“A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself…From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.”
(John Berger, Ways of Seeing, p. 46)
John Berger, in his seminal work, Ways of Seeing, proposes that in art (and all of the visual forms of expression that follow it) women are expected to “appear” and men are expected to “act.” Berger argues that this has since extended beyond art and become a social structure of its own, and Berger’s critique of capitalism in his book declares that a woman’s desire to appear is a byproduct of the market of capitalism.
But more importantly, this desire to appear seeps past what a woman thinks that others want to see in her, to what she desires to see in herself, deepening the cycle of dependence on a materialistic, capitalist culture.
While this is easily evidenced by the culture of clothing and accessories, in which women’s options of styles outstrip men’s options, it is also very apparent in advertisements geared towards women, young women, and young girls.
The image above is incredibly controversial. In this 2011 advertisement by Jours Aprés Lunes, young girls were dressed up in a new lingerie line developed specifically for girls aged 4-12 years old; but also includes a line for 3-36 month-old infants and toddlers. When responding to the negative publicity, the designer insisted that what she had to offer was identical to what other brands offered.
It is a highly sexualized image: a young girl sits on a dresser staring in the mirror in a striped bikini top and underwear with black minimalist bows. Beyond the sexualization of her clothing, her deceivingly innocent stare into the mirror is a disturbing message: that she is to “be seen” or “appear” in front of herself.
The objects and props surrounding her are reminiscent of an innocent dress up party: large, white sunglasses sit in a bowl filled with jewelry and a painting of a bird in a cage adorn the dresser. The girl, who is certainly under 10 years of age, holds a makeup brush in her hand; her hair is done up in a wispy bun reminiscent of victorian hairstyles, and a large, black ostrich feather is placed on the left side of her head.
This visual image supports Berger’s complaint about art and capitalism. It also proves the disturbing thought that this child has already latched onto the idea that she is an object to be viewed, not a person to act.