Experimental dance film
Barbie XXX is an experimental dance film based on some of my own experiences about an aspiring dancer who gets affected by body ideals within the dance industry and starts to develop an eating disorder. The film is danced by barbie dolls and uses them to portrait a bigger issue within the society of how women's bodies are represented.
I have been working on the project since March 2020 and it has developed me in many ways. First and foremost I have developed a new skill of making stop motion films, but on top of that, I have developed as a filmmaker, set designer and actually my knowledge of the body since I have been working with the miniature movements of the barbies joints and body parts. Alongside, Covid-19 has challenged the making of the project and it has travelled with me to two towns in Sweden and back to the UK, the recording has been postponed for about nine months and with all this said, my problem-solving skills and resilience has grown as well.
Prior to making this film, I have been thinking a lot about the issue and how to address it. My own journey through this began while I was studying for a bachelor degree at Northern School of Contemporary Dance and became very aware of my body image and affected by the standards around me. At this time, the weight and look of bodies were constantly, from my experience, a part of the atmosphere amongst my peers and the people around me. Not in an obvious way, but through discussion about how much lunch to eat, what "bodies" that choreographer wants, and constant body scans in the mirror before ballet class. Besides, the body represented in classes, in materials and on stage was (and still is) mostly a very specific one. Furthermore, thin, lank and white dancers were and are over-represented, and although other bodies are starting to become a part of the dance industry the conversation and environment sometimes feel stuck in early 1900s ballet standards. As an eighteen-year-old starting the degree I came to be very affected, although my body ticks many of the boxes of the norm, and began developing an eating disorder which I am lucky now healthy from. This part of my life grew a seed in me, and I got the idea of working with one of the most stereotypical beauty icons to portrait this issue, barbie dolls.
2. RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS
As I began investigating the project, I wanted to have a basis to work from and to know whether these experiences were solely mine or if this implied a bigger issue. Further on, I decided to make a survey for female professional dancers asking them three questions and then analyse the result. Down below is the result of the survey.
As seen above, 97,5% states that being a dancer has made them more aware of how their body looks. In terms of question number 2, 90% answered either "yes, it definitely feels like that" or "yes it feels like that in some aspects" to whether the look of the body affects a dancer's chances of getting a job. Further on, 70% replies that they often compare their body with other bodies in a dance studio or situation when dancers are involved. The survey shows that being a dancer has affected the body image amongst these dancers and not only on a personal level but as well on a professional one in terms of the chances of getting hired.
I began this research by studying the different type of eating disorders there is to be aware of the triggers around the subject, as well as having a base to stand on.
An eating disorder is a mental health condition where a person somehow uses the control of food to cope with emotions or situations. There are several different forms of eating disorders and they are far from always visible on a person's appearance. People of all ages and genders are affected, but the condition is the most common for teenagers between the ages of 13-17. About 25 % of people with eating disorders are men.
There are several different types of eating disorders and here are a short description of the ones I have found:
Anorexia Nervosa is a condition where you have a distorted body image and is characterized by the loss of weight and issue to maintain a healthy weight in relation to height.
Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by binge eating which then leads to compensations, for example, vomiting.
Binge eating disorder means that a person is binge eating and feels out of control of the binge eating, but without compensating for it. Although there is usually a lot of shame involved.
Orthorexia is not part of the NHS list and apparently not officially Diagnostic. and Statistic manual of eating disorders but it is a condition that was coined in 1998 and is described on many other websites (mind, nationaleatingdisorders). The condition is defined by being obsessed with healthy food to an extent that it damages the well-being of the person.
Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) is a condition that was coined to catch the people that not fully meet the criteria for Anorexia or Bulimia but still clearly has an eating disorder.
Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) does not involve a distorted view of the body or fear of being fat but is instead a condition that means that you are very restrictive with certain kinds of food/shapes of food/textures of food or limit the intake of food/shapes of food/textures of food.
Pica is characterized by eating foods that do not contain any nutrition. For example hair or dirt.
Rumination disorder means that the person is ruminating the food several times before swallowing it. The food might then be swallowed or spit out
Laxative abuse is a condition that means that a person uses laxatives to eliminate weight.
Compulsive exercise means that someone is exercising to a degree that it interferes with other areas of the person's life.
Body image means the way one sees one's body in the mirror or when picturing yourself in the mind, it is a complex concept which is affected by disturbance of the perceptual, cognitive, affective, and attitudinal image of the body. Both women and men suffer from distorted body image, although it is important to acknowledge the tangible gender difference where women suffer to a larger extent.
The ideal female body differs depending on where in the world one is. In developing nations, a thick woman is seen as wealthy and rich, while in western countries the normative body is thin. These norms undoubtedly affect the way women sees their bodies which can lead to a negative body image. From a feminist approach, body image is a larger concept influenced by many things. One side of it, written by Smolak and Murnen, is that a women's reproductive fitness is equal to her ability to give birth and that this fitness is informed by the ideals of the country. In other words, a female body shape is equivalent to her physical attractiveness which then is leading to her ability to find a man. Another feminist point of view is that women should find a cognitive approach to their body where all bodies are celebrated, instead of being affected by society and the male gaze.
