Monday, November 8, 2010

Questions of Identity

I made this a few months ago, one of three storycloths about women in contemporary consumerist society. It is titled Crowned, an exploration of identity: cosmetic surgery, the expectations women struggle to live up to, the masks we wear, how difficult it is to know who we really are, how a smile sometimes betrays us, how we are tossed about by the way we think others perceive us, how difficult it is to be objective about ourselves, others, the world.

It is interesting for me to look back on this and to see how my self-understanding has developed. This cloth was in response to young white women in western society where 'choice' is a term commonly used. For example if a question is posed: 'What do you think about the fact that it is increasingly common for young (and older) women to undergo cosmetic surgery as a pretty much 'normal' experience?' A typical response is "Well, that is their CHOICE'. Yes, on one level it is, but what external pressures are there that make women feel they need to change their bodily appearance? Women 'voluntarily' undergo surgery so they can try (and always, always, of course always fail) to meet the expectations of a consumerist, capitalistic, patriarchal society. A society which on a broad scale does not care if you look like a Barbie Doll - all that is really important are the dollars exchanged.

Excuse my soap box -  the outright oppressive manipulation of women's self esteem by capitalist ideology makes me angry. (On another note - let alone the cross-cultural oppression that goes hand in hand with capitalism.)

So - it is interesting for me to see how, over a few months, my thoughts on this matter have consolidated and have now led to a public post. I do not critique women's individual choices because it is very important that we do have choice, rather I critique the values of consumerist society.

At close of needle I muse on my small orderly cloths and how they reconcile with this political storycloth, and how they both emanate from the one being - me. Perhaps the face above reflects this also? There is more to this story.

Happy stitching, Gilly


  1. gilly...i like this a lot. a LOT.
    although i have somehow miraculously made
    that passage unscathed, it is something that
    i see, or is in my face, everyday and that i
    have many exchanges with my 22yo granddaughter
    about. so..i will think about these things,
    your words and come back.
    your cloth that speaks of this, SPEAKS of this.

  2. I LOVE THIS!!!!
    love! love! love!
    super intelligent design as well as use of the stitching to enhance it.

  3. Hi there Grace - yes it is quite a strong image. You know, it seems a different generation now - the young people. Quite different values - I do not know how to measure the impact of facebook, disposable everything, and fractured families etc. Maybe it is just that I have grown older and was also part of the amazing hippy movement of the seventies, when we believed change was possible - that we could live without spending huge amounts of money - when we didn't want to even use money! It was a time of hope. I wonder what 'hope'means now. Gilly

  4. Hi Serena - yes - how can these aches be fixed? Fantastic image on your blog. Gilly

  5. Gilly, we must be about the same age as I remember a time of acceptance and hope in the 70's. Right now we
    are bankrupt in values of what's beautiful. And I don't say this because I could be called an
    Old Lady. I say it because what is considered
    beautiful today is almost always connected to
    shapes of body parts and sexual in nature. Thus the race for 'fixing' what is natural. Something more important than a
    sagging neck needs fixing. A sagging value system?

  6. Yes I agree Patty. Younger and younger women are being used in advertising - where will it end! Very destructive - what young girls are viewing in advertising, let alone how appalling it is for women in their twenties who are feeling 'past it'. I feel I have responsibility of some sort to query things now that I am older - just like my grandparents did. The best part about ageing is seeing things more objectively, with concern for the long-time future. BTW - good joke-chuckle Thanks, Gilly

  7. Wow .. this is great. I want to know the more of the story .. it's a great cloth and great to have an outlet to put your thoughts and feelings about anything at all.

    Ok Gilly, my icon is on your list of followers now and it is my self portrait. Small pencil sketch. !!! Good to see you stopped by again today. Take Care. Tammy :)

  8. Yes! I agree entirely. Thanks for articulating it so eloquently.

  9. Agreeing with you entirely, Gilly. On TV there is an ad for cream to magically banish the brown spots of ageing....and even that ad uses 20 year old models. We need to learn to honour age and all that comes with it.

  10. This piece is very strong; I really love it. The issues behind it are things I think about alot almost everyday - i'm in my 20's and live in a busy city; surrounded by women trying to be stunning 24/7 whether they are on their way to work or in the gym! It is a world that makes me confused; I walked to work today (as it was threatening heavy heavy rain) in my hiking boots and raincoat; got some very strange looks I can tell you! Anyway - im rambling. I love the piece; thanks for sharing.

  11. the cloth and the story. as one, really nice.

  12. Hi Tammy - thanks - wish I could enlarge your sketch. Looks very interesting.

    Thanks Karen - nice to be visited by you and to visit you.

