Measured to Death: KMcAuley

trapped, confused, overwhelmed and angry

I drew inspiration for this Photosponse from many different readings. We looked at many different kinds of measurement over the term, from Hooke’s flea to the question of how many angels dance on the end of a pin. My response is about what happens when we apply our passionate excitement for measuring and quantifying things to the human body, and how this turns sour very quickly. When we measure the human body, it’s often in search of some kind of perfection, the “golden mean” or Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. What we find, instead, are all the ways the human body fails to measure up to our ideals. The supposed “perfect” measurements for a woman are 36-24-36 (or they were once, that’s probably a dated ideal) but most runway models can’t find work if their hips are 35 inches or over. Our ability to measure the human body even gets weaponized: just think of how much bullying revolves around obesity, and it was less than 75 years ago that scientists believed they’d find a connection between the circumference of a man’s skull and his intelligence (they used data collected during WWI and WWII for helmet sizing).

This photograph reflects one side of a very strong, very emotional response I had to the whole “body” of readings on “The Nature of Woman” (Astell, Drake, Leapor, Swift, Montagu) in connection with Hooke’s Micrographia, Duden’s “History Beneath The Skin” (“if I truly believe my heart cracked, then maybe my heart really did crack” becomes “if I genuinely believe I am obese, maybe I really am obese”), and Behn’s “Clarinda.” Like the intelligent, powerful female writers of the 18th-century, Kassinda (who modelled for this picture) stares through the barriers of measurement – the (yellow) red tape, if you will – and sees through this trap she’s in. She sees you seeing her and meets your eye, not allowing the fact that she is the object of your gaze to undermine her power. She’s too entangled to escape this cage, but she fights it nonetheless. While we were playing around getting this photo, I pulled a lot on my ballet background, and in many of the images, I had Kassinda cross her arms at the wrists with her hands in fists, either over her chest or below the waist, which in classical ballet symbolizes both death and entrapment (you’ll see this mime in Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty). But this picture was the most arresting. Her fists, raised above shoulder height, symbolize anger in ballet mime.

Of course, I don’t believe measurement is evil or that if we stopped measuring things our obsession with perfection would dissipate at all. But this is one use of measurement I believe we should endeavour to move beyond.

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