Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo Returns In Person

By Megan Streeter, Class of ‘24

Few things can get me out of bed early on the weekend, but when I heard that Boston University would be hosting the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE), I set multiple alarms. MICE has been bringing comic artists and fans together for 13 years, but this is the convention’s first meeting in person since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as BU’s first time acting as host. Stepping off the T on a chilly Saturday, unneeded pointed me toward an endless stream of students, adults, and parents with children in tow towards the Thurman Center, known as the “cultural hub” of Boston University.

Over two days of operation from October 22-23, MICE artists, writers, and publishers in the independent comics world spoke on panels, and led hands-on workshops on everything from character design and lettering to printing. All sessions were free of charge, making the event economically accessible. One of the panels I attended was titled “(Not-So) Funny Animal Comics.” Tak Toyoshima moderated the panel, which hosted four contemporary comics artists whose works feature “delightful and off-beat animal stories.” The roundtable discussion began with a short history of animal characters in comics, from early 1900s newspaper strips to Art Spiegelman’s 1980 graphic novel Maus, pages of which the McMullen Museum’s American Alternative Comics exhibition currently feature. Then, as the title suggests, the panel discussed both the funny and the not-so-funny, examining animal characters in comics as vehicles both for comedy and social commentary. 

MICE’s biggest draw was, arguably, its vendor hall. The hall gives space to hundreds of independent artists with a wide range of styles, subjects, and notoriety. Boston College senior Michal Miller said of her experience at MICE: “As I walked onto the convention floor, I was initially shocked by the number of artists in attendance and even more appalled when the first person I spotted was an author I’d met years earlier (at another convention) in New York City!” 

Included in the mix was a storyboard artist from Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, Boston University students displaying their works, and independent artists from all over the east coast. “Every single vendor there was so incredibly passionate about their work, and so much of it was incredibly strange and avant-garde and unique,” said Boston College junior Tommy Chen. The vendors sold not only comics but posters, prints, stickers, pins, even tabletop games of their own devising, and much more.While they have yet to set a date for 2023, you can learn more about MICE on their website and join their newsletter to receive updates. Can’t get enough of indie and alternative comics? Even if you missed MICE, you can still get a healthy dose of indie and alternative comics at the McMullen Museum’s American Alternative Comics exhibition, which will be open for the rest of the semester.

Into the Collection Spotlight Uncategorized

Into the Collection Spotlight

Joseph Stapleton (1921-1994) Thinking of Duke Ellington, 1979 India ink on paper, 17 x 14 in.

By Liam Conner, class of ’25

Joseph Stapleton was one of the many artists who populated New York City following the wars of the early 20th century. As a member of Abstract Expressionism’s “second generation,” Stapleton and others were heavily influenced by international culture, social movements, and artistic creativity. As shown in Stapleton’s Thinking of Duke Ellington, the seemingly spontaneous and erratic brush strokes combined with what seems to be text throughout the border work to create a portrait of Duke Ellington like none other. Painted approximately five years after The Duke’s death, the work expresses his longstanding legacy through its aberration from form. Ellington’s music throughout his career was revolutionary, and this image articulates that with its quick and almost swing-like strokes that hop around the canvas. Heavily influenced by Japanese calligraphy, Stapleton unconventionally incorporates themes from throughout the world in the same way that Duke Ellington wrote music with Latin and European cultures in mind. Stapleton’s interpretation of the great composer in Thinking of Duke Ellington provides a look not only at his own era but also at the impact of Duke Ellington and his legacy on the greater artistic community.


Duke Ellington: American Musician. See Accessed 9/23/2022.

New in Artstor—Nearly 300 Self-portraits by Joseph Stapleton: A Unique Offering from a Second Generation Abstract Expressionist. See Accessed 9/23/2022.


Letter from the Co-Editor: Signing Off

Dear McMullen Community,

I am beyond grateful to have served as a Student Ambassador, member of the  Education and EDIA+ (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) committees, and co-chair of the Publications Committee over the past two years. I started working during the pandemic and have had the opportunity to witness the McMullen grow and adapt to the challenges of our society, including the struggle for racial justice. Additionally, I have been able to experience several exhibits, such as Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives and Taking Shape: Abstractions from the Arab World, 1950s – 1980s. The exhibits have introduced me to different forms of art from around the world and have made me think more critically. 

