Ali Schofield won’t take these photos lying down
I have a bad case of bashful knee. It’s a condition that causes me to stand with my weight distributed unevenly so that one knee is bent. You might have it. More than half the population does.
I self-diagnosed my bashful knee just the other week when I was researching (read googling on my phone while watching telly) a different but related subject for this very column.
I make collages and had noticed while flicking through magazines looking for material that most of the women in print advertising are photographed lying down. One magazine alone threw up several examples: a woman lying down seemingly enjoying sexual gratification from a strategically-placed handbag, a woman who appears to have fallen down due to the sheer weight of her now voluminous shampooed hair, a famous woman lying on her front under silk bedding to advertise foundation, a woman (we assume, her face isn’t showing) lying with legs akimbo in a sports car to advertise – quite inexplicably – women’s watches.
I started making a collage, Lying Women, and noticed that it’s not just advertising. Interviews with Kate Winslet and Kylie Minogue – both of whose careers require them mainly to be standing – are illustrated with photos of them lying down. The women’s magazine readers are told how strong and successful Winslet and Minogue are while they loll about in subjugated poses that suggest anything but.
There was a bit of a to-do last month when serial provocateur fashion house Calvin Klein released its latest campaign. Among the many images of women lying down and Kendall Jenner posing seductively with a grapefruit (the way to do this FYI is to pout while squeezing the fruit so that it resembles a vagina
and then, lest the shouty innuendo be missed, provide extra photos with the grapefruit held at groin height) the photo that seemed to raise the most eyebrows was an up-skirt shot of actor Klara Kristin.
It’s interesting that this shot in the campaign, where a woman looks most in control – maintaining eye contact with the presumably lying audience below – should be considered the most shocking.
But then, with women roundly represented in the media as submissive sexed-up couch potatoes, this flagrant power switch, albeit in small knickers, was always likely to cause a stir.
This stuff’s got into our psyche. My bashful knee further proves it. Where a woman in an ad is (hold on to your chairs) standing up, she will usually have one knee slightly bent.
My in-depth internet research took me to a 1976 study of gender representations in adverts by Erving Goffman that confirmed that women are often depicted in vulnerable positions where men are not and coined the term “bashful knee” to describe that default female stance, which Goffman pointed out “adds a moment to any effort to fight or flee”.
I stand like this all the time; the adverts have sneaked into my subconscious. All the women I’ve asked have confirmed they have bashful knees and all the men I’ve asked have stood solidly on two feet, ready to fight or flee me, and looked clueless.
From now on, I’m making an effort to cure my bashful knee. And if that means standing over you with my grundies showing, so be it.