by Liberty Finch
My best friend’s 8-year-old daughter recently confessed that she was concerned about being “fat.” While the tow-headed wonder exudes precociousness, creativity and a biting wit, I’d hardly describe her weight as anything but proportionate for her stature. Her declaration was alarming, but sadly, not uncommon.
Lauren Greenfield’s photography exhibit Girl Culture, on display at the Minnesota Center for Photography, captures the complexity of what it
means to be a girl in today’s world, where, for many, body image defines
who we are. The work is a collection of images Greenfield shot during her travels
across the country from 1996 to 2001. Her book of the same name, published in
2002, makes us painfully aware of what it means to grow up female in the United
States of Capitalism, and some of the revelations by her subjects are nothing
short of horrifying.
not surprising that youngsters fall prey to sophisticated ad campaigns, especially
when adults can’t tear themselves away from the big black, high-definition
box. Whether it’s TV, cable, the internet, or print media, we’re
inundated with gazillions of images of sexy chicks shilling for shampoo, frozen
“meals” and cell phones. Little sponges that they are, kids draw
the only conclusion they can: that they need all these things. Then when they
reach adolescence and begin to think critically, they surmise that they need
this stuff to be accepted.
Greenfield’s photographs cover a broad array of the female spectrum: youngsters,
preteens and high schoolers. Fashion divas and model hopefuls. Strippers and
Vegas showgirls. Girls at weight loss camp; an anorexic at a weigh-in. The images
offer psychological snapshots of how these women see themselves, and convey
a universal message that we all crave acceptance and validation. For many, that
means being popular; being popular means being thin; and being thin means being
Perhaps even more profound than the images, though, are the narratives that
accompany them. When 13-year-old Hannah of Edina declares, “Whether you
think clothes are important sort of places you in a group. Our group has their
own kind of fashion—laid back, clean-cut outfits. We shop at about six
different stores and we all keep up with the trends,” it’s no big
Then we encounter Lily, who, at 6 years old, had this to say: “Older people
get to do whatever they want, and younger people don’t. My mom won’t
let me wear what I want ‘cause she’s a mom and she’s bossy…I
really want to be 7 better than 6, ‘cause I look like a 7-year-old. I
really want to be a teenager. Now. Really fast.” It’s disturbing
that instead of pining away for a puppy or even a Game Boy, this half-pint’s
desperation stems from a dream to wear belly shirts and low risers that, for
her, only adolescence can fulfill.
Cady is an 18-year-old self-described Southern belle from Chattanooga, Tenn.
After battling an eating disorder in 9th grade, she turned to fitness to gain
confidence. She says she’s found a “healthy balance” as an
aerobics instructor, and while she cautions her students not to work out seven
days a week to give their bodies a rest, she doesn’t heed to her own advice.
“I work out seven days a week. [When I don’t, I feel] dirty, nasty,
fat and gross.” That routine kept her away from her brother’s graduation
from Rangers school, a special event in her family. “I love my brother,
but I was going to miss a day of working out..and I wasn’t going to be
in control of what I had to eat.” Mary sums up her situation like this:
“I would rather be dumb than be a slut, but I would rather be a slut than
be fat or ugly.” ||
Girl Culture runs through Mar. 27 at the Minnesota Center
for Photography, 165 13th Ave. NE, Mpls. 612-824-5500. Gallery hours are Tue.,
Wed., Fri., Sat. & Sun. from noon to 5 p.m., Thu. from noon to 8 p.m. and
by appointment. Closed Mondays.