The McMullen is a place that has enriched me intellectually and personally. I have met some of the most passionate, creative, and kind people, and I am blessed to have many of them as not only colleagues but friends. In addition, I have had the opportunity to work with other McMullen Ambassadors, host workshops, and implement my own ideas through collaborations with student organizations that I belonged to, such as FACES, the anti-racism organization, and BC Bigs. From the good-humored security guards to our amazing supervisor Rachel, the McMullen has fostered a welcoming and intellectually-stimulating environment that provided me with skills that I will use in future academic and professional pursuits. 

Being a co-chair and member of the Publications Committee, the Terrace provided fellow Student Ambassadors and me with an outlet to critically analyze art, its nuances, and its role in our society. Through articles such as “Religious Art: Buddha is not Home Decor” and “Art as Resistance: Murals at the U.S. – Mexico Border,” I have recognized the role of art beyond something aesthetically pleasing and as a powerful tool for both social change and oppression. The publications team has engaged further in the idea of art as a tool of oppression through our series called “Problematic Visual Culture,” which discusses pieces of visual culture that perpetuate stereotypes and other forms of discrimination. We also ask questions about the ethics of how museums operate in the article “Museums and Ethics: A Series of Question.” I am grateful to have been a part of a platform that has encouraged critical thinking, new perspectives, and the inclusion of marginalized groups. Through the Terrace, the McMullen has been able to connect with issues facing communities beyond BC and uncover how important art is in the world.    

I will definitely be visiting the Terrace website in the future, but as a reader rather than a writer, and I am beyond excited to see the fantastic work of all the Student Ambassadors to come. Working here has been an amazing experience, and while it is sad to say goodbye, I am so excited to pass the Terrace over to the committee’s returning co-chair: Michaela Brant (‘23), and new co-chair Joy Cheng (‘23). 


Ivana Wijedasa ‘22


Art as Resistance: Murals at the U.S. – Mexico Border

By Ivana Wijedasa, class of ‘22

During my senior year spring break, I visited a beach not part of a resort in Cancún filled with stressed college students in need of a vacation, but one lined by a wall – the U.S. – Mexico border wall. Although it would be my last college spring break, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to physically see the borderlands instead of solely reading about them in academic courses. Thus, I decided to spend the week on an educational trip to visit the border in San Diego and Tijuana as part of a course titled “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Borderlands and Human Mobility” taught by Professor Olayo-Méndez. The trip centered on utilizing different disciplines such as biology and theology to analyze and address issues at the border. In the case of art, the trip focused on paintings and murals, and how artists can use them as a tool of resistance against discriminatory migration policies at the border.

A place in San Diego that featured art from Chicanos—Mexican-Americans—in response to harsh migration policies and dehumanizing rhetoric towards migrants is Chicano Park. Immediately, the complexity and number of murals throughout the park overwhelmed me, and I stood in front of each mural for several minutes, admiring the mix of faces and phrases. A central theme of the murals focused on the injustice of migration policies, and I felt both sadness and frustration at the lack of humanity ascribed to migrants as I walked around the park. In the mural with many crosses, phrases such as “Love has no borders!” and “No border wall” are visible. The mural draws connections between religion and migrant rights. The presence of several crosses signifies how Christianity promotes a love for one’s neighbor, which the U.S. government obstructed with the construction of a border wall.

Photo from Chicano Park of a mural saying “Love has no borders!” and “No Border Wall” painted on a bridge pillar

In another mural photographed below, one artist painted on a pier under a bridge with the phrase “La tierra es de quien la trabaja con sus propias manos,” which roughly translates as “The land belongs to those who work it with their own hands.” There are images of migrant workers in the same mural, which illustrates how jobs tilling and farming the ground in America are often done by migrants who cross the border and should be allowed to remain on the land they work. Lastly, another mural in the park pictured below contains the phrase “Ningun ser humano es ilegal,” meaning “No human being is illegal.” The mural addresses the rhetoric surrounding Hispanic migrants at the border that describes them as “illegals” to dehumanize them and justify cruel migration policies. In addition to the murals in San Diego, more paintings and murals are featured across the border in Tijuana, addressing similar issues of dehumanization and injustice.

