In 2002, Brooklyn-based photographer Jen Davis trained her camera’s lens on a new subject: herself. Shy and struggling with her weight, the decision to become her own subject was an intrepid one that placed Davis at the margins of her comfort zone. What began with an unassuming photograph of the artist, photographed on a beach with the aid of a tripod-mounted camera, however, gradually evolved into an intimate eleven-year exploration of her own bodily insecurities measured against normative ideals of feminine beauty, as well as a dramatic self-transformation in the form of a 110-pound weight loss.
The most arresting photos in the series are those in which we see Davis dressing or undressing, or bearing witness to her own reflection in a mirror. In these exceedingly mundane moments, Davis poignantly captures the fragile dialectic between seeing and becoming. Here, dress serves as a reminder of Davis’ recalcitrant flesh, oftentimes too large to fit into mass manufactured, standard-size garments, while the mirror functions as a vital and critical protagonist—a proxy for the cultural gaze as Davis negotiates the sizeable burden of fat stigma with the construct of ideal feminine beauty.
Using Davis’ project Eleven Years as a jumping off point, this paper will explore how the artist’s body is “fashioned” throughout the series, while also considering how fat femininity is constructed within media representations through the dialectics of seeing and becoming and of looking and being looked at. Drawing upon Efrat Tseëlon’s observation that “the act of representation modifies the nature of the represented object,” I will explore how images do not merely reflect, but rather actively “fashion” the fat, female body as a product of overlapping discourses of beauty, fat stigma and the self as a perpetual work-in-progress.