Friday, 2 August 2013

The image is seductive

I've been having difficulty getting that poster picture of Lana Wachowski out of my mind. If you go back a little bit, it's reproduced (from a casually-made photo of mine) in the Traumfrau, Trans* Frau, and Lana Wachowski post on 29 July, in which I also show some other shots of her off the Internet, mostly from the October 2012 Human Rights Campaign award ceremony, in which she gave a speech.

So what made such an impact with me?

The poster picture shows a confident and attractive youngish woman with nicely-styled but still very outrageous bright pink dreadlocks, set off rather well by a plain black sleeveless dress. All that appeals.

Closer inspection reveals minimum make-up and  minimum jewellery, which is also very appealing. She looks wholesome and natural.

The full-length shots of her in other photos of that award ceremony reveal black heeled ankle boots that I wouldn't have worn myself, but which don't clash with the outfit, and rings on her wedding-ring finger. Nothing amiss there either.

After listening to Lana's speech, which brought out selected bits of her personality, background, and attitudes, I still felt that she would be interesting to meet and speak to, but the appeal was less. She clearly wasn't of my world - or put differently, I wasn't of hers. And there was no chemistry. To put it bluntly, I liked her look, but I didn't fancy her.

Still, the image itself has persisted. It really has made me think that I ought to slim down a little and consider another hairstyle. Nothing wrong with that. From time to time it's good to take inspiration from elsewhere, and apply it to yourself. I suppose I'm saying that I've moved on from admiration to analysis, and from there to selective emulation, in a way that will suit me.

If I were different, however, I can see how easy it would be to get completely stuck on her image. To get obsessed by it in fact.

This presumably happened all the time in the golden era of movie stars, when the studios actually made it their business to manufacture a fanciful but alluring public image for every actor or actress under contract. It didn't matter what the star's real name or background or personality was, nor whether they really were having an affair with so-and-so. If they could be used to sell movies to the paying public, these people would be 'improved' with dentistry, beauty enhancements, deportment and elocution lessons, and all the transformations that good clothes and skilful make-up can contrive. They were under contract, they had to comply, they usually wanted to comply, and the result was a dangerous kind of illusion. It was fiction. No wonder so many lost a grip on what was real, along with their sense of identity. The general public also lost a grip on reality, and did not see the real person behind the fa├žade. They saw only the image, and judged only the image.

Here's a 1938 shot of Hollywood actress Carole Lombard, for instance:

Or a 1951 shot of society personality Betsy von Furstenberg:

I could imagine these images, whether seen in a movie magazine or Vogue, entrancing some people.

I'd consider myself level-headed, and not easily swerved off course by a pretty face on a poster, but look what has happened to me! The image is a basic tool, a basic way of grabbing attention and triggering reactions. And I have been unable to resist all of its pull.

It makes me wonder about people who are even more likely to be entranced by a picture, including the pictures that bloggers show of themselves.

Some trans bloggers publish very nice self-portraits indeed. Perhaps they are keen to convey the fact that they are attractive people, making real progress with their transition. That's completely understandable. I've certainly been a past devotee of the 'before-and-after' post, and have regularly updated my profile picture to reflect the developing personal state. I like doing 'travelogue' posts featuring a shot of myself at some unusual place, to prove I was really there. There must be dozens and dozens of self-portraits scattered about in my posts; and many other bloggers behave no differently. My question: are we being entirely wise?

Who might get obsessed by these pictures? Oversexed perverts come immediately to mind, but for every one of those there might be fifty possibly lonely souls who wouldn't hurt a fly, but can't help getting wistful and imaginative over a nice face on a blog. The problem arises when they don't read or understand the text, and derive no clues as to the personality of the person in the picture. Then they might build a dream, perhaps a romantic one, based on the image alone. And that could lead to obsession, and even frank stalking, with the real person's feelings completely out of sight.

This is certainly a danger for younger trans bloggers, and not just high-profile people with actual journalistic or media careers. It could apply to you and me - well you anyway - as soon as the prettifying and feminising effects of oestragen take control.

Should one worry overmuch? It's hard to say. I've blogged about stalking before, and fear it, or any attention suggestive of it, whether romantically driven or spurred on by darker motives. I'm not going to reiterate any of that here. But it's something to be aware of. And unlike Lana Wachowski, most of us can't afford a lovely home secured by the latest technology, nor a team of bodyguards on hand if we need them. Food for thought.


  1. Whilst you can glean inspiration from others you can only be yourself. Perhaps subconsciously you think Lana has made a better transition than you have and that's why you aspire to her charm and her look. Personally I think she is great but she is she, I am 'great' in other ways.

    Shirley Anne x

  2. I'm sure you're right about my thinking she's made a better transition, at least so far as facial looks go, and a neater body shape. But then, perhaps the potential for a more pleasing outcome was always there. I certainly can't contrive the same look. But I can of course tweak myself a bit here and there, to develop something new.

    As you imply, we can only be ourselves, and make the best of it, and be proud of our particular strengths.

    I wouldn't want her social situation - married, famous enough to be recognised in public, having to deal with money men and image manipulators, life on the treadmill. There's consolation in that.


    1. I think she is enjoying the whole experience and so should we.

      Shirley Anne x


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