Photo on the left from Chicano Park of a mural featuring migrant workers painted on a pier. Photo on the right of a mural from Chicano Park saying “Ningun ser humano es ilegal.”

When we crossed the border to Tijuana, the colorful and mural-filled border wall on the Tijuana side surprised me. A wall that is a barrier to pursuing a better life and is constructed from racist and nationalist ideologies has become a form of art. In addition to the murals painted on it, the location of the wall also surprised me. In the photos below, the wall sits alongside a beach, where people frequently visit to spend leisure time under the rays of the sun. The wall is part of everyday life for the people of Tijuana, who cannot escape its presence even when trying to enjoy the beach. The dehumanizing wall is covered by paintings and phrases that advocate for migrants and address the injustice of the wall’s existence. For example, in the photo below, an upside-down American flag is painted alongside the phrase “Repatriate” as a reference to the deported veterans who served in the American military. The upside-down flag represents the hypocrisy of the U.S. government that permits undocumented migrants to serve in the military but not to live in the country.

Photo from Tijuana of the border wall on the beach in Friendship Park
Photo of the mural on the border wall with an upside-down American flag and the word “Repatriate”

Another feature of the border wall pictured below is the blue door with the word “love” painted in yellow within a red heart. Surrounding the door are phrases such as “mural de la hermandad” or “brotherhood wall,” as well as words including “love,” “peace,” and “liberty.” The door itself, which the government rarely opens, allows families who have been torn apart by the immigration system to meet for a few minutes and for some to hug each other for the first time. The remainder of the wall meeting the ocean features portraits of deported migrants as a way to humanize and put a face to people often characterized by numbers. The border wall art and the art at Chicano Park serve as reminders of the humanity of migrants and the injustice they face due to U.S. migration policies.  

Photo of the Love door in the border wall in Tijuana

Although we often view art as a pastime or something enjoyed for leisure, art is also a powerful tool of social change. The murals at Chicano Park and on the border wall in Tijuana provide us with important examples and serve as a reminder of the humanity of migrants and the discriminatory policies that we need to combat to ensure migrants’ humanity is recognized. Art is a tool of resistance, and hopefully, more artists and people will begin to realize that.


From the Seven Hills of Rome to Chestnut Hill: On the Trail of Boston College’s St. Michael Statue

By Michaela Brant, class of ‘23

Featured image by Éamon Laughlin, class of ’22

When awe-struck visitors and hustling students enter Gasson Hall, Boston College’s most iconic Gothic building, they pass through a rotunda adorned with oil paintings, and in the center stands a towering sculpture. St. Michael, triumphant in his struggle with Satan, raises his brass sword to smite the devil and send him to the underworld. The action-packed scene depicted by this statue would not be amiss  in a comic book. Motion is chiseled into the marble, transforming solid stone into fluid forms and lythe bodies straining against one another. The folds of Michael’s robe flowing behind him and the intricate decorations of Lucifer’s serpentine tail truly bring the marble to life. This important piece of Boston College and Gasson Hall history has a pathway that spans centuries and takes us from an artist’s studio in the heart of Rome to the parlors of Boston’s 19th-century elite, to right here in the Heights. 

Lucifer lays prone at Michael’s feet near vanquished, and he tries to raise himself upright, not yet defeated. You can almost hear Lucifer cry out a ferocious roar as he looks back at his assailant, face full of frustration and left fist clenched. He uses the other hand to steady himself as he prepares a retaliatory strike. Although a paradox, one cannot help but admire the demon for his stubbornness and refusal to stay down. The Archangel Michael stands victorious but takes no joy in his work. Their battle is not simple, but a civil war. Lucifer was once a powerful angel, and Michael casting him out represents a conflict between former allies and friends. The artist’s masterful carving inserts the emotion and gravitas of this conflict and forces the viewer to reckon with this struggle for the fate of heaven and earth. As one gazes down from the towering Michael to the foundation of the statue, the decorations forming the base are equally impressive. Three sides of the base feature intricately carved scenes of St. Michael. When he carries Moses’s body to heaven, drives away a demon from Moses’ dead body, and he meets and blesses the prophet Daniel in the Tigris River. After one stops and absorbs this majestic sight, it conjures more questions—who made this work? What inspired it? And how did it get here?

