Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Visualisation Technologies in Makeover Practice - Part I

This is an extract from the section of my thesis I am currently working on/editing. Three x25 minute twitter #shutupandwrite sessions have got me to this still rather rough stage, but on the basis that a done blog is better than no blog here it is.

Makeover Practice – Visual/Visualisation Technologies

Whereas the question used to be about how women were represented, in visual art, media or film for example, now we need to consider that what stands for ‘representations’ of women are virtualised, hyperreal simulations of women. They no longer re-present women, they (re)create them. These simulated bodies can be developed from scratch without taking into account any actual female bodies, they represent not what women are (passive) but what women could be (active).[1] They really are ‘dream’ women.
By allowing the simulation of women’s bodies computer imaging technologies create new expectations of womanliness and femininity as bodies are coded and recoded in the virtual arena. They enable the creation of bodies from nothing, and these bodies simulate the female body, rather than represent it, that is to say that the creator is not constrained by the actual physical dimensions of an initial image, as they would be if using Photoshop or similar technology to manipulate an image. As Balsamo discusses, the creation of virtual bodies is limited only to the imagination of the creator. “The virtual body is neither simply a surface upon which are written the dominant narratives of Western Culture, nor a representation of cultural ideals of beauty or of sexual desire. It has been transformed into the very medium of cultural expression itself, manipulated, digitalized, and technologically constructed in virtual environments”.  (Balsamo 1996, 131)[2] The simulated, or virtual woman’s body is coded female, it needs only to be read by the viewer as a female body, not to be an accurate representation of what a female body actually is.  The laws of physics need not apply to the simulated woman, thought she may seem real at first glance, we have to consider whether she would actually be able to stand up and move around if she were made of flesh and blood. Could Lara Croft (Tomb Raider), the original simulated woman, really have fought like she did with those breasts.

Makeover Context

In terms of Makeover Culture Visualisation technologies are the technologies of dreams, fantasies and futures. They range from something as simple as a mirror, to sophisticated medical imaging equipment, to visual media technologies and play a key role in creating dissatisfaction with what is and driving the desire for constant improvement that is the heart of neoliberal makeover culture. Through visual media technologies, women are bombarded not only with (heavily edited) pictures of real women but with simulations which represent what women could be, not what they are. So much so that ‘real’ women’s bodies can no longer be defined, indeed may no longer exist. Our technological ability to conform to virtualised ideals means that real bodies have been dieted, exercised, plucked and excised out of existence to comply with the expectations set by the virtualised hyperreal[3] bodies of media, film and computer games.
Visualisation technologies enable users to see what was previously unseen; in the context of this study they enable the visualisation of makeover outcomes. Through the mediation of experts, these technologies enable women to visualise the potential of their bodies. The technologies are therefore implicit in the creation of new bodies.
Even the simple mirror enables the body to be seen in ways that it cannot be seen without and a common device used in makeover television is using mirrors, photographs or video to enable the participant (and the expert) to see the body from all angles and in great detail. [Ten Years Younger – puts the participant on view in a glass box, Trinny and Susannah make participants stand in front of a full length mirror in their underwear, How to look good naked uses mirrors and video footage to get up close and personal with women’s bodies].

Visualisation Technologies and Cosmetic Surgery

The use of imaging technologies in medical situations is another important area. Many of these technologies were developed for medical reasons such as ultrasound scanning and CT scanning which enable doctors to look at what would previously have been unseen.
Cosmetic surgeons, and their sales teams, make excellent use of visualisation technologies. Starting from the before and after advertisements in the back of popular women’s magazines the visual image is critical to the cosmetic surgeon’s trade. Lo-tech methods include the use of mirrors to and tape measures to examine the body and drawing the changes directly on to the customer’s skin.
In the hi-tech arena photography and video shows the body as it is and computer based imaging is used to design, visualise and materialise the post surgical body – the after body – to help convince the customer to go through with the surgery. The technology -  its expensiveness, its modernness, its exclusiveness - contributes to the authority of the ‘expert’ surgeon, as if their authority is developed/evidenced through this technology.

[1] The move from passive to active involvement in makeover practice is key to my thesis and is developed in depth elsewhere
[2] Balsamo, Anne. Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.

[3] This section will be developed to reference Baudrillard on simulation and hyperreality.

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