High-Level Ideas Regarding Final: Body Image

During the final discussion during our last Wearables class, I started thinking about two subjects. One is my own past and the other is the user of my wearable design. Thinking back on my past life when I was immersed in ballet training, in all that time I don’t think there’s ever been a point where I’ve met a ballet dancer, male or female, who wasn’t preoccupied with some part of their body. What sizeSo this brought me to the subject of body image. The user is someone focused on body image. My high-level idea is to make a series of weighted vests for the anorexic, each vest representing the amount of weight she’s lost. The vests are not just to call attention to the wearer’s extremely small and unhealthy size, but to call attention to how acceptable it is to have a negative view of our body image.

For my initial research, I’ve found articles, images and websites focused on a few main topics, such as body image and body shape, different examples of the female body throughout history, fashion/garments for slenderizing (i.e. corsets), and eating disorders. There are a few overlaps between some of the links, but these are mainly my areas for now.

Examples in Art and Media

This Peter Paul Reubens painting, from 1622-1625, shows an example of the classical female figure. The female figures are quite volumptuous, and display rolls of fat around their abdomen and legs, as they bend their torsos and legs (though the one on the right appears to be growing the tentacles of an octopus).

Model Lizzie Miller recently posed for Glamour magazine, and in doing so created either a trend or a firestorm in fashion. Her photo shows her sitting pretty much completely nude, yet also showing an “unfashionable” belly roll.

Though she is clearly a beautiful women, the article states that this model is considered “too large” for plus-sized fashion. The article, which can be found here, goes on to discuss how women across the world are seeking change to modify their appearance. Body image is definitely on the mind.

But, is “bigger” in? Perhaps. It seems also that the use of models of average size and larger, have recently been seen during this year’s Fashion Week gracing the runways of some major designers.

A new ABC Family drama, “Huge”, fictionally depicts the ‘Real World’ style life of a group of teens at a fat camp. The exploitation continues with another (non-fictionally) reality series, which is (unbelievably) called “Thintervention“. It features a personal trainer, who arguably has taken her exercise routine just a little too far, and a group of about 5-7 overweight people who she and her team attempt to train.

Clearly, there’s a disconnect between beauty, fashion and glamour, and what’s popular and deserves to be on TV. Runway fashion tends to make it to the mainstream market, eventually, in some small part. That shows acceptance, but I have a hard time believing that this overwhelming obsession with body image will go away anytime soon. It’s too widespread and it’s been around for a while.

“The body has become a casing for fantasy…rather than a place from which to live.” (Susie Orbach, author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue and Bodies)

Body Modification and Corseting

As I mentioned earlier, a previous article gave many examples of women modifying their bodies, referring to some rather extreme cases of plastic surgery. But, referring back to talking about how fat we should not be, I also looked into the history of corsets as a form of creating the illusion of a waist and a form of body modification, more so now than during their height of fashion. The first designs for corsets, in the 16th and 17th centuries, were called ‘stays’ and they were more for the accentuation of the bust than the waist. Following this and some changes in women’s clothing styles, corsets were reinvented for the effect of cinching the waist by the mid 19th Century. The idea of tightly lacing the corset began at this time, and for some still continues today.

Tightlacing has the effect of displacing a woman’s internal organs and deforming the lower ribs. Some women have and still attempt to achieve waists as small as 16″ in diameter, though this requires wearing a corset about 23 hours a day, 7 days a week. Meanwhile, though women’s figures have actually gotten bigger, many women still desire a tiny waist and some have turned to other measures to achieve the “ideal” weight.

Negative Body Image

Around the world, the fight to achieve a perfect body image continues, sometimes manifesting itself in nationwide self-loathing. For instance, only 5% of Argentinean women are satisfied with their body image, and it’s even been documented that girls as young as 7 have developed some form of an eating disorder. American’s, also dissatisfied, spend billions on weight loss, dieting and exercising every year. Billions more are spent on plastic surgery to help make ourselves beautiful.