Scipione Tadolini

The iconography of St. Michael remains a constant in the Catholic tradition of statuary. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the statue’s creator, Scipione Tadolini, was commissioned to bring this favorite biblical story to life. Tadolini, a middle-class sculptor based in Rome, lived from 1822 until 1893 and came from a family of artists. His mother, Serafina Passamonti Tadolini, painted miniatures. His father, Adamo Tadolini, was also a sculptor and a favorite assistant of the great Neoclassical, Venetian-born artist Antonio Canova. Canova helped Adamo establish his own studio, where he trained his sons, and which Scipione took over upon Adamo’s death. Four generations of Tadolinis worked in this historic Rome street studio until it closed in the 1960s. The studio is now home to the Canova-Tadolini museum and café, where patrons can sip on chianti and dine on fresh-made pasta, all the while admiring beautiful marble sculptures. 

There is not much recorded information about the life of Tadolini himself, but what we have gathered focuses mainly on his art. From looking at his pieces over the years, it is clear that white marble was Tadolini’s material of choice. Tadolini studied at the Accademia in Rome and then gained recognition for his sculptures from prominent institutions in Italy and beyond. He created several portraits and ecclesiastical sculptures for Roman churches and sculpted an equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar for the city of Lima, Peru. He also was well known for his figure sculptures, and in the early 1850s, he gained notoriety for making several marble works from the same model, La schiava greca (The Greek Slave)

Photo courtesy of Richard Redding Antiques Ltd., 

The Statue’s Path

The life of Gardner Brewer, the statue’s patron, began in Boston in 1806. Brewer came to be one of the wealthiest merchants in Boston, following in the footsteps of his father, Thomas Brewer. He worked as a distiller and then became involved in the dry-goods trade, founding the house of Gardner Brewer & Co. Through this dry-goods business, Brewer accumulated a fortune estimated at several million dollars by the time of his death. With such a substantial fortune, the Brewers were eclectic collectors of art. They filled their home with American pottery, European decorative art, Etruscan gems, Japanese screens, oriental jade, and rare jewelry from France and India. The Brewer family bequeathed most of this collection of worldly art to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Additionally, shortly before Brewer passed away in 1874, he gifted a beautiful fountain to the city of Boston. The Brewer Fountain now stands in the Boston Common and has been running since June 3, 1868.

In 1865, Brewer contacted Tadolini and asked him to convert his vision of St. Michael overcoming Satan into stone. Brewer paid $28,000 for the statue and insisted that Tadolini accompany it on its journey to America. Tadolini, always a perfectionist, took four years to complete the statue, which was one of his largest and most ambitious works. In 1869, Tadolini accompanied the statue across the Atlantic to Boston, where Brewer had the statue installed in the great hall of his Beacon Street Home. The city of Boston has since torn down his house at 29 Beacon Street to build an extension of the Massachusetts State House.Unfortunately, Brewer only had five years to enjoy the statue. After Brewer’s death, the St. Michael statue passed into the hands of an art dealer. It remained in storage for many years until an anonymous benefactor purchased it for Boston College in 1909 in the name of Charles Lane, S.J., who was a prefect of the Church of Immaculate Conception and minister of Boston College High School. The acquisition was announced in April 1909, and the statue arrived at Boston College soon after.

Image courtesy of O’Neill Library, Boston College

Gasson Hall: Traditions and Contexts

Gasson Hall is both the center of and backdrop for many highlights of BC life. Several rooms in Gasson Hall bring students together for academic and extracurricular events. Gasson 305, the home of the Fulton Debate Society, is both a classroom and a mini auditorium. A list of debate winners since 1890 adorns one wall, and the spirit of both learning and performance continues outside of the classroom—the same room is the site of panel discussions and comedy shows. Closer to the St. Michael statue, Gasson 100, or “the Irish room,” hosts guest speakers, chamber music concerts, and student admissions programming.

