Conversation with the Comments:Is PTSD Sexy?

Laurie say

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:

Lynn Kendall
Of course women with PTSD are sexy.[1] They’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 monster’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 isn’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 I’d say we associate mostly with male Vietnam vets).

When I saw these photographs I was struck by the pain in these women’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 women’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, there’s another picture on the cover, which I found disturbing. It’s a woman wearing light-colored camouflage fatigues, backed into a corner and looking anxious. This would be a great image showing PTSD…except that she’s barefoot, and holding a dress uniform on a hanger. It looked wrong to me.

I’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.

Lynn Kendall
But there’s another thing that nagged me about that picture. She’s in uniform, yet looking lost and sad in the empty white spaces of that room. She’s in uniform — and she’s fat. The picture emphasizes her weight, makes her look uncomfortable in her body (which at this point she may be). There’s an implied narrative there:” Once she was proud, strong, and slender enough to be in the military. Now she’s broken and fat. See how horrible PTSD is! It makes women gain weight. Nothing could be worse.”

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’.”

photography, women, feminism, body image, PTSD, Iraq war, women soldiers, media, Body Impolitic

4 thoughts on “Conversation with the Comments:Is PTSD Sexy?

  1. I saw this cover story and I have to say that I did not respond the way most of you did at all. I consider myself a feminist, but I do not believe that there is necessarily something “wrong” with showing a woman in the kitchen, or being “attractive,” if feminism is really about women being who they choose to be. If I choose to dress a certain way, any way, and that can include ways that others would think are sexy, that does not mean I am doing something wrong. You talk about the “objectification of women,” but it is you who are doing that, by judging how they choose to look. Who is to say that this woman didn’t want to be photographed in the kitchen, or wherever? People are given a choice about these things by photographers. You are reading too much into it.

  2. We don’t know that the women were given a choice about how to pose. Maybe they posed for many pictures, thinking the photographer would use the one of them in their uniform looking tough, when she planned to use the one in the kitchen the whole time. The writer and photographer had a point to make with their writing and photos; they probably didn’t just come to these women’s houses to explore how these women were feeling.

    You might want to re-word the comment about Melting Mama’s comment. Until I clicked through, I didn’t realize you were quoting her.

  3. Lizzy,

    Thanks for the heads up. I fixed it last night.


    Our point is not that taking photos of women in kitchens is automatically stereotypical. My work includes photos of women in the kitchen and in the bedroom. It’s that the range of these images in the article is very narrow (sometimes inappropriate) and women are not.

    My experience is that in most professional photographs, it’s not how the model chooses to look but how the photographer chooses to represent her. I doubt that most of these images represent the women’s choices about how they look.

    In my own work, I collaborate with the models in ways that allow them (as much as is possible in any art) to present themselves. It’s fundamental to the heart of my work, so I have to think that all of this is important.

    BTW: I really like your blog.

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