Dawn Woolley


As an artist I examine how photographs discipline an individual’s relationship to her or his body and society. Working on the premise that the idealization of certain bodies has led to a reduced visual language of expression for the body, I explore ways of expanding this iconography. As a historical backdrop to this study, I discuss photographs created in La Salpêtrière hospital in the late-nineteenth century. During this time, the women who best performed the contorted shapes of hysteria were photographed for the Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière (Charcot). Film stars began to imitate the women in the photographs, and the gestures of hysteria transformed popular expressions of passion.

In this chapter 1 examine the cyclical relationship between body ideals, online social networks and individual bodies by exploring the selfie’s potential for self-creation, performance and masquerade. Alongside the ‘healthy’ productive body I will consider illness as a form of unconscious protest, referring to hysteria and its contemporary counterparts, binge and restrict eating disorders. Using the Foucauldian notion of the disciplined body, I will theorize online social networks and selfies as potential sites for disruption of hegemonic body-image ideals.

Dawn Woolley

Marx suggested that capitalist modes of production offer society the promise of the naturalization of humanity and the humanization of nature but result instead in the mechanization of both. Through the consumption of commodities I improve my commodity appeal and my body becomes a display case for sign-values. I participate in a system of sign-value exchange that reinforces existing social norms and structures. The body does not escape this process of signification. The ‘healthy body’ acts as a sign-value for success, a strong work ethic and self-control; it is viewed as a productive resource and medium for creating ‘bodily capital’. The unhealthy body is a signifier for a lack of morals and is deemed to be an obstacle to productive labour. There is a conflict at the heart of consumer culture, between the imperative to work hard and delay gratification, and the consumer dictum of instant pleasure. Fitness and working out demonstrate the individual’s ability to balance these opposing forces. Health is a way of exerting control over the population, transforming leisure into a form of body labour that compliments the individual’s economic function. Through writing and art practice I consider the eating disordered body as a potential disruptive figure in capitalist society. Simultaneously demonstrating conformity to and rebellion against social norms, the imperatives to over-indulge in celebration or control the body against its appetites could be read in the extremes of binging and restriction. These aberrant consumers transform the body from an object of health and desire into an unsettling distortion of cultural norms. This paper examines the disruptive social and economic positions of eating disordered bodies using Marxist and psychoanalytical theory.