Guest blog: Katy Dye ahead of her show Baby Face, part of Calm Down, Dear
Making a performance is the perfect way to put a magnifying glass up to the world around you. Babyface was born of a simple project: I decided to start taking pictures of advertisements I saw around me in which women appeared to be infantilized. I didn’t have to look that hard; as soon as I became aware of it, I realised that bows, lollipops and innocent doe eyes were everywhere. Even though I regard myself as a committed feminist, I was shocked to realise how unaware I’d been, when standing in the aisles of Boots or other shops, of the extent to which I was being exposed to this way of performing as a woman – this way of posturing and posing. I wondered, what is this obsession with ribbons, sweets, pinafores and toys? With submissive poses and hairless bodies?
We are constantly told to ‘look and feel younger’, and indeed the models in advertisements and popular culture are often no older than teenagers. We reference this heavily in language to our romantic partners – calling one another ‘babe’ or ‘baby’ – not to mention thousands of love songs that mention the word. We want to care for our loved ones in the same way we would for an infant. But caring for an infant includes awful jobs including cleaning them, changing nappies, clearing up baby puke – you get the idea. So how is it that the word ‘baby’ has become so sexualised? This is what Babyface explores. I have experimented with taking on a few gestures and characteristics of babies, and it feels very weird! If I actually bawled, screamed and dribbled in public it would be unacceptable. So why is it that this subtle and seductive form of ‘babyness’ in adult women is so accepted in the media?
I’m also intrigued by the normalisation of the word ‘girl’, in reference to adult women: ‘girl power’, ‘girl friends’, ‘girl gang’, ‘the girls’, ‘girl talk’, ‘girl issues’, ‘girly’, ‘you go girl!’. I’ve been trying to reverse this language for myself. Every time I’m inclined to use this word, I replace it with ‘woman’. It feels odd – it’s a more powerful word, and it feels like I’m going against the grain of everything we’ve been taught about how we ought to perceive ourselves for centuries. So what happens when, simply through the power of speech, we start reversing that? A large part of my Babyface is the exploration of how language shapes our way of seeing people.
And what about the obsession with the idea that a woman’s body should be smooth – and that this is seen as ‘natural’. There are billions of products to zap, exfoliate, moisturize, peel, shave, rip, wax and laser away the thousands of hairs on a woman’s body. This is one of the most absurd and widely practiced ways that women are infantilised, and some women spend up to £2000 a year to ensure, as Veet tells us, that they don’t get any of that nasty ‘guy hair’, and keep as wiped clean as a kitchen work top.
The more I have opened my eyes, the more frustrated I am by what I still see around me. Frustrated by what I hear myself saying and what I find myself doing. Frustrated by this ‘normal’ behaviour that has been so arbitrarily and absurdly assigned to the female sex. So if you want to help me smash up these ridiculous perceptions of what is ‘normal’ for a woman, and replace it with something better – come and see Baby Face!