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"The Illusionists" documentarybodyobjectification

Ways of Seeing & Ideal Women in Popular Culture


Earlier this week, I was quickly skimming through the latest posts on the wonderful blog Sociological Images, when an article literally stopped me in my tracks. In “Ways of Seeing by John Berger” Lisa talks about a 1972 documentary produced by John Berger for the BBC.

The opening lines of the documentary immediately grabbed my attention:

Men dream of women. Women dream of themselves being dreamt of. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.

Berger continues,

Women constantly meet glances which act like mirrors reminding them of how they look or how they should look. Behind every glance is a judgment. Sometimes the glance they meet is their own, reflected back from a real mirror. […] She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others and in particular how she appears to men is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life.

I found the documentary terribly fascinating for many, many reasons: it deals with themes such as body image, objectification, the social construction of gender, the representation of women in popular culture… And, amusingly, it juxtaposes images of women in classical art and in contemporary advertisements just like I did in my video Ideal Women, commissioned by Arte Web and the Louvre.

After seeing this documentary, I went to the library looking for the book version of the film. I wanted to be able to read and absorb John Berger’s formulations (so that I wouldn’t have to hit re-play on YouTube a dozen times). I would highly recommend it.

I’m now thinking of doing a second longer version of Ideal Women – including interviews of “real” men and women and the representation of male bodies in the arts vs. mass media and advertising. I will keep you posted about this!

In the meantime, you can watch the two videos here.

Ways of Seeing

By John Berger. BBC, 1972.

Ideal Women

My experimental documentary, commissioned by Arte Web & the Louvre Museum for their “4 Semaines” project (music is really important in this video, so if you’re in an office setting I would recommend using headphones).

Ideal Women from Elena on Vimeo.