February 21, 2008

Fashion: The Pain and the Pleasure

Stepping Up by Marilyn Minter; image courtesy the Whitney.

Remember when all those ladies who lunch had their little toes surgically removed just so they could fit into the latest pairs of Manolos? I do.

Cyclone by Marilyn Minter; image courtesy Art.net

Mercury is most often used in mascara manufacturing as a preservative and germ-killer. Scientists say mercury can accumulate in the body to the point where it can cause neurological damage. But what fashionista leaves the house without a coat of mascara?

Rosary by Marilyn Minter; image courtesy Art.net

My first memory associated with the pain of fashion was a dress made from teeny tiny deep purple calico print on lavender. It had a dreadful stiff white organza bodice that puckered in the front and puff sleeves that were itchy and cut into my arms. It also had a little corset that made me look like a character from Heidi. Oh, and there was a big calico sash in the back that had to be tied tightly in a big bow--by the time I was zipped and tied into the dress I felt like I couldn't breathe. My mother adored it and insisted on getting it for me. I never liked it and the first time I wore it, I came home with red welts where the elastic sleeves were cutting into my arms. My mom was not about to let this pretty dress go to waste and told me in no uncertain terms that this was the price of beauty. I wanted to know just what kind of price was she talking about? In a burst she informed me: the price of beauty is having your hair pulled and rolled and dyed; your nails done; putting on makeup; wearing stockings, and girdles, and all kinds of things that don't feel good, but you have to put up with if you want to look beautiful!

Enamel by Marilyn Minter; image courtesy Art.net

It starts early, doesn't it? I was in fourth grade. I can remember holding back tears, moving my lower jaw back and forth. If that was the case, then I wasn't sure I wanted to be beautiful. My favorite dress did not involve any sort of painful elastic or constricting zippers or sashes--you just pulled it on over your head and that was it. To this day, I still like dresses like that and even have one going into production for my new line--trust me, it's pretty. Beauty doesn't have to be painful, right? Ha ha, that's a good one!

Speckled by Marilyn Minter, image courtesy Art.net

In a sense, nobody addresses the fantasy of the ideal body and fallen beauty better than artist Marilyn Minter, whose photos have been described as "excruciatingly beautiful surfaces that throb with sensuality, ugliness, and artifice." I can't think of a better description of fashion and beauty.

Mudbath by Marilyn Minter; image courtesy Art.net

The Whitney Biennial's artist directory says that "Minter hones in (literally and figuratively) on the imperfect trappings of high couture in large-scale color photographs and paintings that at once magnify, fetishize, and abject their subjects. Plumped, rouge-stained lips drip with slimy egg yolk; the glittered eye of a model is accompanied by a peach-fuzzed face; the wearer of studded Christian Dior pumps has apparently been doused in mud, and dirt infiltrates every crease of her perfectly manicured feet. The ambivalence in Minter’s works does not leave us any less seduced by them: we simply have a harder time cleaning up and simplifying the true nature of our much more complicated desires." Hmmm, yes--complicated desires, that's what fashion is all about. If you're a fashion lover, you know (be honest) there is a great deal of torture involved--from being the right weight, size, and height--not always something you can do much about, to having the right hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, and jewelry. And of course, nowhere does the deadly sin of gluttony rear it's ugly head more than in the arena of fashion, because as any clotheshorse knows, you can never have enough...

Pearly by Marilyn Minter; image courtesy Art.net

Let's face it, when it comes to fashion and beauty, there's always a trade off of pain for pleasure...and sick as it sounds, maybe some of the pleasure is the pain.

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