Not only does Gasson Hall play host to a multitude of BC traditions, but the shaded Linden Lane that leads up to the hall is also one of the most Instagrammed locations in the country. Visitors and graduates pose for photographs framed by lush trees in front of the bronze eagle sculpture with Gasson’s gothic spires in the background. Students snap photos walking to and from class in sunshine and snow alike. Freshman process down Linden Lane for “first flight,” and seniors process the opposite way for commencement. Boston College students cherish Gasson Hall and the memories it gives to them. And the St. Michael statue stands just beyond the doors, a silent witness to it all. 

A Boston College Stylus article from April 1909 describes the newly acquired St. Michael statue as “a great gift to Boston College.” Since then, Boston College has undergone many changes—not the least of which are admitting women and people of color. The university continues to evolve academically, with adding an engineering department and the Schiller Institute of Integrated Science and Society, and socially, with students pushing for increased resources for marginalized communities. No matter how the school has changed, the beautiful art and architecture have made Boston College Boston College, one of the nation’s most beautiful campuses and a place that people associate with service and commitment to Jesuit values. Today, the St. Michael statue resides in a space that continues to give to Boston College students—memories, traditions, and hopefully, a place to call home. 


Thank you to all the student ambassadors at the McMullen Museum of Art who played a role in the process of writing and researching this article: Chris Rizzo, Ivana Wijedasa, Matthew DiBenedetto, Adrianna Zhao, Zoey Zheng, and Ethan Starr. Thank you also to Rachel Brody and Emily Coello for their guidance and editing.


The Answer Wall. “What Does the Gasson Hall Mean to BC Students?” Boston College Libraries, July 30, 2018. Accessed 3/7/2022.

Andreozzi, Brenna. “The Magnificent Site on Commonwealth Avenue: Father Gasson’s Bell Tower Brings Boston College to New Heights.” John J. Burns Library’s Blog, October 19, 2015. Accessed 3/7/2022.

Nisbet, Gary. “Scipione Tadolini (1822-92).” Glasgow – City of Sculpture, see Accessed 2/1/2022.

Christie’s. “The Opulent Eye – 19th Century Furniture, Sculpture, Works of Art, Ceramics & Carpets.” Live Auction 12029 [2016]. Scipione Tadolini (Italian 1822-1892/3) La schiava greca (The Greek Slave), see Accessed 2/1/2022.

Richard Redding Antiques Ltd. “Sold Objects.” A Classical Statue of The Greek Slave or La schiava greca by Scipione Tadolini, Rome, dated 1860,” see Accessed 2/1/2022.

Willard, Ashton Rollins. History of Modern Italian Art. United Kingdom: Longmans, Green, 1900. Accessed 3/7/2022.

“Changes Among Boston Jesuits” The Sacred Heart Review, Volume 59, Number 30. July 27, 1918.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——-. Accessed 3/7/2022.

YouFine Art and Sculpture. “Ornaments of Scipione Tadolini Outdoor Garden White Marble Life Size Statue for Sale-MOKK-231,” see Accessed 3/7/2022.

Trainor, Tessa. “Gasson’s historical artwork under wraps.” The Heights, November 15, 2010.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——. Accessed 3/7/2022.

Kelly, Joseph E. “A great art gift to Boston College.” The Stylus. April 1909.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——-. Accessed 3/7/2022.

Podcast Archive Uncategorized

Art in Focus: “Martin Parr” with Professors Monsignor Liam Bergin and Joshua Snyder

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. In addition, each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the second installment in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different photographs and themes from the Martin Parr: Time and Place exhibition. For this episode, we have invited Professors Monsignor Liam Bergin and Joshua Snyder of the Theology Department to discuss Catholicism in Ireland and how Martin Parr’s photograph “The Pope Gives Mass at Phoenix Park, Dublin,” documents Pope John II’s historic visit in 1979.

