Stoya, Sherman and The Artificiality of Femininity

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Stoya is a pornstar with a difference. Stoya is highly intelligent, beautiful and not one to shy away from breaking social stereotypes and “norms”. Remember the image of her gender bending for fashion photographer Steven Klein which I spoke about earlier in the year? Yeah, that’s her and she’s still rocking out with other top notch photographers.

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Recently, she blurred gender boundaries once more and also highlighted the notion of femininity being a construct with the capacity to be reduced to mere parts. The series with the apt tagline “Stoya as you’ve never seen her” embodied many parts of my research into gender identity and fashion. Stoya appears as a Hollywood starlet in grainy black and white portraits, reminscient to female screen icons of the 1950’s that have continued to influence ideas of “ideal” femininity. She appears submissive and soft, further reinforced by the visual aesthetics that echo movies scenes from the period. Coiffed hair, pursed lips and big eyes, Stoya appears every bit the old Hollywood siren.

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In other images we see Stoya reveal all, resembling the photography of Helmut Newton, again echoing stereotypical notions that are usually associated with images of women: submissiveness, nudity and sexuality. But what I like about these images is how the photographer reveals the constructive and artificial nature of femininity. We see Stoya dressed in heals and figure hugging clothing. Each image that precedes the one previous an item of clothing is removed until finally we’re left with the slender and naked figure of Stoya. It reveals how femininity can be reduced to a high heel or skirt.

Cindy Sherman’s photography also reveals the constructed nature of femininity. Throughout the 1970’s American artist Cindy Sherman created her Untitled Film Stills series. Each image within the series represents a single figure of a woman portrayed in a scenario, mimicking visual aspects of 1950’s-60’s black and white films. Sherman is the model and photographer, thus becoming the observer and observed. The images reinforce a number of provoking notions in relation to gender and gender construction. Sherman is the only model that appears yet adopts a number of feminine types from movies, thus reinforcing that femininity can literally be performed, changed and adapted by just one person.

Sherman proves that femininity is a popular constructed concept, a cultural code, as opposed to being naturally inherent to females. Sherman’s images also confront issues surrounding images of women such as sexualisation and objectification. She puts into question, “who is being represented, and by whom is this projection of “femininity” being constructed and for whom” (Cotton, 2010 p.193). In more recent series, Sherman is seen in heavy make-up and ill-fitting prosthetic facial and body parts. These shocking transformations reinforce further that identity is an imitation, gender a construction.

Overall, these images have been highly inspirational and prove that gender is a construction, fluid with no essential origin.

References:

The Unlimited (28th October 2013) Stoya Like You’ve Never Seen. [online] available from<http://theunlimitedmag.com/blog/2013/10/28/stoya&gt; (5th May 2014)

Cotton, C (2010) Revived and Remade: The photograph as cotemporary art. Thames & Hudson; 2 edition 191-197

MoMA (2012) Cindy Sherman [online] available from <http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/1170&gt; [24 February 2014]

ARTnews (2012) The Cindy Sherman Effect [online] available from <http://www.artnews.com/2012/02/14/the-cindy-sherman-effect/> %5B18 February 2014]

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