Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 20, 2009

Thin and Girl Culture at Smith College

This week I saw an exhibit of Lauren Greenfield’s photographs at Smith College in Northampton: Thin/Girl Culture http://www.smith.edu/artmuseum/exhibitions/thin/index.htm

Some of the photographs in the Girl Culture room emphasized female fascination with clothes and makeup, while the photographs of Thin, which were the majority of what was shown, and more haunting, swept past what was worn to bodies, mostly malnourished and gaunt. Greenfield’s care for and connection with the women she photographed came through; she never seemed voyeuristic or arty; her stance was one of respect. Beside photographs of the named women were short stories taken from Greenfield’s interviews. A recurring theme was of how some of these young women felt they had no voice – a feeling they often carried from having been abused – so they used their bodies instead, as the one part of them they felt they could control, trying to be seen if not heard. Some of the women, all photographed at a rehab center, still secretly clung to their disorder as the one thing they felt they had. They confessed that they were going through the motions of recovery only so they could be discharged, and then get back to their old rituals.

It was scary. It was sad. Many of the women, so caught up in competition between other women, sometimes including their mothers, to see who could be skinniest, had never had a female friend. Some at last found trust and understanding in the rehab center: one moving photograph showed two girls holding hands as they struggled to lift a mandatory cookie to their mouths. As another strand of hope, Greenfield emphasized that every woman there had agreed to be photographed and seen in her complexity by strangers. And this could be part of their healing from a disease that thrives on secrets and silence.

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Responses

  1. Boy. That description you give of the two girls and the cookie–that IS sad. I’m glad you mentioned that Greenfield lets people know the women agreed to the photographs–I think it would be important to know that as you went through the exhibit. And important for her to have asked.

  2. sounds like an interesting exhibit. Maybe I’ll check it out

  3. I agree. Knowing there was the agreement, knowing how these women struggle with their images, you felt their bravery that they’d agreed to be seen and possibly judged.

  4. I liked the words alongside the pictures. Let me know if you decide to go and want company.

  5. ooooo I will!

  6. Have you read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls yet? A chillingly vivid look at the whole world of eating disorders.

  7. I’m on the library list and look forward to reading this a lot. Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. How sad. And moving.

  9. Because each woman had taken the big step into rehab, there was at least some hope in each story. And maybe by consenting to be part of Greenfield’s book and show, even more of a tug toward a happier life.

  10. Let’s hope.


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