Tell Me I’m Pretty: Disabled Femininity in Julianna Baggott’s Pure (Charlotte E. and Kirsty R.)

Julianna Baggott’s dystopian Pure features a post-apocalyptic America. Destroyed by the Detonations, American society is racialized into two distinct groups: the Pures within the Dome and the Wretches without. While the citizens of the Dome live artificial lives governed by a totalitarian government, the Wretches live in anarchy, fused to their belongings, surroundings, and even each other. Many of the characters that protagonist Pressia is surrounded by suffer from the effects of their fusion, which has rendered them deformed and disabled. However, while Baggott challenges preconceptions of beauty by contrasting typical ideas of femininity with the disabling deformities of her characters, she simultaneously reifies stereotypical notions of girlhood. Specifically, Pressia lacks confidence and is ashamed of her deformity. In portraying girls as self-conscious of their outward appearances in contrast to strong boys who wear their scars proudly, Baggott overtly confirms correlations between beauty and femininity.

Baggott’s novel plays upon girls’ intrinsic self-consciousness. With the current onslaught of media images, it becomes nearly impossible to avoid bodily comparisons. Clay et al. find that “experimental exposure to either ultra-thin or average-size models lowered body satisfaction and, consequently, self-esteem” (451). Thus, girls become painfully aware of their own bodies and the ways in which they fail to satisfy ideals. This notion is also evident within Pressia, whose doll-head fist is a point of affliction and embarrassment: “And what do they see when they look at her? She tucks her head to her chest, turning the crescent-shaped scar away from view, and she pulls her sweater sleeve down over the doll head” (43). While Baggott does well to represent strong female characters that challenge ideals of beauty and femininity, she does so in a way that blatantly reiterates modern feminine insecurities.

While the closure of the novel shows Pressia embracing her deformity as a sign of survival, she struggles with this concept throughout most of the text. Yearning for the way things were before the Detonations, Pressia sees her doll-head fist as external to herself: “its blinky eyes that click when she moves, the sharp black plastic rows of eyelashes, the hole in its plastic lips where the plastic bottle is supposed to fit, its rubber head in place of her fist” (9). The plastic doll-head is an artificial extension of her real body. Pressia’s refusal to accept the doll-head as part of her body reflects the phenomenal denial of the body by modern adolescent girls. In a 1991 study, adolescent girls described their ideal bodies as “5 ft 7 in., 100 lb, and size 5 – an ultra-thin, if not anorexic, body size” (Clay et al. 453). Young girls desire a body type suggested to them by popular media, consequently lowering their self-esteem and body image much like Pressia. She refuses to see the doll-head as anything more than a consequence of the Detonations, yearning for a time before she is fused.

In response to her affliction towards her doll-head fist, Pressia desires uniformity. Like all adolescent girls, she just wants to be like everyone else. What is ironic in this context, however, is that everyone else is fused and deformed like Pressia: “Pressia notices the girls in the audience. One has exposed wires in her neck. Another has a hand twisted solid with the handle of a bike, the metal sawed off and poking from her wrist like a protruding bone. She’s surprised they don’t hide these things. One could wear a scarf, the other a sock like Pressia does” (43). What she yearns for, then, is pureness: an unattainable ideal of perfection. Clay et al. note that “the media – magazines, TV, films, advertising, music videos – not only emphasize that female self-worth should be based on appearance, but present a powerful critical ideal of female beauty that is becoming increasingly unattainable” (452). Thus, adolescent girls, like Pressia, are left wishing for a body that they do not and cannot have, and so she tries to hide her deformity to fit in and does not understand why the other girls do not as well. As a result, she draws more attention to herself and her doll-head rather than wearing it proudly.

Pressia’s desperate yearning for purity, and therefore beauty, is paradoxical due to Baggott’s attempts to normalize disability and deformity within the novel. Surrounded by the effects of the Detonations, fusions become a social norm within this dystopia, rendering Partridge’s untouched skin as, essentially, an abnormality: “There’s something unsettling about it. Pressia isn’t sure why, but she feels a kind of revulsion. Is it jealously and hatred? Does she despise Partridge for his skin? It’s also beautiful. She can’t deny it – like cream” (132). Here, Pressia’s cognitions make manifest the strangeness of Partridge because his aesthetic deviates from the norm, which is “unsettling”. However, as Pressia still perceives him to be beautiful, Baggott’s attempts to normalize disability and deformity is fundamentally, and momentarily, diminished. Instead, contemporary approaches to beauty are reinforced, as is the notion of adolescent insecurity and female self-consciousness. Until Pressia is able to find beauty within her own deformity and in the deformities of others, she is left hating Partridge for embodying the ideals that she never will.

