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The implications of beauty at any cost emerge in Julie Friedman’s Tan Lines and in Im-’ped-e-ment by Cheri Gaulke. In Tan Lines, the unseen protagonist has a conversation with herself about the folly of sitting in the sun with the sole purpose of obtaining a perfect tan, one that is not marred by white bathing suit lines. She considers the dangers – freckles, wrinkles, cancer – and does her minimal best to protect herself, “slathering on sunscreen” (although one with an SPF of 30 rather than a more sensible 45), but cannot resist the pull of seeking perfect beauty in a golden tan.
When the book is fully unfolded, our heroine is exposed, fully unfolded herself, absorbing the rays of the sun. The radical foreshortening in the angle of the body and the expressionistic treatment of the linocut’s black lines create an almost comic book angst that mirrors the fleeting dilemma of the sunbather.

The myth of Helen demonstrates that the consequences of perfect beauty can be disastrous. In Tan Lines the evidence is the ease with which the sun worshipper’s awareness of healthy habits flies out the window, along with her clothes, in her desire to be desirable. Professor Blondell writes that Homer’s Helen, by repeatedly blaming herself for the Trojan War, inadvertently affirms the view that “women’s desires are excessive, unstable, and unhealthy, and leave nothing but trouble in their wake.” Friedman’s beauty-seeking protagonist is so thoroughly invested in her bronzed body that she willfully carries her tanning to excess, irrationally setting aside the very real dangers to her health.

Tan Lines
Julie Friedman

In Im-’ped-e-ment, the hazards that come with an overzealous pursuit of female beauty are deemed to be the work of fashion mongers and of men and their fetishizing sexual desires. The word “Im-’ped-e-ment” implies an obstacle, a handicap or a disadvantage. And, indeed, Gaulke quite specifically explores how women’s feet have been manipulated and abused in the service of beauty throughout history and up to the present day. Both the practice of Chinese foot binding and the current fashion of stiletto heels are intimately connected with sexual aesthetics. Ancient Chinese emperors saw the deformed feet of their royal women as exquisite objects, like “little golden lotus flowers.” In Western culture, once fashion and morals allowed the exposure of the female leg, men found much to admire in

the graceful curve that results when the foot is forced into an unnatural position by the wearing of high heels. Gaulke powerfully asserts the absurdity of resorting to aesthetics when the perceived beauty comes at the price of pain and deformation. In the spread shown here, she quotes Sue Maberry relating her agonizing experience as a young woman attempting to conform to the fashion of the day of pointed-toed high heels. In contrast to Maberry’s grim account, the adjoining page, a soft pink paper, offers nothing more than a prosaic dictionary definition of the word “foot.” This modest bit of typography gives an additional ironic thrust to the bold words “UPROOT” and “IMPLANT” across the way.

Cheri Gaulke

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