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A private cost

A photo series on how fashion marks women’s bodies and why we still wear those abusive bras

By Deepa Menon  March 5th, 2015

There’s an interesting note of irritation in the comments to Refinery29’s piece on photographer Justin Bartels’s series, Impression, documenting the marks and welts left on women’s bodies by tight clothes and shoes. In effect it says: Bah, I’m so sick of men commenting on the bodies and choices of women.

Bartels is doing exactly that. This is how he sets it up: “Impressions is a series showcasing what women go through to attract…” Every big-bosomed girl wears the telltale signs of a bra-strap biting into her shoulders, but she doesn’t wear it necessarily to attract anyone — believe me, she doesn’t need more people staring at her chest. She does it because it makes clothes fall better and improves her silhouette. Lift the girls=boost confidence. If it should also improve her chances at seduction, that’s just a bonus.

Despite the fact that this photographer overestimates how much we cater to the male gaze, this is an arresting series of images. There’s an intimacy and vulnerability to these faceless women. They’re reminiscent of that throwaway scene in Mad Men when Joan Holloway slips off her bra and touches the angry red marks it left behind. Joan uses her sex appeal to control men, intimidate women and generally get noticed in a chauvinistic world. Her breasts are a weapon and these are her battle scars.

Full series on the photographer’s website.