Posted: 02 December 2014 Updated: 16 December 2017
Vanessa, photographic art
Vanessa [name changed] is transitioning from awkward, nerdy teenager to being an adult. I believe that she has the potential to be a stunning, elegant, beautiful woman. With her, I could create a series of photographs that explore the differences and boundaries in this major transition of hers:
Adolescent to adult
Dependent [attitude] (living at home; local friends; small town; local boyfriend) to independent and more self-confident
Awkward and uncomfortable with her body to understanding, comfortable, and confident
As an adolescent, the various components that create adult beauty are still changing and developing. And it’s impossible to make everything come together and appear as an adult. As a young adult, most people don’t know how to present themselves as an adult. Said differently, they don’t know what it is about themselves that is beautiful (because it only recently matured), and they don’t know how to highlight their beautiful features. Vanessa has huge eyes and full lips, for example, but a lot of her pictures don’t show these things because she doesn’t perceive them in herself.
Hypothesis: when the transition goes wrong (or in the language of rhetoric is “unhappy”—the signal is wrong), the result is that the girl looks “trashy”, “slutty”, or some other bad thing
Transition gone wrong:
Vanessa as awkward adolescent (e.g., she has a picture of herself in a huge, men’s, plaid shirt. She looks terrible.)
Vanessa as “proper” adolescent—clothing, make-up, and attitude that match being an adolescent: not quite mature; not advertising beauty; especially not advertising sexuality
No make-up, or very little. The purpose of the make-up is to hide “defects” or distractions, not to emphasize beauty or sexuality, e.g. no red lipstick
Simple hair, especially in a ponytail or short (long hair is more feminine)
Clothes that fit but don’t advertise or highlight
Vanessa as adult, but with the wrong transition
Confusing sex with beauty: trying to be an adult by advertising sexuality, but without other adult characteristics. This would probably appear slutty. A mature, healthy, self-confident adult who is advertising sexuality will be seductive or enchanting or something that comes from a position of strength. Slutty is just pure sexual advertising without maturity.
Beauty that does not properly conform: When a woman is judged by her society, part of the judgment is whether she is conforming to expectations of beauty and behavior.
In many places in 1950’s America, that meant long skirts. A knee-length skirt would have been scandalous. And in 1960’s America, with the widespread adoption of the mini-skirt (and the bikini), many people rejected these fashions as “trashy”.
So if the woman does not meet cultural expectations, then she might be trashy. This is probably especially true if she is trying to meet the expectations, but failing.
Or if she almost meets the expectations and falls short.
Is this because it signals that she lacks sophistication? Is that why younger women are more susceptible to being trashy—because they are more likely to lack a sophisticated understanding of themselves and their culture and therefore will likely fail to conform?
This issue is strongly cultural. A woman that was considered trashy in 1920’s America or 1990’s Iran might not appear trashy to the current viewer. In fact, it might be impossible for the modern viewer to understand what is trashy about the woman without a sufficient understanding of the culture she lived in.
Sexual advertising but with some adolescent features: I’m not sure exactly what this would look like. This might be a form “trashy” (above). It might also be that this situation depends on which adolescent characteristics are presented: sometimes trashy, sometimes slutty, sometimes Lolita (pejorative), sometimes other.