Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

Posts Tagged ‘Institutions

In the eye of the beheld

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Vegas Seven, July 18-24, 2013

Vegas Seven, July 18-24, 2013

Although I’m proud of my recent Vegas Seven feature, “What Is Beauty?” I confess to being apprehensive prior to its release. The subject of the story, Stacie Frazier’s No Makeup Project, speaks for itself, but I worried my exposition lacked sophistication, from a cultural-criticism standpoint.

After all, everybody got a dose of women’s studies 101 in undergrad, right? If nothing else, there was that chapter, during anthropology or communications class, that talked about gender representation and patriarchal mechanisms of oppression. We don’t need to be reminded of these basic truths… we’re ready to go deeper. Right?

Maybe not. Overwhelmingly, the feedback I got on the story was  positive, but what grumbling there was spoke volumes. It could be summarized as follows: “Couldn’t you find any ___ (average-looking, minority, old, etc.) women to include?”

The pool of possible interviewees for my story was limited to the dozen or so women participating in the No Makeup Project shoot to which Stacie invited me. I was able to observe and interview them, learning just enough to determine which ones to follow up with later. I chose Leslie Stein and April Holladay because of their compelling stories of self-acceptance. In the photo spread, I also included Angela Anderson, the oldest participant in the shoot that I met, and Louella Clagett, the only non-white woman there. I had interviewed them both on-site and felt they would add diversity to the story.

What really struck me, though, was the richly ironic suggestion that Stacie and/or I limited our choices to good-looking women only. There was some socioeconomic selection going on, to be sure, since Stacie uses clients of her boudoir photography company, Haute Shots, for her No Makeup sessions. I understood this was because she was asking for a favor–at the least imposing on them for an entire Saturday, unpaid; at most, asking them to take a huge emotional risk for the sake of her personal art project. Maybe only attractive people elect to do boudoir shots (and oh, the subjectivity in that statement!); certainly, only an affluent clientele can afford it.

But looking around that day at the women who showed up, I found, as far as looks go, they were no different from the women I see at work or yoga class. Same variety of body types and facial features. Stacie used her skills to bring out their most visually pleasing traits, because that’s a goal of the project as she conceived it: to show average women how beautiful they really are without makeup. She accomplishes this not just through lighting, angle and pose, but also by getting to know them. She builds a trusting relationship with her subjects that allows them to relax, smile and reveal something from within.

The pertinent point, then, harks back beyond our women’s studies classes, turning the adages of church school and grandma’s kitchen on their heads: true beauty may be on the inside, but we have to see it to believe it. And even then, sometimes, we’re skeptical.


Written by Heidi Kyser

July 26, 2013 at 1:50 pm

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