The Paper Doll Project


Me, about 10 minutes  ago

My hair has been short for about a year and a half now. I had it shaved for an art performance in which I was challenging media’s distortion of beauty as well as society’s perception of gender and stereotypes.

I am a woman. I am a heterosexual woman who likes men. Why should I have long hair, wear stilettos, short skirts and wear caked on make-up to attract a man? I just don’t get it. Or, actually, I do get it, It just makes me sad, so I try to ignore it. I would love to think that guys would be falling at my feet because of my beautiful… personality, my lovely… sense of humor or my big…….  smile. To be honest, this isn’t the case. I shouldn’t have to wear a low cut blouse so men look at my breasts rather than my eyes to understand who I am as a person.

I was recently on 5 different dating sites: Plenty of fish, OK Cupid,, Geek2Geek and Soul geek. Yea, I know, cute, huh??? Hey, for a gal who loves Battlestar Galactica and Dr Who, I thought these geeky sites would be perfect.

I can’t really write this  blog post and say I didn’t get any hits. I did get a few messages. ALL of them were about sex. ALL of them. What’s up with that?? The only guys who contacted me, wanted only sex.

I feel like this is a jab to the age old conversation of women being seen as objects, play toys for men. That is what I felt like anyway, getting these messages. Now, I understand, some of them were probably spam or bots. But, still.

Sometimes I wonder if guys aren’t falling at my feet because… (not that I would want a guy to actually fall at my feet) of this very feminist subject that I am challenging. Are they threatened by my work? Maybe my career as an artist or even my independence? Or, is it really because I am overweight with short hair and because of that pervasive stereotype that I am possibly a lesbian? I guess that would turn most guys off. Btw, I have been teased lately about being a lesbian (by a guy). Trust me, some of my closest friends are lesbians and I love them to death. The only issue I have with the  label, is that it is just that, a label. It doesn’t show beautiful character or amazing personalities. It pervades long held stereotypes.

I am thinking about growing my hair long. I mean, really long and I am going to lose weight and get fit. There is a climbing gym with fitness equipment and yoga opening where I live. This would be a new performance. How will I be treated differently? What will it prove? We will see.

Here are some photos of me with ‘longer hair,’ younger and  thinner.

My work using Second Life as a vehicle to talk about identity and ideas of beauty, has really made me consider how the media controls our perception of ourselves. As a tall, thin, blond in Second Life, I felt more powerful. I felt more  beautiful. I DID have guys falling at my feet.

I am currently working on a project called “Paper dolls.” It is work that will use projection, performance, photography and  video to talk  about the ideal and the real, the physical and the virtual, power and beauty.

I would love your thoughts.

This is Gracie Kendal today:



And this is both of us…


7 thoughts on “The Paper Doll Project

  1. I totally understand where you’re coming from but may I soften the topic just a bit? You say you are heterosexual and acknowledge that your current look doesn’t portray that. So how do you like your men? Would you like a very feminine looking guy that a lot of people would mistake for being gay? Would you be attracted to him like you would a man who looks more manly? I’m not talking 6 pack abs and gorgeous looks, but we do have a certain preference in what we think men should look like (and it’s all individual, of course), so let’s not make men totally the bad guys here. There are plenty of women who rock the pixy haircuts in a very feminine way, do not have huge breasts or are skinny but are considered very feminine. I think it’s the whole package and the “vibrations” we put out. I don’t know you very well yet, but my first impressions are that you are a sweet, gentle and kind soul but your look does not match it so you would have to work harder to get that sweetness across to people, that’s all. You could make it easier for others if your appearance matches your beautiful inside more. I hope this comes across the way I mean it. I’m hearing from the comments on facebook that outward femininity somehow diminishes our inner strengths and I do not agree. The two can be combined successfully without being untrue to ourselves.
    I do not get the feeling that you are completely happy with your look, either, aside from the lack of male attention, despite the ease of caring for it on a daily basis. That’s what counts! There is something to be said for strutting with confidence into a room or down the street and it does not have to be in high heels or cleavage revealing tops (which can actually rob me of any confidence I may have)! But first, YOU Need to feel pretty and womanly when looking in a mirror as well as smart and capable and creative before anyone else can see you that way. When I don’t wear any make up at all, it can make me feel depressed or lazy (because I’ve been there!), so just a little mascara and shampooed hair can be a pick-me up for me. Same with what I’m wearing. I feel differently in a baggy t-shirt and faded jeans than in a more fitted top and nicer jeans or even a dress (a very rare occasion anymore). It affects my mood and actions, even if I encounter nobody else that day.
    And that certainly goes for my weight as well! I have been fit and trim and not. I can say that I definitely prefer the former because of how it makes ME feel, not anyone else (but it’s always a struggle anyway!).
    I guess, what I’m trying to say is that there is nothing wrong with women looking feminine and pretty and men enjoying that. Let’s ask ourselves what appeals to us in men, too (it’s human nature and in our DNA to be attracted to certain physical qualities) and not be quite so polarizing. There is a middle ground here without having to be a bombshell all the time. Looking at the pics above, the softer look with the longer hair makes me feel like you’re much more approachable and radiates a warm, friendly feeling which matches your personality very well. How do you want to present yourself to others?
    Kristine, be the woman YOU truly want to be and what would make you feel GREAT about yourself and the right guy will notice! Just don’t make it any harder than necessary for him to notice the womanly Goddess (brains and talent and all!) you are underneath:) Wrap that beautiful package of yours in the gorgeous wrapping paper it deserves!