It’s not really important to go into the specific statistics as much as it is to acknowledge that body image is a big issue. The persistence with which we have some negative issue with how we look is prevalent and persistent, and this will continue to be so for a very long time. My project(s) attempts to not only embrace our poor image of ourselves, but to also reward the wearer for achieving what so few apparently cannot. At the same time, the effects of this achievement would require the wearer to lose a significant and unhealthy amount of weight, and as the vests got heavier, the wearer wouldn’t be able to actually wear them because they would be too thin.

I’d like to add more items to this vest project, dealing with body image. I’m considering an electric-microphone component, maybe embedded into the collar of the vest, that converts a speaker’s deep confessions to some type of mumbled, garbled computer words. A way to share your thoughts, without truly sharing your thoughts.

Specifically thinking about the design of the vests, I have a modern style in mind, but since I’m just gathering my thoughts at this point, I’d rather stay generic and ambiguous for now.

Additional References:

“Instructables” review

Given the materials, budget and level of complication, I decided to choose the Instructable for how to make an iPod speaker from a Hallmark music card as the Instructable to review for Design for GreenFab. This Instructable shows you how to install the speaker from a music card into a cereal box, and use the jack from some old headphones to connect it to your iPod. Depending on what you eat or where your junk bin is, the most expensive item to gather might be the cereal box or one of the old headphones – but I’m guessing that any cardboard box or carton would work just fine. I’ve read all the steps, but haven’t actually tried putting anything together so my review won’t be empirically based yet. However, it could be down the road.

Step 1: Gives the materials and tools required or recommended. These include:

  • Hallmark Music Card
  • Old headphones
  • One empty cereal box from a Kellogg’s Cereal Variety Pack
  • Glue Gun
  • Electrical tape
  • Utility knife

To improve this list, I’d like to have a few things clarified.

Headphones vs Speakers: The first 2 materials are a music card and some headphones. Both of which have speakers, yet we have to go through the extra step of getting the Hallmark Card and then tearing it up. It would be helpful to know why the speaker from the card is so much better than the speaker from the headphones. My guess is better amplification, but I’m not really sure, actually.

Cereal box vs a box: Next, we’re asked to use a small box from a Kellogg’s cereal variety pack. I’m not really a big fan of cereal packs. For some reason, cereal now costs as much as $5.00 (or more!) and buying a variety pack could mean that I get some cereal that I won’t like or won’t eat (because it’s too sugary). Alternatively, if we’re asked to use a small box because it’s a better acoustic fit than the large cereal box, I’d much prefer to use the dimensions of the small box to make a box of the same size, using the thin cardboard of a full-sized cereal box.

Missing stuff: Further into the instructions, a ruler pops up (it’s actually featured in an image) and there’s at least one reference to measuring a relatively specific length. Better to just add the ruler in the beginning. Secondly, there’s an incongruity with the picture that shows an X-acto knife, and the materials list that includes a utility knife. The two are not the same, particularly if precision when cutting is necessary.

Recommended items: The electrical tape is meant to be used to protect two exposed wires from a short. I really like shrink wraps. One pack lasts forever and they’re so much cleaner and more effective than electrical tape (IMO) when used for this purpose. Also, the author recommends a soldering iron. In my experience, taped wires have a pretty short shelf life particularly if the item that uses them gets moved, ever. (Then again, this is a speaker made from a cereal box, so permanence is probably not a priority.)

Step 2: Removing the speaker from the card. This step seems pretty straight forward, except that without an actual wire stripper, cutting away 1/4″ of wire insulation could be tricky. Tips, regarding how to cut away the wire insulation and not go through the wire, would be helpful. Another image/instruction incongruence is with the photo of the speaker without the black, plastic covering and no instructions mention removing this covering or how to remove it.

Step 3: Stripping wires. This step is a missed opportunity to show the fiber-like material “interlaced with the leads themselves”.

(Skipping Step 4.)

Step 5: Since you only really have one chance to not make a hole that’s too big for your speaker, an improvement would be an instruction to measure the width of the speaker and make a circle with that diameter. Then, make a second hole of some measurement smaller than the first. A specific and minimum for how much smaller the 2nd hole should be would help to eliminate confusion and opportunity for mistakes. The image for this step also shows the mysterious ruler…. Also, although this step mentions making a hole for the iPod jack, it should also mention that actually threading the hole could wait until the very end, after the speaker has been installed so the wires don’t get in the way.

