The Surprising Effects of Putting a Regular Woman in a Glamorous Image Sociologist Eva Illouz says in her book “The End of Love,” an examination of how avoiding love has become a feature of modern relationships, that “the economic worth of the female body was made conceivable by the fact that it was converted into a transferable visual unit.” Sexual-liberation movements, she claims, were subsumed into the consumer economy in the twentieth century, and “new norms of attractiveness” — a “mixture of clothing styles, allure, and bodily shape” — were codified into images that could be circulated with their own value, independent of the identity or status of the women pictured.
Social media has merely normalised the commodity-spectacle of oneself, diligently replicating “sexiness,” which Illouz characterises as “the outcome of new ideologies of sexuality as a commodity form and of the self as image.” Young people, particularly young women, have an easy way of creating highly fabricated images of themselves for online consumption, posing and lighting themselves as if advertising something — and, often, happily self-objectifying, revelling in the satisfactions of making their lives, and themselves, look like luxury items.
Barber’s Instagram account began as a collection of Barber attempting to do “rich-people things,” but these sorts of photographs aren’t only for the wealthy. They are designed to transcend class, not just to reposition luxury products as consumer commodities that everyone aspires to own, but also to position women, or a very small group of women, as a stand-in for the concept of women in the marketplace. Each portrays a fantasy feminine ideal and its harsh interaction with the rest of the world. Perhaps it would be more realistic to conceive of Barber’s goal as a catalogue of “capitalist things,” or “lady things,” or a mix of the two. After all, the bourgeois “woman” person is the human embodiment of capitalism.
Barber observes in her “Challenge Accepted” comedy show that “in the land of being a lady, it seems that if you look a certain way — if you are really tall, a bird, and slim, you know, all arms and legs; think praying mantis, if you will” — if you are “an excellent, gorgeous praying-mantis woman, and you want to post naked photos of yourself, you, my friend, you are empowering.” Women will feel empowered as a result of this. Thank you very much. If you are less praying mantis and more armadillo, and you also want to broadcast naked images of yourself – this is not empowering to women. It is, however, quite bold” — the inference being that “brave” is code for “fat” in this context.