The Pope Gives Mass at Phoenix Park, Dublin, 1979 © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos

Podcast Archive Uncategorized

Art in Focus: “Aftermath” with Professors Mark Cooper and Jane Cassidy

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. In addition, each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is a special installment in the Art in Focus series, where Student Ambassador Christopher Rizzo interviews the co-artists who created Aftermath, an installation on view in the winter. For this episode, Professors Mark Cooper and Jane Cassidy of the Art, Art History, and Film Department discuss their roles as collaborators in the creation of Aftermath and how the piece offers a critique on “fast-fashion” and global economic trends based on throwaway consumption. 

Aftermath has now traveled on to the ACCelerate Creativity + Innovation Festival, where it will be exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in April 2022. 
Podcast Archive Uncategorized

Art in Focus: “Martin Parr” with Professors Robert Savage and Sean McGraw

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. In addition, each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the first installment in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different photographs and themes from the Martin Parr: Time and Place exhibition. For this episode, we have invited Professor Robert Savage of the History Department and Visiting Professor Sean McGraw of the Political Science Department to discuss how Martin Parr’s photographs capture an Ireland in transition through history, politics, and culture.

St Mary’s Holy Well, Killargue, County Leitrim, 1981 © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Sandy Row Bonfire, Belfast, 2016 © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos


Museums and Ethics: A Series of Questions

As part of our initiative to be more reflective on our role in upholding systems of oppression, we have compiled a list of questions from the Student Ambassadors and McMullen Museum staff addressing the intersection between museums and ethics. There is a lively debate over the ethics of museums and the pieces that they showcase, especially in the Western world, where many objects on display were stolen during periods of colonization. Additionally, museums often charge entry fees or offer membership privileges that limit access to art to only those who can afford it. Many museums participate in perpetuating racial and class divisions, but despite this, they also can combat them. The intersection of museums and ethics is a complicated topic that we do not have all the answers to; therefore, we hope to bring attention to this issue and spark conversation by gathering questions to reflect upon and consider as workers at the McMullen Museum. We encourage you to look at our questions below and join us in our reflection on the nuanced existence and operation of museums.


  1. How do countries that have colonized other countries deal with the return of artifacts or the politics of displaying art from the countries they colonized?
  2. What sort of representation do museums engage in (i.e., artists and the subject matter of works)? What is the value of this representation?
  3. Who are museums for? Is there a sort of elitism connected to museums? 
  4. Should museums display works of art that are problematic? 
  5. Is it ethical to have a fixed cost associated with entrance? (i.e., in London, you pay as much as you can, but in the U.S. can be upwards of $20 per person)
  6. How do museums decolonize their collecting, display, curatorial, and education practices?
  7. As public funding to museums decreases over time, how do museums balance the need to attract wealthy patrons with aims to make museum management more inclusive and equitable? 
  8. Does the mission and priorities of an academic museum like the McMullen Museum differ from public museums like the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston?
  9. Does the use of technology in exhibitions and programming encourage or hinder access?
  10. Should the McMullen Museum model itself as a temple for quiet reflection and reverence of art or a forum to discuss and debate what is displayed? Can it be both?
  11. Is spectacle inherent in museum exhibition practice? If so, does this compromise or hinder learning?
  12. Whose stories should museums tell? Whose values should they highlight? What objects deserve attention? And who decides?
  13. Do museums have a responsibility to enter the discourse on current affairs?
  14. Can museums be objective in their interpretation practices?
  15. What objects should be collected, and is it ever ethical to deaccession (remove from a collection to sell) objects?
Photo of the McMullen Museum of Art

Featured Image Credit: Tom Lobo-Brennan

Problematic Visual Culture Uncategorized

Problematic Visual Culture: Hair Removal Advertisements & Beauty Standards

By Joy Cheng, class of ‘23

Do you know where our beauty standard of the 21st century comes from and why we shave?  What we find attractive today is rooted in the advertisement boom of the 1950s. Along with the rise of fashion styles like short sleeves and bikinis, companies advertised hair removal products and perpetuated beauty standards of hair removal, especially for women.1 We should, therefore, be wary of the constant exposure and pressure from advertising agencies of profit-hungry companies that harmfully dictate shaving and hair removal trends.