So, now that I’ve spent all this time going through the holes in this Instructable, I should say that I actually do like this instructable. There are a few things that I like particularly. I think that all the images are very clear and show all relevant parts with nice detail. I also like the image tips/notes included in the instructions. The YouTube video is a nice, inspirational touch to help you visualize how this project will turn out. Lastly, I like how the author includes information that would be useful should someone wish to continue with electronics, such as saving the 3v battery and heading off to Radio Shack. I was too intrigued by a related post about installing speakers into dolls, but this one would be good to make in a pinch or as a future Xmas present.

What is your fantasy outfit?

When answering this question, I decided to not go with easy answers like pants that always refill your wallet, a cloak of invisibility, or Mary Poppins’ bottomless purse.

I thought about something a few of the students have asked about, which is the lack of, what was last year, a sleeping cot. (For a while, there was actually a bed, that was set up for someone’s project. We napped a lot.) So, I thought about how nice it would be to have the ability to comfortably take a nap anywhere. I called this “invention” a Pillow Suit.

Basically, you would wear a full-body outfit, and the arms and legs were completely stuffed with pillows. Ideally down pillows. I made a prototype, which was kind of fun, since I wasn’t too familiar with how to use a sewing machine. I just used some scrap material we had lying around near the woodshop. I thought about what type of material I would really use if I were going to make a human-sized Pillow Suit.

Starting the Pillow Suit

Thinking of what some of the newest sleeping bags are made of, which are typically a manmade material for both the shell and lining.
Finished suit

Comfort in a sleeping bags is mostly dependent on the insulation. For down filled bags, that means more down equals more warmth.

I also just thought of the type of comforter you might buy at a home goods store. Last year I bought one that had a really soft shell, if you want to even call it a shell. I immediately put a duvet cover on it because I was worried about stains; it’s light cream. The fabric for my comforter is made from “modal”, which is very soft and made of natural fibers – something I, personally, look for in my everyday wardrobe.

I’d think that the manmade/nylon fabrics would be good if you wanted to wear your Pillow Suit to school, or if they ever became so common, to work. For home, I’d prefer the modal, but I might still want a fabric using manmade material, because they often have “moisture-wicking” properties.

Beyond the person needing a spontaneous nap, I also thought about the many homeless people I see sleeping on the stoops of storefronts, on my walk back home. For them, I’d think this might be something they might be interested in, but the material would need to be much more rugged, easily cleaned, and if possible antimicrobial. Maybe a ripstop nylon. It would be noisy, but it would last. I also thought that for them, perhaps the filling compartment(s) could be made from pockets so that they could use the material they find to provide insulation and padding. Plus nylon is cheap.

Foam carving and structures

There were 2 projects to turn in for Materials this week. The first was to make a cube out of a foam core board. The second was to carve a 3-D object out of blue or pink insulation foam that was at least 2 layers deep.

For the foam core cube, I’m using the cube we worked on in class since it turned out pretty well. On only one edge did I kind of go just a little too deep into the bottom layer of paper. But, for the most part, it was pretty exact – the lid stayed shut pretty much on it’s own.

For the 3-D object, I had the idea to make a giant replica of a Dutch clog as soon as our instructor gave us the assignment. I’d already had some experience with working with foam, from a previous project. For that project, I only used 1 layer of foam to create the last project, whereas this time I used 5. I started out with two drawings, a top-down view and a side-view.

First, I did some research on what clogs actually look like. I searched for ‘wooden shoes‘, which brought up a nice selection of views for Dutch clogs. Most of the views were 3/4 views, but a few were front and side views. I approximated and drew 2 pictures in my sketch pad. The horizontal lines on the side view were added when I was transferring to the drawing to a larger piece of paper, to help me see how to properly align the curves of the shoe. Originally my transferred drawing was way too big; after drawing it, I realized that creating a clog that big would cost require at least $100 in foam. So, I decided that it would make more sense to draw the 2 views of the shoe within specified measurements, in this case approximately 18″, just under the width of the 24″ boards.

