In the novel Ways of Seeing, John Berger says that the expressions of the two women below are similar- and they are indeed similar. But does that necessarily mean that both images are a representation of offering up their femininity?
I agree somewhat with Berger on the idea that their expressions looks similar, but to say that they hold the same meaning seems a little far-fetched. As similar as they may look, they are from two very different time periods. The model in the famous painting by Ingres is of an odalisque, a concubine. That said, already the two women are very different in terms of why they are posing for the painter/photographer. Not only do their occupations differ, they have very different figures. The odalisque is more plump than the skinnier model who is baring her breasts unashamedly compared to the odalisque who is looking over her shoulder to create a more demure look.
As Berger also points out, “hair is associated with with sexual power, with passion”, this creates a need to decrease woman’s sexual charms so the man can feel that he is more dominant. Once again, the difference between the odalisque and the woman in the photograph have a significant difference in the fact that the odalisque has her hair tied back with a shawl of some sort and the woman from the magazine has her hair untied and free.
That said, because of the many differences that the women have, I think that the two women are not just simply representations of offering up their femininity. I think there is more to take away from the expressions. For example, the odalisque is probably being submissive to the King’s command to have her portrait done. This can be interpreted that the odalisque might not even want to have her portrait painted; she may just be acquiescing to the command of her king.
On the other hand, the woman posing for her picture in the girlie magazine is probably posing for a very different reason in contrast to the odalisque. First off, her job, as a model, is to have her picture taken so therefore, she probably wasn’t as reluctant to have her picture taken; this leads to the conclusion that she had a completely different expression when the two are compared. Also, a major significance is the fact that the model is using her hair, a symbol of sexual power, flaunting it to her full advantage to ensnare and captivate the reader of the magazine. This shows that there is a lesser power struggle in the sense that she is not submissive as the odalisque, nor is she regarded as tool-like as a woman would have been in the time period of the odalisque. Indeed, women are sexualised and objectified to this day, but when the two images are compared, it can clearly be seen that the two woman have a vast difference in the time period in which they belong as well as the audience the images were made for.
Thanks for reading this long post and feel free to leave me a comment! 🙂