The series of images above, called CONTROL, depicts the affects of various control garments on my body. Control garments are marketed to women to "reshape" their bodies and aid them in weight loss. By highlighting the affects of these harsh garments on the flesh, I'm hoping to shed light on the real result of body policing and control sold to us as a form of health and beauty.
By showing the physical trauma these garments cause to the flesh, I’m hoping to draw connections to the deep and pervasive emotional traumas many women feel about their bodies. The stigma of size and fatness is so prominent in our culture, that many women subject their bodies to this type of physical restraint everyday, in an effort to occupy less space.
This was interesting for me as a performance artist, and a fat woman. I wanted to subject my body to the same sort of ritualistic torture, and document the damage to my flesh. I bought one of the most popular garments for “extra control” and wore the piece, as instructed, for 6 hours. Then I removed the garment to show the marks on my skin. It was so oppressively tight, that it actually burst the blood vessels in the small of my back and caused deep, painful bruising.
When I noticed how bizarre this garment made my body look, I started doing further research about these garments and the women who buy and sell them. I discovered that many women wear multiple pieces each day, in an effort to smooth out the “new” rolls each garment creates when worn. Some women wear as many as 3 or 4 daily.
This inspired me to create the video performance piece, also called CONTROL.
As my project developed, I saw the need for a video/performance component to this work. I felt the images spoke to the damage caused to the skin, and highlighted how tight the garment is, but they didn’t accurately represent how difficult the garment is to put on and to take off.
I wanted the video to work on a few levels. It was important to me to show the fat body in a raw, and pithy way. I wanted to show my body without any tricks in lighting or framing. I didn’t want to hide my size at all. I also wanted to the video to serve as an honest documentation of the way physical movement looks and affects my body. There are moments in this piece where I have to physically shove my stomach into a tight garment. At many points I had to fight with these pieces of shapewear, and I felt that needed to be shown.
This is an 18-minute performance in which I put on layer after layer of oppressive control garments, each one tighter than the one before it. As I add to the layers, my breathing becomes more labored. Eventually I am wincing in pain as each new piece is added to compress my body down to the smallest size I can make it.
When you layer anything else, it adds girth. But these garments are so tight, and so oppressive, that layering them actually makes me smaller. I do this until I can no longer breathe. Then, as I’m struggling to breathe, I franticly remove each layer, in an attempt to free my body. By showing myself from the neck down, I am referencing the “headless” way in which fat people are often portrayed in the media. My limited soundtrack works to reinforce the anxiety and claustrophobia for the viewer as they watch me struggle to breathe and move.
The original run time for this piece is 18 minutes; I’m showing a short 4 minute segment here.
This work has been widely exhibited both nationally and internationally, including:
2012 Body Magic, School 33 Art Center, Baltimore, MD
2011 CONTROL, FAB Gallery, Richmond VA
2015 EXPO 34, BJ Spoke Gallery, Huntington, NY
2014 Identity, Nine5 Gallery, NYC, NY
2014 Who We Aren’t, Union Street Gallery, Chicago, IL
2014 Woman, Flow Art Space, St. Paul, MN
2012 Biennale de Palermo, GIUSEPPE SCIORTINO, Palermo, Sicily
2012 CUTTING EDGE: Masters in Contemporary Art, Auditorium al Duomo, Florence, Italy
2012 Dublin Biennial 2012, Sol Art Gallery, Dublin, Ireland
2012 New Waves 2012, Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, VA
2012 Beauty Comes in Many Forms, Linus Gallery, Pasadena, CA
2012 The Human Form, Darkroom Gallery, Essex Junction, VT
2014 Positive ID: Bodies and Subjectivities in Photography, The Gallery - NOVA Woodbridge, VA
2012 Look Attractive, University of Kansas, KS
2012 Omen Art: The Collective Debut Minicine Gallery, Shreveport, LA
2012 (e)merge Art Fair 2012, Capital Skyline Hotel, Washington DC
2012 Faculty Exhibition: Siena Heights University, Klemm Gallery, Adrian, MI
2011 Kinetic Imaging Faculty Show, Franklin Terrace, VCU, Richmond, VA