    Penny - Mmmm I don't watch tv much and I will not watch ads if I can possibly avoid it. Really are we idiots? So disturbing to think of young minds passively absorbing these values.

    Hi Abigail - great to hear from you and wonderful to see the rhizome project on your site. I think talk of clothing for practical purposes is wonderful. One thing happens that I find is not confusing and that is that beauty develops with age and has nothing to do with appearances and everything to do with ethics and character. Thank you very much for commenting. Gilly

    Jude - thank you for combining story and cloth.

  13. I share your opinions on the whole yet i feel that despite the pressure some of us still resist and show ourselves as we are nit giving in to the ''surgery'' route or the coonstant dieting so perhaps strength of personality plays its part too. having said that I love this piece, she is truly beautiful.

  14. Hi Karen - yes for sure - for some it is very difficult to consciously choose values that are in conflict with all pervasive advertising images and peer related pressures. If we are constantly told that we can 'do this, buy that' to look better - the implication is that complying will make us feel better too. This is what I find so disturbing - that advertising techniques are designed to make us feel bad about ourselves on the inside while knowing full well that (counting on) the product being advertised is only a temproary panacea. Wouldn't it be lovely if we had billboards affirming that we are good enough just the way we are! However, yes I can see what you are saying and thanks for your welcome comment. Gilly

  15. Hi Gilly, I posted a photo of my thumbnail thats on my profile in your list of followers. It's in my blog. It kind of goes in line with the conversation here in that I had done the self portrait several years back when I was in college and our instructor wanted us to attempt to not draw an idealized view of ourselves. I think that was my intent. However I do like how the image turned out. I don't think that I made myself look any particular way just an honest assesment. So I agree with you that it would be nice if ads said we were good just the way we are but thats the idea .. ads are meant for selling and they take advantage of our often wanting to fit in, be normal or be the best, better, prettiest, skinniest, richest, etc. All leading us to buy the one product that will give us that which we think will make us one of the above. So as I age, fortunately, I am less inclined to care about any of the above and more able to accept myself just as I am. I truly wish that we were better able to teach each other how to love and accept ourselves just the way we are. :) Thanks for reminding me of that. Tammy

  16. Fantastic - I love it! Are you going to show us the other two cloths?

  17. Hey Tammy - yes being better teachers of love and acceptance... power of the daily role model. I have visited you since you posted your portrait - it is great - very interesting. Gilly

    Hi Deb - yes I probably will post them someime.. thanks for asking! Gilly

  18. gilly... dear you have done something marvelous here. the beauty there is so real. i echo your sentiments entirely and those who have posted... personally i love the period of life i am entering into and i wish it were more widely accepted as a true culmination of real beauty... the wisdom that comes with age is reflected in our bodies... how could it not be so? and how could it not be seen as beautiful? i wouldn't be young again for anything... i am surprised to see that you are as young as i !!!
    this piece you have doen is really commendable...excellent design and execution. a stellar piece. thank you for sharing it and hope you will be showing the others as well.

  19. Hear, hear ....Gilly !!!!
    It really is a beautiful cloth!!!
    And I love and endorse your statement about all this "force" to also undergo surgical alterations to our body.
    And rightly so one will always lag behind the facts (the wrinkles.....)

    (I had my encounter with surgery that
    "altered" me in a way I didn't like very much, but staying alive was a very important goal, so in that way I took my "alterations" gladly.... ;-) )

  20. Hey there Nan - so good to hear your voice. I am a happier and happier as I age. I increasingly experience a sense of rest within myself - a lot of struggles are abating and I feel as if I am becoming my own best friend. Thanks heaps for your directions for framing - we are getting there slowly. How is the exhibiton progressing - I must go to the website too. Have a really good day where you are, Gilly

  21. Hullo Els! I am very glad you have mentioned surgery for medical (I might also include deep self esteem) reasons. I was a bit concerned that some may interpret my comments about cosmetic surgery as a blanket anti- cosmetic surgery statement. Not at all! My comment is about undue and manipulative pressure to pay huge amounts of money and undergo pain and trauma for an elusive end goal. But - oh it is just wonderful the advances in medicine and it is so good to know that you are alive! Love and thanks, Gilly

  22. I wonder Gilly, do you still have any of those baby clothes?

  23. Whoo hoooo! Preach it sister!!! Great work too, by the way.

  24. Love this piece of art..... thanks for sharing.

  25. Great face and the story behind it. And after hearing about the new "Bridalplasty" show, it feels more timely than ever.

  26. Hi GIlly. Great work going on with this piece. I've worked on faces, identity and isolation, for the last year. It's a seemingly endless journey of learning. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.