  2. This is a really interesting post and thanks for sharing.

    My view for what it is worth is a slightly cliched one in that real beauty comes from within, when you feel good about yourself and your life how you look externally is irrelevant. The subtext of this statement though is that people, woman especially have a choice and that includes having long hair, high heels, boobs and wearing makeup without feeling this is something you must do. How I look and what I wear is important to me not because I need anyone’s approval but simply that is just who I am, one facet of my personality. This may make me sound shallow but so what?

    Just take a look around you, there are literally millions of short haired woman of all shapes and sizes happily partnered up. I’ve always felt that it was a complete myth that men only like woman with long hair and perfect figures. Real life shows this not to be true. Sure they are attracted to a pretty face but (here’s another cliche) beauty is in the eye of the beholder …Second Life is a different matter and much of that is down to the limitations of what can be realistically portrayed.

    My avatar and myself look alike (apart from the pink hair!) and we both love beautiful clothes, fashion, shoes, makeup, dressing up, jewels etc etc. I have never felt disempowered dressing in a feminine way and have never felt that this is society compelling me to dress simply as a plaything or an object of desire for men. Of course I want men to desire me but on my terms and with this in mind I dress in a way that pleases me and that should be the message for all women.

    This really is a question of choice and for women to express who they are in whichever way they choose…..but for me my empowered mantra as a woman in business and as an artist is…….long live the stilleto!

  3. Thank you so much for your comments.

    I wanted to start off by explaining this blog post a bit more. My work on body image has always been about a universal dialogue. While I may use myself as a subject, I am discussing issues of feminism and female representation that have been going on for years and years. I am just using my work and myself to keep the dialogue going. I didn’t mean for this post to sound like it was a jab at my own self esteem and self confidence. It is definitely not that. I feel I have more confidence in myself now than ever before. These are more observations and examples that I am using to continue this dialogue about women’s roles and representation in society.

    I am pretty content with who I am right now. I am happy wearing jeans and sweatshirts one day and a dress and pink wig the next. While I talk about dating sites and men not ‘falling’ at my feet, I mean it more generally. I actually don’t want men to fall at my feet. I am pretty happy in my life being single. I have dated enough to know what I want and don’t want, and I am content in the place I am in now. I love where I am. I am not lonely because I have amazing friends, both men and women who I see and hang out with regularly and who keep me on my toes. I have tried dating sites because I thought that was what I wanted, it took the boredom and meat market mentality to realize, that that is not what I want.

    I guess when writing this post, I should have not written in the first person, but in the third. Sometimes my thoughts just get the best of me and I use this blog as more a stream of consciousness sketchbook. I struggle with the universal way women are and have been represented on a daily basis. How they represent themselves as well as how they are represented by the media and culture, AND how men see women.

    I will say this, I DO NOT believe that women have to be traditionally beautiful on the outside to match who they are in the inside. I believe, like so many friends have commented over the years, that inner beauty projects and is reflected on the outside. Plus, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am beautiful though not in the traditional ideal way that society has perceived. I believe my inner beauty does get reflected in my smile, my eyes, my confidence and my heart. BUT in today’s visual culture, that isn’t enough for some.

    Please understand, I know there are a lot of men who can look past what the media has deemed is the ideal for femininity and attractiveness. BUT as the media continues to use that ideal in Advertising and TV shows and movies, etc, both men and women are at risk of falling down the rabbit hole of ideal representation.

    I also wanted to just mention the idea of labels. What is feminine and masculine anymore anyway? They are labels to keep people in certain categories. In today’s society these labels, these lines are being blurred more and more. There is no black and white anymore. With postmodernism came the deconstruction of these words, these categories. (Thank you Betty Brown!! LOL) It is only because the media (and society) continue to project these black and white labels our culture is still tethered to this way of thinking.

