The Constricting Bodice: Empowerment and Imprisonment?


 “The bodice, the corset and the bra can be instruments of empowerment, or torture.”


                                     — Angela Fortain 


In her series “Overt Underthings” artist, Angela Fortain, considers a paradox: Distorting the body can both liberate and imprison, she says. Society dictates constraining fashions which, once dawned, create power over others.

Power over others?

By way of men’s desire, women’s envy.

The power to shape space as others turn in our direction.


Lower status bowing to higher. Standing based on beauty – and what to make of that?

The power to gain love? Or sex? And must one undergo body-torture to attain either?

How might power become less available inside the constrained body?

Are the powers bestowed – or removed – substantive or superficial?

Finally, Fortain muses, “Separating the sensual object that once transformed the wearer into an object of sexuality allows us to examine the object, and our own desire.”

The power of objects… our own desire?

Fortain’s work provokes more questions than answers. As art should.

Georgia Platts

This piece was originally shown at “CONTROL,” an exhibition of California women artists presented by The Women’s Caucus for Art at New York’s Ceres Gallery, February 1 – February 26th, 2011.

For more on Angela Fortain’s work go to ARTslant.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 18, 2011, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I may be straying a bit from Fortain’s art piece, but it made me think of an issue that I and several women I have spoken to have when it comes to our choice of clothing, even more problematic when going out to clubs and such. I can spend hours figuring out what to wear to a club or just to to go out for dinner or a drink with my friends. I consider myself a fairly conservative dresser, but sometimes I want to wear a dress or a skirt, but almost always end up talking myself out of it, or at least choosing the slightly longer one. It isn’t that I don’t want to look nice or be noticed when I go out, but I always seem to tell myself, “If you wear that out tonight, you’re just going to be asking for it!” But asking for what? And how should what I choose to wear give men or anyone else for that matter, the right to creepily stare at me or touch my body on the dance floor…to the point where I end up blaming myself for being disrespected because of what I chose to wear that night. And sometimes I hear comments like, “If she didn’t want me to stare then why did she wear it?” I have mixed feelings about this because though I would never wear something that I don’t personally like, it’s hard not to be influenced by what others would also like. At the same time, I expect to be respected when I go out. This is hard to accomplish while wearing a mini skirt..but what if I WANT to wear the mini skirt! It’s my own experience on how clothing can make me feel liberated, yet constrained at the same time.

  2. Emma Betancourt

    I can see where this is empowerment and torture. Its like a woman can never win. In the eyes of a male. Why Ms Platts, I believe you have brought out the feminist in me 🙂 I have always been a strong woman(so i thought) but now I feel I have tons of information to back that up!

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