On Being Incorporated
The term incorporated is often used to describe an organization or business that has become legalized and made official. People can become incorporated as well, as in the cases of celebrities putting trademarks on their names, their public identities as part brand, part person. For better or worse (definitely worse), regular individuals are now incorporating themselves, young girls in particular. We are spending much if not all of our leisure time doing so, whether we realize it or not, and we lack the celebrity’s excuse of doing it for money.
Example: I am a girl going off to college. I meet some nice people in the first few weeks there, but nothing seems solid yet, there is no reaffirming stamp on my place in this foreign environment. I need to know that I am someone, and rather than going through a few weeks or months or lifetimes of soul searching—I sign up for rush. After several days of chatter, the older girls I have spoken to are convinced that I am a good investment for their brand, and finally I am awarded the ability to wear sweatshirts that let everyone know that I, my previously pathetic lonely anonymous self, have become incorporated (at the reasonable price of $500 per semester).
Immediately I go public. I make an announcement to the world on my personal advertising platform, my Facebook page. I post a status update, a simple combination of my new brand name and several exclamations points, and suddenly I have eighty likes of further proof that I now have a place in the vast scary world that I live in. Sure, I am likely to bond with these girls in the future, real friendships will come with time as they do, but in the meantime we must take pictures.
For the next few weeks I build up my image-self, an influx of tagged photos with various similar looking girls in similar looking poses at similar looking events. I am having some fun at the events, but more importantly I am having fun looking through my pictures of myself having fun, mainly because I am imagining that others are looking through pictures of me having fun, which seems to be a big piece of the elusive end goal which there is no point in contemplating. These anonymous viewers can click through my collection of photos like they can flip through the pages of a magazine. And maybe if I meet a boy, hopefully one who is incorporated himself, he can go back to his dorm and view my profile at his own leisure. Upon doing so he can rest assured that I am a completely normal and publically recognized hot girl, and that I most likely have a hairless vagina.
If this process of incorporation were strictly limited to four years of Greek partying, it would not warrant a rant, and surely there are girls in sororities that are having genuine college experiences despite the letters on their chests. I cite this process because I believe that joining a sorority is just one extremely blatant start to an entire lifetime of efforts towards becoming an image of oneself, at a time when one could otherwise be cultivating an authentic self, whatever that process may consist of. Incorporation early on breeds the potential for image-based motivations to continue through adult life. I have encountered too many older women, mainly rich moms, who cover themselves with brand names and undergo cosmetic procedures until they are finally freed from their bodies and their daughters can carry on their names. Daughterhood as apprenticeship.
Although men have fraternities, women are especially at risk of all encompassing incorporation as we have a long history of becoming images of ourselves as part of Western civilization. This is exemplified by the tradition of the female nude in western art. Our soft flesh has been rendered by male painters for centuries, our big eyes staring innocently back at the male viewer, or often into mirrors as we are painted looking at ourselves, trying to better grasp and control how we are seen by others. Art Historian John Berger famously writes in his book Ways of Seeing, “A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping… The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” One can argue that Berger’s argument is sexist, but at the same time I cannot deny the surveyor in myself, and I may spend a lifetime overcoming it. We in ourselves are the product, the businessman, and the appraiser.
In previous centuries, this appearing attractive to the males around us was at least for the sad tangible goal of security and a sensible marriage. Today, despite our increased opportunities and freedoms, our creation of image selves is becoming more dangerously capable of dominating the entirety of lived experience, mainly because there is no real goal and no real end. Our self-images are no longer a vague idea in our imagination as we walk across a room of suitors, they are now tangible, viewable, editable, external, and even harder to ignore. We become our own most critical painters and viewers. The external male viewer becomes almost obsolete; now we only want to satisfy our image hungry selves, and occasionally inspire some jealousy in fellow women. The closest thing we have to a goal for this behavior are brief stints of alienated reassurance, like that of a perfect new profile picture and the stream of likes in the few hours after it’s been uploaded.
According to the essay Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young Girl, by the French philosophical journal Tiqqun, “The Young-Girl resembles her photo. Considering that her appearance entirely exhausts her essence and her representation exhausts her reality, the Young-Girl is that which is entirely expressible…the Young-Girl only exists in proportion to the desire that ‘people’ have for her…” Facebook ends up being the perfect example to illustrate this exaggerated Young-Girl prototype. Our profiles are made through a process of us tailoring our lived experiences into a stream of images and public bits of crafted communication, more increasingly making life a means to a represented end that a value can be put on by the judgment of any bored scrolling viewer.
The consumerism that underlies the modern manifestation of becoming incorporated makes the term itself even more fitting. We just want to be completely image, we starve our bodies because they remind us that we are not. We have sex to know that we are part of the image of the sex having population, though we often feel nothing and our breasts are small. Images surround us, each advertisement a hope for our future image selves that can never be achieved but can be momentarily satisfied with a purchase or symbolic social approval. The only positive of this consumer driven incorporation is that men are getting sucked in as well, slowly worrying more about their own image selves, so the equality may come with the materialistic vulnerability of both genders.
This may seem overdramatic, oversimplified, or perhaps only relevant to a small population privileged college aged females, but there are women out there for whom this desire is real and consuming, and any bid day video will prove that some sort of absurd problem exists. Another moment of truth in the partly offensive Tiqqun essay: “The supposed liberation of women has not consisted in their emancipation from the domestic sphere, but rather the extension of that sphere over the whole of society.” We do not become incorporated as wives and mothers, we become incorporated in relation to all of our existence. We control our representation but our control ends up controlling us. The earlier we realize that there is no payoff to trademarking our names the better.
More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Body image and body standards, Education, Feminism, Science and tech
More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Gender bias, Social media, Identity, College, Sexism, Equality