Tag Archives: vulnerability

Clothing, Sex, Safety, and Power

Lynne Murray says:

The Big Fat Blog recently linked to a Jezebel piece describing Sarah Hughes’ Safe & Sexy portraits, which have evolved into The Persona Project, slide show and PBS feature at Need to Know.

Watch the full episode.

For years, artist Sarah Hughes has been traveling around the world photographing women (and a few men) in the outfit in which they feel safest and the outfit in which they feel sexiest. Broadly speaking, she found that in places like Sweden, which ranked high for gender equality, the difference between the two outfits was small. The photographs and the interviews alongside them are a way to talk about how persona and sexuality get asserted in public space, and how external considerations like safety and judgment affect them.

The poster at The Big Fat Blog noted,

I think that one of [Sarah Hughes’] intentions is make a statement about how gender roles and actual physical safety in various places affect how women dress.

What else might you try to achieve with your clothing choices? For example, is all of this secondary to self expression? How does it play out for men? How does local culture impact on these issues? How does a feminine presentation vs. a masculine or androgynous presentation read? For example, some of the women in Hughes’ photos have interpreted ‘safe’ as androgynous and ‘sexy’ as feminine.

And of course, how does being larger than average affect our presentation? In the slideshows, many of the older and larger women express ambivalence about wearing something that might read as sexy. They talk about appropriateness “I don’t have a nice body to show off…” but I know that there’s more to it than that. If a large (or mature) woman wears something that’s overtly sexy she’s often going to meet with some resistance. ‘Sexy’ may be unsafe for us in more ways than it is for thinner women.

I also picked up on statements by the portrait subjects such as a 13-year-old who said she makes sure to wear shoes she can run in. As one who grew up wearing blue jeans and never grasped the rationale behind high heels, I’m with her on that one. It also reminded me of the often told story of how Marilyn Monroe used uneven shoes:

…Monroe deliberately had the stiletto heels of her shoes adjusted. One heel was made shorter than the other so that she swayed and sashayed as she walked. Her swaying hips helped make her appear more vulnerable, increasing her sexual appeal.

Is “unsafeness” sexy? Sexiness can manifest itself as powerful, but is power sexy in the same way that vulnerability is?

I have more questions than answers.