladies. I wanted to analyze why they were beautiful. After analyzing the codes, my conclusion was that they were healthy, clean, and happy, relaxed.”
Then Misslin had the idea to reproduce the very same pictures but with female body hair. “Every time people think about body hair they associate it with something dirty, smelly, and negligent. But if you picture it as something hygienic and happy, then people understand it differently – and then it becomes a new norm. This is how gender norms can be changed”, she enthused. Misslin has also prepared a proposal for the company GettyImages with which she wants to give them good reasons to produce images with female body hair. “I want to tell them – look, this is how you represent females, and then – how do you want females to be represented?”
“Most people think that it is all about fashion, clothes, and appearance but when you dig in it, it is all about gender.”
Misslin’s projects and initiatives are numerous but there is one thing that unites them: “Most people think that it is all about fashion, clothes, and appearance but when you dig into it, it is all about gender. When people know about that, they can distance from all these conventions rooted in society.”
What can be the most efficient way of fighting gender stereotypes according to Misslin? She is explicit: “Through media. This is also what I have been doing – I produce specific content about the body image and shape it into media forms – websites, videos, photos. Many people feel bad in their skin – they feel too fat or too dark, or there is segregation on the basis of appearance and all these create social discomfort. This is what I am fighting against.”
Photos and video by Floriane Misslin.