Pressia’s male counterpart and love interest, Bradwell, glorifies the disabilities and deformities that result from the Detonations, stating: “‘We wear our marks with pride,’ [….] ‘We’re survivors.’ Pressia knows that Bradwell wishes this was true, but it’s not, not for her at least” (166). Here, the contrasting approaches to their fusions mirror contemporary feminine insecurities and makes manifest the differences between male and female attitudes towards beauty and self-confidence. As Clay et al. note: “women’s self-esteem is moderately, but significantly, lower than men’s” (451). Over the course of the novel, however, Bradwell’s pride towards his own fusion alters how Pressia perceives her own disability and that of those around her: “It’s hard to explain but her limbs seem beautiful to Pressia. Maybe its Bradwell’s views that there’s beauty in their scars and fusing because they are sign of survival which is a beautiful thing, if you think about it” (371). Through her relationship with Bradwell, Pressia finally finds the beauty in their fusions, empowering Baggott’s desire to normalize and de-stigmatize disability and deformity. This is problematic, however, because it reiterates the relationship between girl’s self-esteem and their likeability among men. Clay et al. connect girls’ “physical attractiveness”, “body satisfaction” and “personal desirability” as key factors in self-esteem (454). Thus, while the shame attached to Pressia’s fusion is eradicated and the obscure, and arguably subconscious, desire to conform to a beauty standard that does not exist is abolished, it is done so in a way that suggests girls weigh their worth based on their desirability.

The concept of beauty in accordance to femininity within this novel is therefore one of ambiguity and confliction. Although Baggott can be praised for challenging preconceptions of beauty by contrasting typical ideas of femininity with the disabling deformities of her characters, she also reifies stereotypical notions of girlhood through Pressia’s insecurity and self-consciousness. Furthermore, fitting of the YA trope, Pressia still finds a heterosexual romantic partner who is arguably responsible for the change in her perception of beauty. David T. Mitchell argues: “in literature disability functions largely as a metaphor of social collapse” (311). If this is the case within Baggott’s dystopia, it is ironic to consider that a social collapse is what causes the disability. That Baggott then portrays a girl protagonist who is self-conscious of her disability seemingly suggests that we are subconsciously aware of the social collapse that is happening around us but are only able to make a change after we embrace the anarchy.

Works Cited

Baggott, Julianna. Pure. Grand Central Publishing, 2013.

Clay, D., Vignoles, V. L., Dittmar, H. “Body Image and Self-Esteem Among Adolescent Girls: Testing The Influence of Sociocultural Factors.” Journal of Research on Adolescence, 2005, pp. 451-477.

Mitchell, David T. “Body Solitaire: The Singular Subject of Disability Autobiography.” American Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 2, 2000, pp. 311–315

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do notions of disability and deformity alter perceptions of beauty in modern society?
  2. Does Pressia only believe that her disability is beautiful because Bradwell does? Because he sees her as beautiful? Does this challenge Pressia’s integrity as a girl hero?
  3. Why do you think Ingership forces his wife to wear the white stocking over her skin? To make her more desirable/beautiful? To make her look pure?
  4. Why do the Mothers only accept Partridge after he chops off his finger? Do you think we relate easier to people who look the same as us? Are we automatically suspicious of people we consider more beautiful than we are?
  5. What is the significance of Pressia’s fusing to a doll? What does it suggest about girls and girlhood?
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20 thoughts on “Tell Me I’m Pretty: Disabled Femininity in Julianna Baggott’s Pure (Charlotte E. and Kirsty R.)

  1. I really liked the way you compared the ‘fusions’ with disabilities and deformaties, especially in the way it was connected to modern-day society. By using objects fused into human bodies as metaphors, Baggott is able to make a distinct connection to the pressures young girls currently have to confine to. Although young girls in real society don’t usually have doll heads for hands, they are still pressured to look like a specific beauty ideal, as ‘pure’ as possible. With the use of the material metaphors, Baggott attempts to define how, even though you might really want to, it is not actually possible to physically transform yourself. When young girls read that, even with a doll for a head, Pressia learns to accept herself, they might re-think their own insecurities and connect this to their own lives. I therefore think this book is a great metaphor for modern society and the way it deals with insecurities 🙂