    • I agree with both of you. Moco said it very well: it’s all about choice! But I also get that it’s sometimes hard to know where our own choice ends and societal pressure begins. My point was also about self-care. Caring for our bodies inside and out the way they deserve to be cared for, because they are a sacred gift as our true home while here on earth. Still very hard to do:) I also believe that some people (men and women alike) adopt certain ways of presenting themselves on the outside as a shield, a barrier to hold people off and reject them before they can be rejected by them, or to test them in some way: “If you really cared about me you’d love me no matter what I look like”, as often seen in teens who make themselves look so scary they are unapproachable to many. Or long married couples who let themselves go (not due to illness, of course) which is really not fair to their partner in my opinion.
      But I realize that is not what you’re talking about here, Kristine.
      As a mom of two daughters I can tell you how infuriated I have been over the years and how hyper conscious of how women are portrayed in the media. I HATED standing in the check out line with my very young girls years ago and being subjected to all the magazines, their airbrushed cover models and the headlines telling us 20 ways to please our man in bed! Hard to avoid any of it when I had to wait to pay for our groceries.
      Shopping for clothes for them was just as depressing and I mostly bought their t-shirts in the boys department because I could not find any girls clothes that were not sexualized, pink or frilly. I’d be screaming mad by the time I got home!! I refused to put pink headbands on my babies (even when strangers would mistake them for boys) and always dressed them in primary or neutral colors. Their rooms had murals on them that I painted before knowing if I was having a girl or a boy. Everything, including their toys were unisex (at least for as long as I could, before they voiced their own opinions, and even then they didn’t always get their wish). They had train sets, legos, cars, multi ethnic dolls of both gender, etc. I did not buy them bikinis or barbies (it’s still a family joke and my boyfriend now gives me one barbie each Christmas which goes straight to donation!). I was determined to fight the system even though it was hard at times. I did not want to put labels on them but have them find their own preferences.
      It was interesting to see the effect. Just about banning pink from their childhood, my oldest daughter of course went ALL PINK later on and still loves it to this day! Even rocked bright pink hair for a while (which actually looked awesome with her green eyes and I ended up doing several portraits of her with it). My youngest hates pink but went through a phase of picking out the frilliest, most ruffled and flowered things she could find (to my horror!!), then reverted back to all black baggy t-shirts and jeans for years in middle and high school as her weight increased and her self esteem decreased (and yes, it was a safety mechanism to hold off male attention as we found out later). She is now finding a good balance for herself and is learning to embrace her feminine side while remaining strong and confident.
      I applaud you for taking on this subject, because there have been many, many times when I wanted to move to a deserted island with my daughters if only that had been possible. It’s a crying shame what we do to our girls and women in this society and often women are just as bad if not worse than men. With two daughters and two step daughters I have seen the horror that can be middle school and high school!
      Not to even mention popular song lyrics!! I cannot for the life of me fathom why anyone with the gift of musical talent would not use it to do good with it instead of creating this crap that fills our children’s ears and minds. There are so many songs out there with great beats and rhythms that I always want to sing along to …until I hear the lyrics. If I could compose a song like that why would I not want to use it to make the world just a little bit better, to uplift rather than tear down?
      Raising kids the right way with sooooo little help from society is the hardest job there is. It’s a constant uphill battle that I just don’t understand. I spent so much time presenting an opposing view to what they were subjected to when they left the house, trying to counter the effect society had on them, it was exhausting and often futile. It’s in all of our best interests to raise boys and girls in such a way that they become confident, strong, loving men and women with a great sense of self as well as compassion, respect and empathy for others. We need more people to say “Hell NO!!!” to all the crap and manipulation thrown at us and our kids.
      I can only hope and pray that we manage to turn things around by the time my daughters’ daughters are born!

  4. Pingback: Reflections… socially constructed ideas of ‘beauty’ | Kristine Schomaker

  5. I want to say thank you for your article here and your Youtube video “My Life as an Avatar”. I’ve just joined SL and the issue you talk about are exactly what interests me. Thank you for your courage to say all this stuff that I really think most women can relate too. I love that you paint and do performance art too. I think the whole cross-world thing you’re doing is really cool!

    • Awwww thank you so much for your lovely comments. I am still having fun with mixing realities and have a couple new projects up my sleeves. I am also still working on, dealing with issues surrounding body image and acceptance. Every day I am surrounded by judgment and criticism and it frustrates me and makes me so sad. But I have to keep on going and fight the good battle as they say 🙂 Thank you again and have a great day!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s