Bodies Altered in Pursuit of Beauty

April 1st, 2010  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  6 Comments

A compelling photoessay from the NYT.

“The worldwide pursuit of body improvement has become like a new religion,” says photographer Zed Nelson. “I imagined the project in some way like a body of evidence, perhaps for a future generation, to see a point in history where the abnormal became normal, or at least normalized.”

Collectively, Mr. Nelson’s photos show a small world, bound together by insecurity, with an almost pathological will to “improve.”


  1. Craig in Seattle says:

    April 1st, 2010at 10:11 am(#)

    That’s painful. Yow.

  2. Sharon says:

    April 1st, 2010at 10:39 am(#)

    Hmmm…with the exception of Fiona Harris and Kristen O’Connell, I find it difficult to be too critical. I have been awfully hard on myself for missing a workout, or not eating my daily quotient of protein. I have very mixed feelings about looking at that photo essay, and I admit some of the photos make me feel queezy.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    April 1st, 2010at 4:59 pm(#)

    Will somebody please tell me what the lovely, healthy child in #12 is doing at a weight-loss camp? What twisted bastard of a “caregiver” sent her there?

    Most of these pictures leave me indifferent or slightly saddened, but #12 makes me want to break things. I think it’s because, while I know academically that the adults in these photos are and have been subjected to incredible pressure throughout their lives, when I look at Kristen O’Connell I can see that they’re doing it to her right now. Not only that, but instead of some nebulous “society,” I know that there are actual people doing it to her, her family and the fat camp people, and surely they all suffer under the same system but at some point you have to be responsible for your part in it, right? Like the point where you find yourself sacrificing your own goddamn child?

  4. Ingrid says:

    April 1st, 2010at 6:46 pm(#)

    I don’t get this at all…. I have just had a total hip replacement and am into my third week of recovery. My hip was ruined after many years of sport and developing osteo-arthritis in the joint. There was no other option for me in order to lead a normal life again.

    Why anyone would submit themselves to the pain and discomfort of unneccesary surgey is beyond me. I simply do not understand. I believe it is more important to do the best you can with what you have and concentrate on being healthy, than seek some unrealistic “look” which costs fifty million squid and could even possibly kill you!

    What are we doing to ourslves? Did women, particularly, work so hard in the ’60’s and ’70’s to free themslves from the chains of family and the kitchen to end up here? Enslaved by some unrealistic view of beauty?

    Isn’t it better to be kind to ourslves and do the best we can with what we have?

  5. Janna says:

    April 1st, 2010at 8:15 pm(#)

    In the original series posted on the artist’s website, I found this nearly unrecognizable photo of Ronnie Coleman:

    It’s one of the most striking photographs I’ve ever seen; it really put “the sport” of Bodybuilding into context for me.

    I find it fascinating how the urge to “improve” or aspire to a physical ideal is magnified with easy access to surgery and the like. I am also struck by a sense that I can understand the desire, indeed the obsession – to assert control over one’s body, to manipulate identity through physical means. I am transfixed by the sight of so many people who go beyond that desire and undergo what must be great pain to achieve their goal. Many appear quite ordinary. I’m left wondering how “extreme” something can be when it’s becoming so common.

  6. Ms .45 says:

    April 4th, 2010at 7:53 pm(#)

    Just seconding Elizabeth on #12. WTF? #13 is a picture of a horrifically emaciated anorexic, which I assume was deliberate.

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