Look at Me. Jennifer Egan

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IMAGE, GENDER AND TECHNOLOGY IN JENNIFER EGAN’S LOOK AT ME

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‘The beauty myth tells a story: the quality called ‘beauty’ objectively and universally exists. Women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it. An imperative for women and not for men(…)’ (Wolf, Naomi, “The Beauty Myth”, page 2)

We live in a post-modern world. Images, surface and appearances have gained a huge importance in the last decades. Image has replaced everything else, becoming one of the first things to take into account in order to apply for some job, etc, especially in the female world. In the post-modern world the lost of identity is another point, as well as the power of new technologies and the lost of privacy they imply. All this is clearly shown in Jennifer Egan’s book Look at Me, written in 2001. In this essay, first of all, I am going to discuss the power of image and surface in the post-modern world. Secondly, I am going to analyse the relation between gender and image, especially in the female world. Lastly, I am going to consider the way in which new technologies influence the image world. To begin with, Jennifer Egan makes a deep analysis of the importance of image in the 21st century. Every character in the book reflects some aspect of the importance of appearances and the effect they have in our society. Jennifer Egan plays with this world of images just from the beginning, in fact, the main character, Charlotte Swenson, is a quite well-known fashion model, whose life revolves around image and surface. Through this character, the writer analyses the darkness of the modelling world, where appearance is very important and all the girls who are in it look very similar, as Aziz notices when he arrives in New York. For Charlotte, who used to make a living out of her image, it is very taught to live again after the accident, without her old appearance. Jennifer Egan shows the reader the reality about the visual culture in which we live. Charlotte finds herself lost after losing her appearance, which has been a key feature in her life, and tries once and again to go back to her old life, even if she fails in her attempt. This is a good example of people who base their life on their external look and someday, as always happens, they lose it, finding their-selves in a meaningless world. In addition to this, Charlotte represents people who are very obsessed with their appearance and the way people see them. For example, after the accident she uses a lot of pancake make-up and sunglasses in order to hide her real appearance. Besides, before the accident, she also tries to look good all the time. That is, there is a key point in the book when Egan describes how Charlotte Swenson breaks all the pictures in which she does not look good. This shows the degree of worry people have about their image and how they cannot allow people seeing them in a situation in which they do not look perfect. Charlotte does not have real friends. In fact, at the beginning she tries to lean on her agent, Oscar, for support, but he proves to be not a real friend when he avoids her and tries to introduce her into a cruel fashion business. However, she seems to be the only one who does not realise. ‘He is my best friend’ (page 266) she claims after having been betrayed by him several times. Oscar is a clear example of the coldness of the world of appearances. Moreover, Charlotte bases everything around her on image. Although in most of the cases the image should be irrelevant, she judges everybody for their appearance. That is, she mixes the fashion-modelling world with other areas that have nothing to do with fashion and physical appearance. For example, when she meets Irene, the supposed journalist she says: ‘Irene Maitlock (…) wearing a less pointy bra, a minimum of makeup, (…) She had thick light brown hair that begged for...
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