Last week, we shared a Yahoo! article on our Twitter account about photographer Tyler Shields’ shockingly offensive photo shoot with Heather Morris, star of the hugely popular TV show Glee. We wanted to go into more detail about the serious implications of the images and how they relate to FVPC’s mission of preventing and ending domestic violence.
In the photos, which are posted on Shields’ blog under the caption “Even Barbie bruises,” Morris is dressed in high heels, a ‘50s-style dress…and a black eye. She poses with an iron, its electrical cord and ironing board. Although she is smiling, the images are disturbing. In one photo, a man’s hand holds the iron facing toward Morris while its cord is wrapped around her wrists. Another close-up photo of Morris’s face shows off the purple bruise around her eye – some have said it’s reminiscent of the real-life police photos of Rihanna after she was abused by Chris Brown in 2009.
Shields’ decision to depict Morris this way is extremely concerning. First of all, to portray a woman as a doll is harmful in itself, given that women have worked for decades to overcome social expectations of both feminine submission and unrealistic beauty standards. But even more problematic, the photos of Morris as a “beat-up Barbie” also disturbingly glamorize domestic violence. Shields is selling prints on his website, personally gaining from making light of a widespread cultural problem.
Domestic violence is reality for too many women, and it isn’t at all fun, although Morris seems to be having a great time in the photos, posing playfully with the household appliance props despite the implication that someone, presumably her partner, has been violent toward her. Rita Smith, Executive Director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, commented on the seriousness of the use of the iron and ironing board to set the scene in an E! News article. “I don’t know if Tyler is aware but I’m quite sure there are plenty of women who have been abused by these kinds of household appliances and children as well being hit with electrical cords,” she said.
Shields said in a Slate interview that he thought the photos were “cool,” and that his mother is a survivor of domestic violence herself and didn’t find them offensive. Although Shields’ mother may not have told him she was disturbed by them, survivors are often triggered by photos relating to domestic violence – and the teenagers who love Glee and follow Morris’s work closely are just as likely to have experienced DV as children or intimate partner violence in their own relationships. Creating art centered around domestic violence can be effective and helpful to the violence prevention movement if its greater purpose is to draw attention to the issue and inspire action.
With no greater purpose than to create a photo that looks “cool” and make money, Shields unfortunately misses an opportunity to shed light on the real problem of domestic violence and to reach young people who should be empowered to help stop it. What do you think? Is this photo shoot offensive or artsy and cool? Leave us your thoughts.