Tag Archives: Women of Japan

Exhibition ‘Portals’

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Laurie says:

I am delighted that my portrait of Hiroko Hagiwara from Women of Japan” was chosen by curator Karen Gutfreund for the online exhibition for “Portals” and there will be a catalogue as well. The exhibition runs from June 17th to August 12th. I’ll post when it’s up on the web. Hiroko Hagiwara wrote a superb introduction for Women of Japan; it’s below in Japanese and English.


As a woman over fifty to see my own portrait is a sort of metaphysical act. I have spent some twenty years, as a writer and university lecturer, working on feminist ideologies and issues of politics around visual cultures. I know fairly well about the fact that the issue of physical beauty is more critical for women than for men. I also know why and how things are so, and how beauty politics works as institutionalized oppression against women. So, in resistance, I have been intentionally unconcerned about my appearance.

I met Edison and posed for her to take my portrait. I had to face my features in the picture. I was ready to see how aging would unavoidably affect my looks. Because that happens to everyone, I am receptive of my own case. Rather, I am urged to have a metaphysical reflection by what the photographer captures beyond my expectation. It is hard for me to ignore the signs of intolerance and rigidity, which have been inscribed in my facial and body expressions in the course of my irrevocable fifty years. Here I am standing in front of the closed gate with my arms outspread. The pose the photographer selected out of many rolls of film seems to imply my whole life. What am I defending and from what? What am I facing? Could I have taken alternative ways? These are the questions which are significant only for me. Seeing my portrait starts as a purely personal experience.

This personal portrait was intended to be shown in public. It is shown under the title “Women of Japan” along with images of other women with diverse national and social backgrounds. The title is an appendage to the photographs, but it plays a decisive role when an audience reads the images. In Edison’s work I am one of the “Women of Japan.” I am a Japanese national by birth and a native Japanese speaker, living in the land geopolitically called “Japan” and holding a legal status fully approved by the authorities. Ideologically, I have always tended to be off “Japan” as a fixed categorization so as to play down and be critically objective of the cultural and political privileges of “being Japanese.” Here, however, I consider my image one of the least ‘off’ Japanese. Naming this series of portraits “Women of Japan” is Edison’s negation of “Japanese Women,” which could have easily been the expected title. But how much does my image negate “Japanese Women”? This is, of course, a question not about the picture but about myself.

Edison always tries to treat the sitter not as a “still” model but as an active partner co-working for her project. She urges the photographed to face an unceasing chain of questions. That is how her art for social change is shared.

translation by the author
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50代である私にとって、写真に写る自分の姿を見ることは、「哲学的」とでも言うべき行為である。私はこの20年間、大学教員として、またもの書き として、フェミニズム思想と視覚文化を追究して過ごしてきた。容貌の美醜という問題が女にとってただならぬ重さをもっている現実も、そういう現実が維持さ れる理由も、またその問題が女への制度的抑圧であることもよく承知している。だから私自身は、そういう現実への抵抗として、自分の容貌については能動的な 無関心という態度を選択してきた。

それがこのたびエディスンと出会って、被写体となり。写真に写る自分の姿と向きあうはめになってしまった。加齢と容貌の相関関係は、残酷であるが誰 にも平等に起こることだ。受け入れがたいことではない。それよりも私に「哲学的」省察を促すのは、50年ほどのあいだに自分が背負いこんだもの、自分が来 た一様でしかない道が、不寛容な険しさとなって写真のなかの私の相貌全体に刻みつけられていることをつきつけられるからだ。京都は修学院荘の閉じた門扉の 前に立って、私は両腕を広げている。撮影時にはたいした意味もなかってつもりのその所作が、数十枚のなかから写真家が選んだ1枚では、私の50年を表わし ていると読めてしまう。ここで私が両腕を広げて懸命に護ろうとしているものは何なのか。何から護ろうとしているのか。私は何と対決しているのか。こうでな いあり様はなかったのか。これらの問いは、私にとってしか意味がない。つまりこの写真体験はごく私的なものだ。

ところがそんな私的な写真が、特定されない未知の観者に向けて展示され、加えて Women of Japan という表題がつけられている。表題は写真の外にあるものだが、観者が写真に何を見るかを決めるうえで重要である。ここで私は「日本の女」のひ とりである。法的地位としては、私は生来から日本国籍を有する日本人であり。日本と呼ばれる地で日本語を母語として暮らしている。思想的立場としては、 「日本」という括りを自明のものとして自足するのではなく、その括りからはみだして生きる可能性を追求している。そうすることで、「日本」で生きる日本人 の特権を批判的に相対化したいと思っている。それだけにエディスンのシリーズ写真のなかでは、他の「日本の女」たちに比して、「日本」からはみだしていな い自分を確認させられる。「日本の女」は、「日本人の女」を拒否して選ばれた表題である。しかし、私の写る一枚は「日本人の女」をどれだけ拒否したもので あるだろう。むろんこれは写真についての問いではなく、自分についての問いだ。



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Laurie and Debbie: Published in the Fat Studies Journal

Laurie and Debbie say:

We are delighted to announce the publication of our article, “The trajectory of fat liberation: Where did we start? Where are we now?” in the journal Fat Studies. We were invited to contribute to a special issue, “Representing fatness through critical and artistic practice,” edited by Lori Don Levan and published by the Taylor & Francis Group. We worked really hard on the article; we had many conversations with each other and gave it great thought, and we’re really proud of the finished product.