At this point, I had essentially 2 stencils. Before cutting them out of the paper, I used them to measure out how many pieces of foam I needed to cut and glue together. When I had all 5 pieces, I mistakenly glued them all together with the glue tape. It was a mistake to glue them all at this point because when I went to use the band saw, to cut off big chunks of unneeded foam and generally make the foam into the approximate shape I needed, I found that my block of foam was too big for the saw. So I pried apart the foam and then drew the shape of the clog, using the side-view stencil, once onto the 3-chunk block of foam, and then reversed it for the 2-chunk block of foam. Having the exact shape made it easy to use the band saw to cut the shape of the clog out of the foam. It was still pretty blocky, with 90 angles.
Clog about to be sanded.

After this, I drew the top-down view of the clog onto the bottom of the clog. Using a hand saw, because the chunks were now re-glued together, I started the long process of shaving and sanding away unneeded parts of foam, in order to shape and smooth out the curves of the clog. For a large majority of the shaping process, I used a metal file that really helped me get rid of a lot of foam.

Eventually, I ended up with a pretty good clog. The next day, I came back to use a piece of sandpaper to make the outside of the clog really smooth and to use a power drill, chisel or pick, to hollow out the back of the clog where a foot would go. I made for the size of my foot, but I didn’t try to stand in the shoe. It is just glued pieces foam after all.


My foam clog


Initially, for this assignment, I was kind of stuck on deciding what to do. Sometimes it feels a little intimidating to show media work at school, since there are so many media pros attending the program. Chris sent the class a link to examples of recontextualization pieces by other artists. This helped focus my thoughts on what to do, though I might have gone a little overboard.

Recontexutalization, as I understood it, was to repurpose a media for something else and, in doing so, changing the meaning of the original. So, for my project, I felt inspired to dub one video with a second video’s soundtrack. For the visual/video portion, I found a religious puppet video sharing a message about religion. For the sound portion, I found a clip of Pulp Fiction where Samuel L. Jackson’s character eventually recites a line from the book of Ezekiel and then shoots almost everyone in the room.

It was really quite difficult to get the mouth movements of the puppets to properly match the spoken words of Pulp Fiction; it was tedious work. But, I’m happy with how it turned out.

Religious Fiction from Allison Walker on Vimeo.

Religious Fiction

Later, in coming to a realization that perhaps I’d gone overboard, I made 2 still image recontextualizations.



Creating a wireless circuit & representative masks

For this week’s Wearables assignment, I created a circuit with no wires and 2 masks, that represent who I am and how I hide.

Here is the wireless circuit.

Big foot
For this circuit, I used a fine copper mesh to create the little man’s legs, using 2 hollow tubes that I formed from the mesth. Then I put a gumdrop LED into each leg, slid a 3V coin-cell battery in between the legs to light the LED. The added hat and feet give the circuit an approachable look of a tiny man with large feet and a dunce hat.

Next the 2 masks.
For both masks, I used cloth strips covered in plaster to make a recognizable mask of my face. My reasoning for this was that a mask that’s make using my face, will be the perfect mask for my face.

For the mask that represents me: Mask to represent me
For this mask, I used an old aquarium, with a working overhead light, to recreate an ordered and somewhat sheltered space that I create for myself. I am rather protective of my home and personal space, and spend what may be a significant amount of time keeping my home ordered and relaxing for myself. I also tend to keep my personal thoughts, affections and beliefs to myself, perhaps to the point of keeping people out. The plexi-glass for the aquarium, is a reminder of the barrier I set up for myself.

For the mask that hides me: Mask that hides me
This mask represents a behavior of mine, in which I avoid face-to-face confrontations with people, and rely much more heavily on written communication. Rather than speaking with my voice, I speak with type-written words. The strips of paper are a one-to-one representation of the typed conversations I have with others, and they spew out of the mouth of the mask. I thought about the fact that sometimes the paper strips cover up my eyes which suggests that typed communication vs face-to-face communication can make it more difficult connect with people, socially.