When we think of advertisements, the words “visual culture” are not usually the first thing to pop into our minds. However, advertisements often are forms of visual culture—like paintings, photographs, or videos and it is through these mediums that advertisers can associate beauty and happiness with hair removal. When we see ads like the one below, we often compare ourselves with these models—desiring to be happy, proud, and feeling good about our bodies. We draw an interesting connection between being beautiful and shaving; “if I want to be just like that model, I should shave my body hair too!” As a result, we come to the conclusion that “if I want to shave my body hair, I’ll need to buy a razor.” In other words, advertisements are a form of visual culture that attempts to influence consumers’ actions in a way that leads them to purchase products. As a result, corporations promote hair removal, making products like razors a necessity to gain profits.

Pictured above is a 1978 magazine ad for the hair removal product Nair.

In the modern digital age, we are more exposed to advertising than ever before. Advertising is omnipresent, from billboards on the highway to Instagram ads to full-page spreads in newspapers and magazines. Sometimes advertisements are not evident at first glance—a shelf of sleek Gillette razors at CVS is a form of advertising too. With ‘winner of Allure’ or ‘best of 2021’ signs, our eyes are bound to pay attention to these catchphrases. Yet, most of the time, we do not realize how they influence our thoughts. With so much exposure to advertising, it is no wonder that we begin to internalize the messages they present. As we internalize messages about hair removal, we may perceive ourselves as ugly for having body hair—even though body hair is perfectly normal! The goal of advertising is to sell products and capitalize on both real and manufactured insecurities. By perpetuating beauty standards of hair removal, advertisers influence women’s self-perception in unhealthy ways by telling people that they need to shave in order to be beautiful.

Advertising taglines reveal explicit attempts to create beauty standards for hair removal. For example, one ad from the 1900s asks us, “are you going to permit unsightly hair on your face, arms, underarms, and limbs to spoil the freedom which awaits you at the beach?” while another reads, “summer dress and modern dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.”2 These ads are trying to generate shame about our body hair—it is something shameful that spoils our fun and how others perceive us. We see similar ideas in modern-day ads, like a Gillette Venus advertisement that states, “you’re a woman, shave like one,” implying that shaving is necessary for women.3 The message is consistent throughout decades—we need to eliminate body hair because it impedes us from being viewed as beautiful.

Gillette’s advertisement for Venus Embrace Razor in 2012.

Today, people are challenging the notion that we need to shave to be beautiful. Body hair is becoming more and more accepted as beautiful, and we see that some celebrities are confronting conventional beauty norms that mainstream culture imposes onto us. Julia Michaels, a singer, announced on Twitter that she is “not shaving [her] armpits ever again… social norms can eat an eggplant.”4Mo’Nique, a comedian, says, “I tried shaving one time, and it was uncomfortable and painful… I said never again would I do that to myself.”5 Beyond celebrities, we see public opinions moving towards body hair acceptance through movements like #Januhairy, a social media campaign encouraging women to grow their body hair for the month of January.

Left: Pictured above Mo’Nique showing off her unshaven legs at the Golden Globes in 2017. Photo courtesy of Getty Images. Right: Instagram account showing support for #Januhairy movement.

Beyond celebrities and popular sentiment, there are also emerging shaving companies that promote body hair acceptance. One such company is Billie, a razor company, which states that “what you do with [your hair] is up to you – grow it, get rid of it, or comb it.”6 Another company, Estrid, is running a “Super Hairoes” campaign to help women feel more comfortable about their body hair.7Although we could be cynical about the whole thing and claim that these companies are just trying to profit from public sentiment, it does do its part in bringing us to question certain status quos and their origins. Even though they sell hair removal products, they are not trying to generate insecurity about body hair and profit from it. Rather, they are trying to support consumers with their own choices about body hair. I think this is what we need—advertising that supports our body hair choices rather than enforcing uncomfortable beauty standards.