The photo of Rrose Selavy (i.e. Marcel Duchamp) by Man Ray in 1921 showcases Duchamp dressing as a woman in order to manifest his alter ego Rrose Selavy. When examining the photo, it immediately just seems like either a very masculine looking woman in a fur coat or a man trying to emulate a woman.
What is interesting though is that the “femininity” ascribed to the photo is not because of the obvious signs of womanhood (i.e. long flowing hair, earrings, breasts, etc.), instead the feeling of femininity seems to originate from how Duchamp has positioned his hands in such a way that it makes the viewer think of the person being photographed having feminine qualities. This is further enhanced by the apparent use of lipstick in order to create the style that is commonly seen on women when they apply lipstick.
For instance, if you were to have Duchamp lower his hands and remove the fur coat and lipstick, it would look like a simple photograph of a man wearing a hat. It is from this perspective that when looking at this photo and examining its relationship with ideas about the modern body, one apparent connection is that there are certain “symbols”, for lack of a better term, that create an identity that ascribe people to particular genders (Johnson, 2013).
There are several obvious aspects of this on the modern day body such as broad shoulders on men (which is often emphasised on tailored suits) and medium to large breasts on women (which are made all the more obvious through the use of bras which push the breasts up). What is interesting though are the less obvious symbols such as angular and petite faces with luscious lips and demure fingers on women while for men it is the presence of facial hair and a thicker jaw line.
It is from these examples that when examining the photo it can be seen that Duchamp hid the “symbols” that are commonly associated with men (facial hair and the jaw line and emphasised those attributed to women (luscious lips and delicate looking hands). The effect is instantaneous wherein people can mistake him for a women or the concept of femininity and masculinity seem to blur.
It is from this examination that one interpretation between the chosen artwork and modern day body is that how we view the body at the present is often influenced by the symbols that we attribute to it. Thus, by hiding or emphasising particular symbols that people commonly search for, one’s view of a masculine or feminine body can be enhanced or lowered based on how such symbols are portrayed (Hopkins, 1998).
This particular predilection helps to answer several interesting aspects regarding modern day society and the current “hype” surrounding plastic surgery procedures. For instance, procedures that focus on enhancing the breasts and sculpting the face, can be considered as the means by which people are attempting to emphasise the symbols of their respective genders.
This is done to ether show that they are truly masculine or extremely feminine or it is a way in which they make up for the perceived lack of such qualities. Overall, the photo helps to showcase this current societal notion and bring it to the forefront of present day societal consciousness regarding how we view the modern day body.
Hopkins, D. (1998). Men Before the Mirror: Duchamp, Man Ray and masculinity. Art History, 21(3), 303.
Johnson, D. (2013). R(r)ose Sélavy as Man Ray: Reconsidering the Alter Ego of Marcel Duchamp. Art Journal, 72(1), 80-94.