Lori Don Levan’s partner in the editing process was Stefanie Snider, and we are greatly appreciative of the time, effort, and energy they put into walking us through the process and helping to make the article as good as it can be.

The article is a hybrid of our personal experiences creating Women En Large (and later Familiar Men and Laurie’s portrait suite Women of Japan), our knowledge of the history of fat liberation, research done specifically for the article, and personal correspondence from people we know. To explain that, we started by putting the article (and ourselves) in context for a variety of potential readers:

In 1994, Laurie Toby Edison and Debbie Notkin self-published Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes, with Laurie’s photographs and text by Debbie. Working on that project embedded them deeply in the fat activist community, primarily but not only in the San Francisco Bay Area, at a time when the fat acceptance movement was taking shape. Some 27 years later, Women En Large, having been an independent press best-seller, is still in print. In this hybrid of first-hand participant observation, academic research, and popular culture analysis, the authors refer to themselves by their first names, to mark their closeness to the material.

We started working on this article in March of 2021; in the intervening almost-year, we went through peer review (which elicited some very useful comments and improvements). At the line-editing stage, Debbie made a deep dive into correct reference formatting and other fine style points.

We framed the article somewhat chronologically, with a brief history of fat activism in the context of the civil rights struggle and other anti-oppression movements of the time:

[F]at oppression of white people, at its worst, is in no way as virulent or as dangerous as the white supremacist war on Black, Indigenous and Brown people, which can be exacerbated for fat Black, Indigenous and Brown bodies. One way to frame this exacerbation is through intersectionality. This term, initially articulated by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to specifically describe the experience of Black women, is now used to analyze multiple simultaneous oppressions. While fat oppression is not comparable in intensity to structural and individual racism, intersectionality indicates that all oppressions take place alongside one another, and all resistance movements must contend with tension between primacy and coalition.

Ongoing marginalization, oppression, and silencing of any group happens simultaneously with increased resistance to invisibility. Generations and “waves” of feminism, anti-racism, disability rights all happen while crackdowns continue and often flourish.

Fat activism is unique among the uprisings and increased awareness of the 1960s and 1970s, because it has no obvious historic precursor. Specific policing of the size of women’s bodies is as old as male supremacy. Being lower in the class hierarchy leads to disproportionate oppression (being a poor person of color has an intersectional multiplier effect). Body image standards also fluctuate depending directly on whether women as a group are vocally asserting rights that the power structure will not concede. Women have been fighting their status for centuries. The beginning of an actual politics of fat, originally in the context of oppression of women, can be traced to the formation of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA, 1969) and the more radical Fat Underground (1973)

We look at what happened once fat activism started to flourish in that period, and how we got involved. We take note of the backlash. One person whose writing we drew on was Susie Orbach, famously the author of the 1978 Fat Is a Feminist Issue. Here’s something she said on that book’s 30th anniversary:

… we never saw the backlash coming, or the ingenious forms it would take, from the now rather innocent (“Because you’re worth it”) to the downright nefarious practices of industries that were growing rich on the making of body insecurity. And that was way before social media and the beauty bloggers with their, yes, millions of followers, would begin to reap money as daily beauty labor …. Beauty work became relentless and, with it, the ubiquity of … judgments and failures which, once internalized, destabilized girls’ relationship to their bodies and – as if that wasn’t enough – created an insecurity that hurt their minds.

We spend some time (as so many examinations of fat oppression and fat liberation must) on the health issues and the intransigent attitudes of the medical profession to what should be incontrovertible evidence that fat is not, per se, unhealthy.

And we close with a brief analysis of the role of contemporary social media in body image (the Facebook scandals on this topic broke when the article was too far along to update in the space we had).

We were especially pleased to quote Lizzo, on Tiktok:

So next time you want to come to somebody and judge them whether they eat kale smoothies or eat McDonald’s or work out, or not work out, how ‘bout you look at your own fucking self and your own god-damn body because health is not only determined by what you do on the outside but also by what you do on the inside, and a lot of you all need to do a *bleep* cleanse for your insides. Namaste. Have a great day.

In short, we’re really pleased to have been invited to participate, we’re really proud of the final result, and we hope you’ll read the whole thing. And let us know what you think!


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