Picturing Women

May 21, 2022
Tracey Toh
Images from Love, Bonito, Playdress, Pomelo and The Willow Label.

Recently, my Instagram feed has been full of ads for brow embroidery, and naturally, I have begun to suspect that my brow game is not strong enough. It had never really occurred to me until now, but gazing upon shots of immaculately shaped, shaded and threaded brows, I’ve been thinking about getting my own done. These ads, through sheer ubiquity, created a desire where there was none.

I’ll admit that this has happened before. Looking at images of other women has ignited insecurities about my physical self. Pictures of other women in bikinis have convinced me that I must be the only human alive with puberty stretch marks. Photos of poreless Korean models have made me anxious about acne. Posts of perfect blowouts have even made me question whether I am prematurely balding, if I cannot get my hair to look that voluminous.

With my confidence thoroughly shattered, I can’t help but to consider the IPL at-home treatments and the brow pencils and the overpriced body exfoliants. I enthusiastically add to cart.

When it comes to women’s fashion in Singapore, it can seem like there’s a standard repertoire of images.

Female apparel companies often recycle the same poses, ways of arranging arms and legs to show off their products.

Images from Le Chic, The Stage Walk and Zalora.
Images from Innisfree, Laneige and Sulhwasoo.

Major cosmetic brands have nailed the expressions that best amplify a fresh-faced, clear-eyed (and invariably fair-skinned) beauty.

But such stereotypical female beauty can also be used to market consumer products that have nothing to do with fashion or cosmetics… like smartphones.
Images from Huawei, Oppo, Samsung and Xiaomi.
Images from Lazada and Shopee.

On the other hand, seasonal sale ads tend to feature more cheeky, sassy or flirty poses, promising fun and unbeatable prices.

Female models can adopt any pose, as long as it is attractive to the mass consumer, who might also be a male consumer.

And if there’s a formula to posing for the camera, surely the IG-famous know it.

For images to be marketable, they don’t have to break the mould.

They have to be instantly identifiable and conventionally attractive.

On our feeds, there may be different styles of femininity.

Cute or coy, sweet or sexy, glamorous or girl-next-door — all conveyed with the same poses.

Images from @fionafussi, @mongabong and @speishi.

Behind the images that fill our feeds, is there a template for putting women on display?

And how do these images shape our cultural imagination of women?

This visual essay is part of a series by our youth resident Tracey Toh that explores what it means to be a woman in contemporary society. Read the next part here.

Images from @djjaderasif, @naomineo_ and @novitalam.