walking tall/talking tall

Also interesting at Talking Bodies was a presentation by Louisa Yates, which considered the queer potential of the tall female body. Tallness, she observed, is associated with normative masculinity. In a female body, tallness is queer, troubling not only gender, but also heteronormativity.

Particularly intriguing to me was the tension between the body as “vision” and the body as “spectacle.” Normative femininity requires the performance of what might be termed an “ornamental” self; that is, the self as pretty accoutrement to the environment, as something that does not stand out on its own, but rather, as something that contributes positively to the general atmosphere, but which does not stand out in any way. The ornamental self is pretty, pleasing, non-threatening, pleasant. It inspires admiration, but can never aspire to the sublime.

The tall woman lies well outside this framework. In her tallness, she undoes and undermines the ornamental imperative. She is not a vision; rather, she has become a spectacle.

Thinking through this led me into an invigorating course of conceptual gymnastics

Spectacles, I realized, are unruly. Spectacles are not ornamental, pretty or passive. Spectacles are not pleasing. They do not add grace to their social environments. Rather, spectacles are monstrous. They demand attention. They clamour for it and they are not satisfied until they get it.

Put more simply, while the ornament – the vision – reflects the gaze, the monster – the spectacle – claims it for herself. The ornament is selfless; the spectacle, meanwhile, demands, commands, asserts, and controls. The spectacle contorts the vision, transforming it into an object of horror, a site of the sublime.

Methinks it’s time for an excerpt from the Bitch Manifesto:

“Bitches are big, tall, strong, large, loud, brash, harsh, awkward, clumsy, sprawling, strident, ugly. Bitches move their bodies freely rather than restrain, refine and confine their motions in the proper feminine manner. They clomp up stairs, stride when they walk and don’t worry about where they put their legs when they sit. They have loud voices and often use them. Bitches are not pretty.”

Bitches, I’d say, are pretty damn “tall”.

P.S. According to Yates’ still preliminary survey of fiction, the upper limit of female tallness, as represented in literature, is 6 foot 2.

 

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