"Viewed historically, the discipline and normalisation of the female body - perhaps the only gender oppression that exercises itself, although to different degrees and in different forms, across age, race, class and sexual orientation - has to be acknowledged as an amazingly durable and flexible strategy of social control."

Susan Bordo
'Gender/Body/Knowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing'

Throughout history women and girls have faced a huge pressure to look a certain way. Women constantly have to live up to or fight against patriarchal culture's representation of women. The Venuses in paintings of the past are the vision of the male artist's desires and anxieties, with their pale glowing skin, perfect curves and no bodily hair. Similarly, modern day media's representation of women is of skinny girls, with immaculate, youthful skin and no bodily hair, which we are bombarded with every day, in magazines, films and on TV.

I am interested in how women react to these expectations, how much it affects their lives, and the rituals they undertake in order to conform to western culture's image of 'femininity', or in order to reject it. I am also interested in why women conform to a way of looking, is there an element of narcissism in their choice to comply with societies expectations? Or is it based on an underlying fear of the loss of beauty?

My aim was to create a project that commented on different women's experiences with beauty and the way they are perceived by the world. I wanted to produce a set of photographs that showed a variety of women, all with very different ideas and takes on beauty. The project is intended to make real women visible and give them a voice, in a culture that is so drenched with imagery of idealistic and unachievable beauty.

The photographs are all taken in a place where each woman would normally take time to contemplate her appearance. Both the camera's invasion into this intimate space, and the presence of a mirror in each image, poses questions about appearance and identity for the sitter, the photographer and the viewer.

Kay Hughes

View the project