Wednesday, September 8, 2010


When I was in college, one of my advanced electives was Film Theory with Roy Grundmann. At the time, I remember being particularly interested in the concept of "to-be-looked-at-ness," accompanied in the class by a viewing of "Gentleman Prefer Blondes." I was a terrible undergrad--the graduate students dominated the lecture hall with their superior experience, and I generally just sat quietly and sipped my Starbucks in the back. I also admit to occasional, unintentional snoozing in the warm, dark auditorium, especially in the beginning of the semester when we watched primarily silent films (The Passion of Joan of Arc? Zzzz...). Anyway, some classes were more fascinating than others, and I rather enjoyed eavesdropping on the discourse of my fellow film students in such an open forum.

The concept of "to-be-looked-at-ness," outlined by Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, applies a psychoanalytical framework to film theory, especially with regard to the portrayal of women in classic cinema. She blamed the patriarchal Hollywood system for casting women as objects "to be looked at" by the (usually) male protagonist. She claimed that there were two modes of the male gaze: voyeuristic and fetishistic, where women were seen as whores or madonnas, respectively.

I wanted to do a camera-conscious blog post because I think the relationship between blogger, camera, and (mostly) unknown audience is a new sort of "to-be-looked-at-ness" that has emerged in full force over the past decade. Ever since the upstart Myspace (thankfully fading) and the overwhelming presence of Facebook in our everyday lives (not mine), and now, perhaps especially, with blogging of the personal-style variety, there is an opportunity to shape our own images--to usurp the power of the human gaze (not necessarily, and not even mostly, male) and funnel it through more favorable channels. We are given an opportunity to take advantage of our "to-be-looked-at-ness"--and, to some extent, to control it. The verdict is still out on whether or not this is a positive thing. While photographic film is still a pretty superficial medium, at least the self-portraiture of most style bloggers is a reflection of the ability of a modern woman to determine her identity, and the "to-be-looked-at-ness" originates with her own inward gaze.

I had a very relaxing extra-long weekend where K and I did pretty much nothing at all. We went for a bike ride up in Isle La Motte, which was delightful, had a champagne-and-baguette picnic lakeside in my hometown, and read--a lot. I finished The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, plowed through A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (yes, please) and already made it halfway through The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (one of my very favorites). I am a frequent visitor of book sales, used book stores, and the book section of Goodwill, so I have quite a library! There is always a new book on hand when I finish one. Also, the September issue of Vogue finally arrived at my door on Friday, which has kept me plenty preoccupied.

Here's to long weekends and short work weeks! Cheers :)


  1. love this outfit, the black tights create a nice contrast with the rustic chambray dress

    my mom read "The Post Birthday World," but was very frustrated with the end

    This post was really fascinating, Caitlin. Having read Mulvey for my literary theory course, I'm aware of her theories but have never thought to apply them to fashion blogging even though the two definitely correlate. I'm not sure if Facebook and Myspace photographs really help women in the end, since Myspace photos in particular are usually contrived to attract. However fashion blogging is another matter, even if the woman in the photo didn't literally take the photo, she is still composing it and determining what is important to her and what she wants to show the world. This is not Richard Avedon placing a woman in a frame to be looked at, but our control of the frame. And that is a significant distinction, that I agree is changing Mulvey's definition of the gaze. However self portraiture has always been a powerful medium, usually meant to express something. Does it get strengthened or weakened by so many portraits now? How can we tell the difference between a portrait with a statement behind it vs. just a photo of a dress? Does it even matter? Oh, I'm rambling now, but I do find your post very thought provoking and I appreciate a healthy dose of intellectualism in the fashion blogosphere from time to time so thank you for that.

  2. Very interesting post...
    and you look lovely in the pictures!


  3. Thanks for your response! It is very interesting to see how we present our lives online. How simple things can get misconstrued online! When I went to meet fellow blogger Lexie of Copper Oranges her first remark was how I am shorter in person, haha! That's a little thing, but if my height is an inconsistency then what else is? There was a really snarky blog post on Jezebel that attacked a few bloggers like Starr Crowe of A Thought is a Blossom for being too "perfect," in response Starr posted photos of all of her dirty laundry and a really basic outfit to show her life is far from perfect. Regardless of who is directing the gaze, it seems that women will never be portrayed accurately through photos.

    Normally I would go to the apple orchard in October too, but since I'm leaving the country I thought I'd squeeze it in. I'm sure falls in Vermont are beautiful, the true New England look. Your blog had definitely gotten me curious about the state, hope to visit soon!

  4. This was a really insightful post. I really liked the bit at the end about style bloggers using it a self portrait.

  5. Two things - one, that is a great outfit and loctaion, these photos look like a magazine editorial. Two - such an interesting post, I loved reading your thoughts about the subject. Very refreshing.

  6. A.MA.ZING.... dayum girl this is fine