A negative body image is often developed from a young age and is informed by the environment of the family, the media and the school environment, to mention a few. People with a negative body image can also have low self-esteem and self-confidence, and will further have an increased chance of developing an eating disorder
As seen on the mind map to the left, Creudo link body image to words such as physical attractiveness, eating disorder and female body shape.
Barbie dolls - research
Barbie dolls were first invented by Ruth Handler in 1959 and there are many different views on them. Ruth was inspired by the paper cut-out dolls that were common at the time and said her own intention was to create a doll that young girls could look up to. "The whole idea was that a little girl could dream dreams of growing up and every grown-up that she saw had breasts", she says (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cleZIXu4PXM&t=442s). The dolls were the first grown-up ones ever made and became a huge success.
As the second wave of feminism began blossoming, Barbie dolls got a lot of criticism. First and foremost for the fact that the body type was anatomically impossible to reach and that this ideal would cause women self-disgust and shame. Adding on, not only was the body type unrealistic, during the early years, in 1965, a barbie doll was released coming in a package of a weight set on 110lbs (49,8kg) and a book saying "don't eat" (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2239931/1965-Slumber-Party-Barbie-came-scales-set-110lbs-diet-book-telling-eat.html). Ruth's comments on some of the criticism the dolls has got and mentions that she never wanted to change the world, but showcase it as it is.
Michael Beirut, a graphic designer, has stated that barbies body is a "male idealisation of the female human body" (https://medium.com/@eleanorksmith98/is-barbie-an-insult-to-feminism-a567d812c938), which I agree it definitely is. Although, on the other side there are opinions saying that when barbie was first released she was not tied to the kitchen and could actually work, which was positive (ruth interview). I think Barbie has always been harmful to women's body image and have strengthened norms about it, although when Barbie first came out equality was far out of sight and at that time it potentially was somewhat a statement of independence, however at the same time a result of a male-dominated, capitalist world.
Another aspect of the dolls that are a definite result of the patriarchal and capitalist society in which they were created is the importance of their fashion. Barbie has often been called a fashion doll. Having read Nina Powers book "One-dimensional women"(2009) she discusses that free choices for women often is overarched by a capitalist society that benefits from the opposite than a women's freedome. An example of this is that women's appearance and ownership of for example handbags and clothes would determine her success, something which in its turn provides money to big cooperations and benefits capitalism. The Barbie Dolls add to this example while being obsessed with clothes. Another aspect Power talks about is the one-dimensionality that women are supposed to fit into to, a sort of universal ideal. Barbie definitely is one-dimensional, not only literally physically, but also in terms of what she represents.
From here I knew I wanted to somehow explore the disruption of the barbies body and also got the idea of creating a text in which the barbie was talking directly to the observer and to the male gaze about some of my own experiences of eating disorders and body image.
I wanted this film to speak to the wider dance industry and specifically to the people in charge. I wanted to lift a subject that is rarely spoken about specifically within the dance industry although it is extremely common. The Youtuber Kathryn Morgan with 244000 followers, a professional ballerina, calls herself an advocate for dancers who have gotten body shamed. In one of her videos, she talks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD0xB8VNzSk) about her body image and the journey she has gone through in terms of rejections in the dance industry because of her body. She began talking about the role of Firebird at Miami City Ballet which she got assigned, but then got told she could not perform because of the look of her body. She also mentions that her company once threatened her to wear a white unitard so that she should lose weight and that she was told she was fat at 13-years-old.
Further, she explains the tons of messages she gets from young dancers with distorted body images, for example, a twelve-year-old who has been told to lose weight and now has developed an eating disorder. She continues to say that most of these messages are from 12, 13, 14-year-olds.
Moreover, she goes on to tell the story of one of her friend who was a dancer in a major ballet company, no name mentioned. At this company, they told her that she was not thin enough until they could see all the bones in her chest to which the friend replied that that was not going to happen. As a reply to the friend's rejection of this suggestion the director of the company replied something like "well have you thought about cocaine?".
Karen Karpenter movie
Barbie liberation organization
Negative space (Porter, Kuwahata, 2017) gave me a lot of inspiration in terms of what stop motion can do. It became a starting point for me to start playing around with the seamless way space can be choreographed and objects can fly through it. It literally inspiration the section of the clothes leaving the body and the food popping in as on a conveyor belt. To the left are some of my notes of ideas from this film.
Bath house - Niki Lindroth von Bahr
3. Research and analysis - Set Design
I began working on the set design in January 2020, as the plan was for me and Grace Dunn to film it at the beginning of May. Although because of Covid this got postponed for about 9 months. Anyway, making set design was a new experience for me and definitely gave me a lot of new skills to add to my toolbox. The main inspiration for the set design was Wes Anderson, I wanted to get the square symmetric idea of Wes Anderson's work as I think it resonates with the idea of the dance industry putting us in boxes and also being very strict. I started doing research on dressing rooms and decided to go for a colour scale that would feel happy and look beautiful because for the first half of the film (the first set) I wanted to achieve more of an everyday sensation. The Dance studio would be built in the late 70s/early 80s.
Starting the making