Thesis & Background
“In this work, I have been interested in documenting the pathological in the everyday. I am interested in the tyranny of the popular and thin girls over the ones who don’t fit that mold. I am interested in the competition suffered by the popular girls, and their sense that popularity is not as satisfying as it appears. I am interested in the time-consuming grooming and beauty rituals that are an integral part of daily life. I am interested in how girls’ feelings of frustration, anger, and sadness are expressed in physical and self-destructive ways: controlling their food intake, cutting their bodies, being sexually promiscuous. I am interested in the way that the female body has become a palimpsest on which many of our culture’s conflicting messages about femininity are written and rewritten. Most of all, I am interested in the element of performance and exhibitionism that seems to define the contemporary experience of being a girl.” –Lauren Greenfield (1)
Lauren Greenfield is a contemporary American documentary photographer. Through her photography she questions where we are going as a modern culture. Her photobook, “Girl Culture,” deals with issues of self-esteem and the sexualization of women through her analysis of wealth and privilege in America. She supplements her photographs with interviews of a subject without her commentary that adds to the depth of the reader’s perception of how the subjects fit into society. Greenfield uses photography to evoke emotion, address an issue she finds salient, as well as promote social change- she is less concerned with the artistic nature and quality of the photograph. Her photographs are staged but not posed, they are documentary photos that provide insight into private experiences. As well, she crosses class lines to show all girls have the commonality of struggling with their body image.
Greenfield grew up in Venice, Los Angles, California and led a privileged childhood. At age 14, she spent nine months living with an aristocratic French family. She said, “I got close to them, but I realized how different their values were from mine. As a result, I became really interested in culture, cultural differences and values.” (2) She stuck out Being a Jewish young woman, she was able to appreciate being a minority and it allowed her to see the world with a critical eye. Her time in France allowed her to see the conclusions being drawn by differences in body and body type. This ultimately led her to question, what makes a “Jewish” body?
Her photographs, as you can see below, show how the female body has become that of a palimpsest.
These men are ogling over a pinup of a female model. Body size, shape, and look create what it means to be feminine and beautiful. The body in this model, as well as other models, are the images of women in the media that are being shared with the public. These are the women other girls are judging their bodies in comparison to these images. These are ideal and for the most part, unrealistic. The photographs are usually retouched and changed to show the perfect body, not the common female body. Boys are showed these images and think that this is what a perfect girl would and should look like and that influences women and the way they perceive their bodies. (L.C. page 92)
The girls view their bodies as their only way to express themselves. In the photograph above, Sheena, is trying to make her breasts look larger in her top. In her interview with Greenfield, she discussed public perception versus private action. At just 15. she discusses sex, drugs, piercings in places covered by modest clothing, rumors, and her aspirations for the future. In the interview she told a story where she was accused of “giving head” to a friend. Although she thought the boy was in fact cute she, “didn’t even touch him… [she] was with his brother the whole night, just hanging out and kissing.” but it was the other “blonde and big-bootied girl” at the party. She was given a poor reputation for over a month because of miscommunication and lie. Sheena doesn’t have a problem showing off her breasts or her body in order to give off a sexualized appearance but she does have a problem showing off her, “cooch”. To Sheena, her body and the way she represents it is who she is. Whatever phase she is in, goth or rebellious or attention hungry, she uses the makeup she puts on and the clothing she wears to represent the image she wants to convey. (L.C. page 89)
The photograph above is one of the tyrannic, skinny, and popular girls in their Junior High. In their interview, Hannah talks about some of the discomfort she and her friends encounter. Hannah and her friends are the “coolest,” they wear more makeup than other girls, they spend time doing their hair and putting together an outfit, and they are all boy crazy. Sometimes, she is thought to be much older than she actually is because of the way she looks and dresses. This attention is disconcerting, she isn’t dressing for older men to hit on her. She actually is dressing to fit in with her friends, and she questions if the time she spends getting ready is worth it. She knows that by the end of a night, no matter how long she spent on her hair it will still end up in ponytail holder and no matter how long she spends on her makeup, it will all be blended in by the end of the night. Hannah said that, “sometimes [my] friends can be really, really mean. In our group, people get criticized if you don’t look a certain way. If you have a flaw, then you will be criticized if whether you like it or not.” Hannah is questioning the validity of her relationships and overall she says, “It’s a hard feeling to not know where you fit in yet.” (L.C. page 16)
Here is a video interview of Greenfield herself discussing her project…