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I like pretty things: does that make me shallow?

Updated: Aug 30, 2020

What would you do if you won millions of dollars? I’d spend it on art and fashion. Does that make me shallow? I can’t help it if I like pretty things. And it seems I am not the only one.

'Love will set you free,' 2015

Our society places great value on things that look nice: especially woman who are valued on the basis of beauty. It starts with young girls who are told they are pretty (rather than clever or kind) and continues right up into adulthood where female politicians are criticised on their appearance rather than their policies. It implies that a woman’s personality is less valued than how she looks and leads women to spending countless hours and dollars on their appearance. Of course the advertising industry capitalises on our insecurities by bombarding us with images of unrealistic figures, sending us the message that “if you buy this product, you will look like this.” And women love it, which is why fashion magazines, supermodels and shopping as a pastime are so popular. We literally buy into it. Does that mean we support the sexual objectification of women?

Another way in which we proliferate the objectification of women is in our use of everyday language and the way we describe women. We often refer to women as innate objects or small, fluffy cute animals, subconsciously indoctrinating ourselves into thinking of women as things to be eaten or consumed. Some examples include bunny, babe, chick, kitten, queen-bee, fox, trophy-wife, old bag, eye candy, tart, yummy mummy. Conversely, strong or large women are referred to in a derogatory way, often with reference to an unappealing animal, such as a heifer, dragon-lady, bridezilla, dog, bitch or cow.

This sexual objectification of women seems to be a compulsion that is difficult to avoid, as both men and women like looking at beautiful women. Our relationship with the female form is the subject of my latest series titled “I like pretty things.” The illustrations reference advertising material where models appear languid and look longingly at the camera. Descriptions of women as “foxy”, “exotic birds” and “pretty as a picture” inform the narrative of my illustrations, as does the use of masks. In many of the drawings the woman’s face is obscured, removing her identity and cementing the point that we view women as objects. This concept of covering the woman’s face is something I find fascinating as it is commonly considered acceptable in society and takes the form of wedding veils, burkas, fascinators (for the races) and, of course, our everyday use of make-up. There are very few examples of men wearing masks unless it is for reasons of protection (like with superheros) or deception (i.e, super villains). Of course, there is also the example of clowns and geishas: the face paint removes the identity of the individual who is there solely to entertain, and in the case of the geisha, attend to the needs of men.

While this series looks specifically at how we view women, it does not seek to lay blame anywhere: it is merely an observation of human nature. On first glance the illustrations may appear to be mere fashion illustrations, but upon closer inspection a deeper, darker meaning reveals itself. The overall intention is to create beautiful works of art…. after all, I do like pretty things.

"I like pretty things" is a series of illustrations about the objectification of women created by Leah Mariani 2015 -2016. See website for more details.

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