Friday, October 25, 2013

Project Proposal: People Like Us (Photography, Self Presentation, Gender, Comfort)

Peter, A Young English Girl by Romaine Brooks
Janelle Monáe

Eddie Izzard
            As I was contemplating my project idea, I had an interesting (and frustrating) conversation with my mother. I was doing some research on the computer and my mom noticed a difference in the “sexy” Halloween costumes for women (women are posing in the costumes on the packages) embedded in the article I was reading and the “normal” costumes for men. My mom turned the conversation to whether feminine is sexy and vice versa. I responded that feminine doesn’t have to be sexy, and that both terms deserve their own definitions from individuals, not what is being reinforced by cultural norms. I was curious about her definition of feminine and she said: “You are. You have soft features and you are gentle.” I laughed internally at this description. I don’t consider myself to be very feminine. However, that doesn’t mean I consider myself to be very masculine. Nor does it mean I find anything wrong with femininity. In fact, I don’t identify with the buzz descriptors I often come across in academic and social media: “butch,” “femme,” “queer,” etc. They don’t apply to me, and as cliché as it sounds, I’d prefer not to be in any specific category of self presentation and identification. There are terms I cling to. They might change. I feel comfortable sharing them with very few people because if I try to, people are uninformed. 

Even my mother, who was a young woman in the ‘70s, the age of androgynous and unisex fashions, does not seem to understand this idea. She grew up outside of the normative Western, American values about sartorial choices. She even dressed me in an androgynous style from time to time. She may not have considered it an androgynous style but a substitute teacher of a similar cultural background but from a different generation once called me “modest [insert my alliterative last name]” all because I did not conform enough to the femininity she was aware of. From the second grade, certain cultural ideas were imposed on me, but it didn’t phase me until much later.

I plan on taking a series of photos to ultimately piece together in a photo essay. I would like to take pictures of people, mostly women, in their ideal image of their self presentation. I will not expect my subjects to significantly alter their appearance: this is mostly a sartorial experiment. They should also own or borrow items they find aesthetically pleasing and represent them. The next portion of the project will be a brief interview about what their outfit, makeup, jewelry, etc. means to them. How would they describe their appearance? What do those key words mean to them? Most importantly, I will ask them why they might feel uncomfortable appearing as their ideal self in public. It could be a number of reasons, some which I personally experience. This will not be a multiple choice based interview, but for the sake of the proposal I will list some reasons: anxiety about the male gaze, anxiety about judgment from people in general, societal expectations about gender scripts, fear of calling attention, desire to call attention, avoiding harassment, etc. I will ask about their style icons. Perhaps I will do a side by side photo of how they usually appear in public. 

I will try to recruit my friends, perhaps my brother, and my mother to be subjects in my project. I will make a flyer to recruit more subjects as well. I will put these flyers up around campus. I will contact acquaintances on social media platforms and ask if they would like to be involved in the form of an open call. I will ask classmates if they would like to be subjects. Because I will be working around other people’s schedules, I will be working sporadically. I will bring my camera to school, work, in transit, on walks, etc. to find inspiration and to be ready at any given moment all throughout November. I will publish it either on Flickr or make a separate blog for the project. If another media platform is brought to my attention, I will consider that suggestion, too. I will dedicate this project to my mother and anyone else who is curious and/or uninformed about the varied perspectives an individual has of their self presentation, body, sartorial choices, and level of comfort about how they are viewed by others. As someone who dislikes the abstract, I will try my best to make the photographs and accompanying text as concrete as possible. I need to practice my photography, specifically posed photographs of people. Hopefully this project develops into a habit—one of constantly practicing and not neglecting the things I am passionate about.


Baur, Gabrielle, dir. Venus Boyz. Prod. Kurt Maeder, and Nina Froriep. First Run Features, 2002. Film. 19 Oct 2013.
Braukämper, Tania. "Feminised masculinity: street style." N.p., 25 Jul 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2013. <>.
Bush, Richard. Trip Hop. from Vogue Russia. 2012. Photographs. Web. 19 Oct 2013. <>.
Empire, Kitty. "Janelle Monáe: why she made the headlines in 2010." Guardian. (2010): Web. 19 Oct. 2013. <>.
Greif, Alex. "Final Project: "Past Patriarchy" ." Women and Media SP2012. Blogspot, 12 May 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2013. <>.
Shumway, Brian. True Men. Photographs. Web. 19 Oct 2013. <>.
Shyer, Allie. "Fat Queer Tells All: On Fatness and Gender Flatness." Autostraddle. (2013): Web. 19 Oct. 2013. <>.
Simpson, Lorna. "Selected Photographic Works." Salon 94. Web. 19 Oct 2013. <>.
Wade, Lisa. "Dressing Ourselves: Gendered Versus Unisex Pants." Sociological Images. (2009): Web. 26 Oct. 2013. <>.
Wade, Lisa. "Sexy Femininity and Gender Inequality." Sociological Images. (2011): Web. 19 Oct. 2013. <>.
Weems, Carrie Mae. "Bodies of Work." Web. 19 Oct 2013. <>.


  1. You should definitely check out Humans of New York. Its a photoblog thats gaining a lot of popularity, and that takes photos of people across all genders, races, identification and walks of life. You can really see how it really shows how people self-represent and self identify and it would be a great way to get inspired. -

  2. Love the idea! I think it will be great. Check out Mark Laita's "Created Equal" project: and
    Good luck!

  3. I think your project is terrific and something that you will probably use later on in life. I suggest you read about Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn; two women who broke the mold during their time by deciding to wear men's clothing. Looking forward to your presentation on the subject.

    1. Yes, they were pretty groundbreaking in their day! I'll be sure to check out those links.

  4. Awesome idea to sort of strip away the layers of stereotype imposed on a person and reveal them as their unedited self. This tumblr has some great images.