Skinnyfat (2016) and SPANK (2016) interrogate the effects of Photoshop’s infamous ‘airbrushing’ and ‘liquefying’ tools, used to slim women’s bodies and liquidate skin blemishes, on society’s perception of what a ‘normal’ female body looks like. These tools are often used to edit models’ bodies to appear artificially slim, and yet the image is often perceived as ‘natural’ by consumers. The gap between the unreality of the ‘Glossy Magazine Girl’ and many women’s own bodily reality is experienced as shameful. It is possible to see this editing tool as a way of preoccupying women with their flaws in their body, and tying their time and their identity to their bodies. My work challenges this by showing the two images of my own body, with and without the editing tools, side by side. The artificialness of the editing techniques is highlighted. If part of the power of this image over women is its ability to ‘naturalise’ the Glossy Magazine Girl, my aim is to de-naturalise it. I place my own body under the scrutinizing gaze of the lens and stare back, in the hope of undermining the gaze’s power.
Salt Water Cleanse (Woman Hours)

© Tyler Payne 2016

DSLR video, 10:26

The Body + The Lens: Shrink, Wax, Purge, Bleach.


"The Body + the Lens: Shrink, Wax, Purge, Bleach" was a creative practice research project that investigated the relationship of (white) women’s embodiment to the lens of gendered advertising. To focus the research, a recently mainstreamed group of female cosmetic rituals were chosen — body-contour wear (SPANX), Brazilian waxing, salt-water cleansing, and fake tanning. The intent of the research was to interrogate the relationship between these body-correcting practices and the idealized image of the "Glossy Magazine Girl" — i.e. preternaturally thin, hairless, and unblemished by shades darker than pink — which now appear with more frequency in women’s everyday life, and have reconfigured the social construction of female gender. The (artistic-research) response to the subject matter was a series of video and photographic works in the genre of self-portraiture. These works attempted to critique the new norms of embodiment emerging through these practices through the researcher’s parodic undergoing of the cosmetic rituals themselves. This "carnal" methodology, following from the methodology of Louis Wacquant, is one that embodies the researcher in the social practices being researched, i.e. body-correcting practices. This method produced research results — embodied and affective — not available to purely observational research, which should interest the artistic research community and feminism generally. The images and videos de-fetishize and denaturalize the embodied product of the cosmetic rituals. My studio-led research reveals the intractable, comic "failures" in the face of the demands placed on the everyday performance of women’s gender. By doing so, it turns these failures to affirmation, as well as critique of the gender norm these practices construct.
SPANK Billboard Installation, 2016

420cm x 220cm – banner material, skybond, timber. 

Spanx Wiggle (Woman Hours)

© Tyler Payne 2016

DSLR video, 3:12

Womanhours, 2016
How many hours does it take to be a woman? This studio-led research project looks at contemporary cosmetic rituals that are changing the way women experience their bodies. Advertising’s ‘Glossy Magazine Girl’: plucked, waxed, purged and bleached, has come between a woman and her body. Though women’s bodies that have passed through these cosmetic rituals are seen everywhere they are not witnessed labouring to produce this effect. What is seen instead is a singular and controlled perspective, a magical product naturalized by the advertisement’s frame. The effects on the female body are detached from the struggle that created them, and so are made to seem entirely effortless. Women’s bodies are thus more easily fetishized, and the advertising lens has become a powerful tool of bodily control.

The aim of the Womanhours project is to turn the power of the lens against itself so that the tasks of plucking, waxing, purging and bleaching, usually hidden from view are presented for all to see. The labour processes of such ‘improvements’ are documented so that their effects on the female body are de-fetishized. The research reveals the intractable – and comic – ‘failures’ in the face of the demands placed on the everyday performance of female gender. Such failures, however, become productive and self-affirming because they de-naturalize the image of the Glossy Magazine Girl and reveal the artifice involved in her appearance.

The artworks for this project are self-portraits: the artist undergoing the cosmetic rituals herself in ways that are informed by Louis Wacquant’s methodology of ‘carnal sociology’ where the researcher becomes an agent in the social action being studied, rather than simply observing actions as they take place. The emotional responses of the participant researcher are not excluded from the findings – indeed they are foregrounded. The intention to critique informs this carnal form of research, not just through observation, but also through embodied knowledge. I have also aimed to convey a deliberate sense of vulnerability in these artworks by emphasizing my susceptibility to the demands these rituals make on my own body. In Womanhours, this personal engagement aims to establish solidarity with other women who feel obliged to undergo these rituals.
Early testing of Womanhours

Untitled (Body), 2012

Photographic Inkjet Print - 60cm x 90cm
W is for Women, 2012

Photographic Inkjet Print - 60cm x 90cm

Carnal sociology gave me the opportunity to immerse myself into the research as a full participant. I was not able to avoid the emotional and affective responses of the research. And although I continue to feel uncomfortable, this ‘body knowledge’ has made me more determined to reject any more shame.
Tyler Payne