As a costumer, I spend a lot of time thinking about people’s bodies. I do it so that I can make them clothes that fit, but I worry at times about crossing the line between observation and objectification.
It is my job to make sure that my museum’s staff all have clothes to wear that fit, and I try to keep measurements on file for everyone. I have been trying to track folks down and attack them with my tape measure since I took this job in June. As of this week, I finally have almost everyone’s measurements scribbled down in my big binder.
Since most of our costumed staff are male, and somewhere between their teens and early thirties, this information composes a nicely delineated data set. With this much information, I can deduce a lot about the relative proportions of folks [well, young men] with different body types. And with that information, I can even fill in small amounts of missing or corrupted data on another person’s measurement sheet. I find this not only hugely educational, but also completely fascinating. It is geometry, anatomy, and craft all wrapped up in one.
But I fear is it also a bit problematic. I am reducing people’s bodies to a series of numbers, thinking about those numbers, comparing them to other sets, and then drawing assumptions. I like to think I’m doing “science” but I worry that I am just objectifying people. Or maybe it is one and the same thing?
Observing the human body is my job. I revel in the diversity (and also the regularity) of the human form. I appreciate bodies. I measure them. I describe them. I clothe them. But I know that the body is just an aspect of the person. And so my job is not just to robe someone in cloth – it is also to create for them a character: a suit of clothes which they can inhabit as a person, comfortably, and uniquely. If I can do this successfully, I hope my objectifying data collection is not done in vain.