The varied comments on the photographs we discussed in Is PTSD Sexy? got me thinking about the viewers’ eyes. No matter how successful the photographer is in portraying the model or in strongly imposing their point of view, people still come to the photographs with all their history in their eyes. And that is not only their personal history but the echoes of the thousands of photographs and images they’ve seen.
Here are some of the comments:
Of course women with PTSD are sexy. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re damsels in distress. The classic damsel in distress is being held prisoner by a monster (usually male, but sometimes an older, sexually rapacious/repressive female), and the first thing the rescuer does is take the monsterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s place in her affections, then in her bed. Stockholm Syndrome in action.
I thought Lindsay made a good point in her original post: the gaze could be ironic.
Maybe (hopefully) this isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just lazy stereotype reinforcement but rather exploiting and exploding the stereotypes because the women themselves are contrary to our stereotypes (being combat soldiers and being female sufferers of PTSD, which IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d say we associate mostly with male Vietnam vets).
When I saw these photographs I was struck by the pain in these womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s faces. I had a very strong reaction. It so reminded me of how I felt during a prolonged period of depression and minimal self-esteem in my twenties.
I have to say it – these womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s faces look exactly how I felt during this period. I felt strong empathy and at the same time, respect. I had the unexpected feeling of acceptance of this period of my life..
If you look at the paper magazine, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s another picture on the cover, which I found disturbing. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a woman wearing light-colored camouflage fatigues, backed into a corner and looking anxious. This would be a great image showing PTSDÃ¢â‚¬Â¦except that sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s barefoot, and holding a dress uniform on a hanger. It looked wrong to me.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve worked as a news photographer. It was a great job, but I eventually had to leave because I developed TRS (Testosterone Revulsion Syndrome). I was the only woman in the photo department.
Those shots are not ironic. They are pure misogyny.
But thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s another thing that nagged me about that picture. SheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in uniform, yet looking lost and sad in the empty white spaces of that room. SheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in uniform Ã¢â‚¬â€ and sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fat. The picture emphasizes her weight, makes her look uncomfortable in her body (which at this point she may be). ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an implied narrative there:Ã¢â‚¬Â Once she was proud, strong, and slender enough to be in the military. Now sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s broken and fat. See how horrible PTSD is! It makes women gain weight. Nothing could be worse.Ã¢â‚¬Â
This is a comment on Women En Large from Melting Mama who is post-op gastric bypass and blogs about it. She was really impressed by Heather McAllister’s comments about the surgery in Loving Our Bodies From the Inside Out. Her reaction seems to fit with this conversation
Melting Mama said: “When I opened the first page, I was immediately saddened. I really shouldn’t – this is someone’s art, her photography, but I couldn’t help it. I immediately saw myself and many of my peers, there, in her photos. The photographer says, ‘I show the disappeared, I make the invisible visible’.”