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  2. I think Pressia is ashamed that what she is fused to is so childish rather than that it is feminine, although it’s interesting to connect it with girls today who reject their bodies. You’ve said that “What she yearns for, then, is pureness: an unattainable ideal of perfection.” This is interesting, and true. However I would go on to say that Pressia’s society, the one outside of the dome, is divided between those who wish they were pure and those who look down on the pures. This can be seen again in the character of El Capitan who originally wanted to kill his brother in order to remove him from his back. In this sense this male character also desires a pure body proving that this is not only a characteristic of girlhood.
    As for the question about Partridge’s finger the mothers state that being pure is a burden. I found this very insightful since those who are not pure imagine the pures to be perfect. Although in the dome there are other things that could be wrong with a person, such as mental instability, those outside of the dome don’t see this. Partridge doesn’t see himself as perfect and the mothers are trying to help his outside reflect his inside.
    Although I do think the characters are able to more easily relate to those from the same side of things this does not mean that they don’t interact. Bradwell is suspicious of Partridge because he is pure, and Partridge is uncomfortable with Bradwell’s birds. However I think this is because they were raised in separate societies where they didn’t see these other types of people. They are suspicious of one another, not based on beauty, but because of different lived experiences.

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    1. I think your argument that “Pressia is ashamed that what she is fused to is so childish rather than feminine” is an interesting statement, however, I would disagree that such a stark distinction between the two (femininity and childishness) can be made. I would argue that what is feminine is to some extent viewed by society as things that which can also be symptomatic of childishness, or at the very least, they are considered trivial; at any rate, the concepts of “childishness,” “femininity,” and “trivialness,” can often be grouped together and reacted to with similar levels of dismissiveness.
      Feminine people, girls and women specifically, commonly experience reactions and treatments that work to either infantilize them, or dismiss them as unaware, naive, or frivolous. Both of these scenarios involve treating them as a weaker subordinates and as undeserving of genuine consideration, while positioning them in opposition to more capable masculine people. Such treatments of assumed feminine embodying people begins at a very early age, as can be witnessed when comparing the subtly dichotomous language of “daddy’s little girl” and “mommy’s little man,” and continues to follow women throughout adulthood.
      Near the start of the book, Pressia brings attention to a couple girls, one who had been fused with wires, and another that had been fused with a metal bike rod. Her description of “their expressions [as] tough, self-possessed, proud almost” juxtaposes her own disposition, which is a manifestation of her embarrassment of being fused with a doll. This is interesting to consider, since although wires may not as likely be so, a bike could have very well been a child’s toy, much like the doll, but a ‘neutral’ bike would not be inherently considered a feminine toy, unlike the doll.

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  3. I think what you’re saying about normalizing beauty standards is absolutely true. The way that Pressia views Partridge undeniably makes what he has in terms of aesthetic seem favourable compared to the Wretches and Pressia herself.
    However, I’m not sure I completely agree that Pressia hides her deformity in order to conform — at least not to conform to the ‘outsiders.’ I agree that it does seem as though she yearns of pureness, but as we can see from when she meets Bradwell, she’s quite taken aback by how he looks, so we must question how much she actually understand what being pure really looks like. There isn’t much indication that Pressia consciously says she wants to BE like those that are pure. Rather, she seems to grapple with her own deformity within the context of itself, not in comparison to the pure. As the book clearly states, those in the Dome and those outside of it are very separate. If they don’t know about each other, how can Pressia know what it’s like to be pure and ‘beautiful’ like them? Though she may have a vague idea, I argue that Pressia is more concerned with the idea of not being deformed in the way that she is, rather than trying to conform to a ‘pure’ image.
    I also think that it’s important to note that Pressia isn’t conforming to her own society. Like you mentioned, Pressia’s peers, male or female, do not hide their fusions — they wear them very proudly. It has become the norm of the ‘outsiders’ to be deformed. Pressia’s insecurities cannot come from being different from the rest of her peers because they are, for the most part, even more deformed than she is. She’s not fused with an animal, another person, etc. Her deformity is quite small and it’s able to be hidden (noted when she pulls her sweater over it). I think it’s important to consider that Pressia may be experiencing what most young adults go through — identity crisis and an attempt to ‘find’ oneself. We don’t know why her peers are so comfortable with their own deformities. It could be because they’ve already gone through an identity crisis or a growth period and accepted what has happened to them, or because they have a view on it much like Bradwell does — it’s a sign of survival.
    I’d also like to mention that the doll’s head becomes a symbol of girlhood, and part of the reason Pressia may want to hide it is because as she grows up, this doll head is a constant reminder that she was a child when this happened to her and she cannot separate herself from her childhood and her innocence before the fusion occurred. The doll’s head is absolutely a symbol of girlhood and femininity in a very stereotypical way, but is also connected to innocence. I’d like to point out that if the doll represents femininity, it speaks volumes that Pressia is trying to hide it. Wouldn’t this mean that Pressia is denying femininity and stereotypical girlhood tropes? Though we may argue that Pressia crafting butterflies is feminine as well, we can also counter this argument by stating that Pressia is trying to find the beauty in the world and that the butterfly is a symbol for change and growth — something that being attached to a symbol of childhood innocence (the doll’s head) keeps her from fully embracing.
    Ultimately, I think we need to give Pressia and Baggott some grace. Pressia is a young adult dealing with issues of identity, particularly after a trauma. It might take a male counterpart to make her believe she’s beautiful, but he’s also helping her to accept her own deformity and ultimately let go of the things that have been hindering her growth.

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  4. I liked your points in this, I hadn’t considered how her insecurities adhere to girlhood stereotypes before and you make a great argument. However, you state that male characters wear their deformities with ‘pride’ however I don’t agree entirely, I think we see insecurities/resentment with the character of El Capitan who is clearly resentful and self-conscious of being fused to his brother. Therefore, I don’t think that men always wear their deformities with pride.

    In answer to your question I don’t think that Pressia only sees her disability as beautiful because Bradwell does, but I do think him thinking that contributes to Pressia’s change in attitude. I think it is his opinion combined with her own changes and growth throughout the novel that lead her to viewing her disability as beautiful. I think in some ways this does challenge her integrity as a heroine, but as seen in almost every other YA Dystopian Novel we’ve studied, the female protagonists are romantically involved with someone in some way and many times this aids their rebellion. Therefore, I don’t think it impacts her integrity greatly because she fits into a category of female protagonists who are also impacted by men and romance.

    I also like the point made in the comments that it is important to note that Pressia isn’t conforming to her own society by hiding her deformity. In many ways she is fortunate that she can hide it because there are many other deformities that are much more obvious and unable to hide. Therefore, the fact that she differs from the majority of people in her society contradicts the idea that she is comparable to ideas of girlhood in our current society as they are trying to adhere to a perfect body standard. However, I think her self-consciousness does link well to how girls feel, despite her not conforming to an ideal in her society.

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    1. I agree with your statement about men not wearing their deformities with pride, because El Capitan says how annoying it is that people stare at his brother instead of him when he is speaking. It clearly annoys and frustrates him, as he wishes he could smother his brother without he himself dying too. This does not seem like he is wearing his deformity with pride, but more out of obligation. It also does seem as though Baggot is just showing us the typical girl who is worried about her body and others perceptions of her image. But I think Baggot uses Pressia as a way of challenging her unideal differences.
      Pressia is the representation of girls in modern society, if she was a boy instead I don’t think I would have connected to her character so well. Through Pressia trying to cut off the doll head and hiding her face in shadow, she shows the extremes some girls go to in order to hide their insecurities. The quote about scars being beautiful, that was mentioned, “Maybe it’s Bradwell’s views that there’s beauty in their scars and fusing because they are sign of survival which is a beautiful thing, if you think about it”, makes me consider the idea of peoples personal scars from experiences they have gone through (whether physical or emotional scars). The acceptance of these scars is also considered beautiful in today’s society; currently, how to accept yourself and your past is integral to personal growth.
      In response to the second question, I disagree that girls rely on being desirable to others in order to be happy. I think Baggot is trying to show that girls need to be desirable to themselves- you have to be alright with who you are and your past otherwise you can never move forward. I agree, I don’t think Bradwell’s involvement is a hindrance to her heroic image but not because of the romantic relationship as a common theme in dystopian YA fiction. Rather, his involvement is almost that of a best friend – friends help you see the truth when you can’t, this doesn’t mean he’s acting as the typical love interest. He’s trying to help her be comfortable in her own skin, the same way he is. Unlike in Delirium, where Alex literally sacrifices himself in order for Lena to escape, Bradwell is essentially giving Lena a very deep pep talk about learning to accept who she is, scars and all. This concept is very important for young girls and I think Baggot’s writing helps to emphasize this idea that beauty is found within oneself through acceptance.

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  5. I like your point that Pressia views her doll-head hand in the same way any teenage girl would look at a part of themselves they do not like or think does not meet society’s beauty standards. I would argue, however, your point that this depiction is an entirely negative one for readers. I think Pressia’s unhappiness with her appearance opens her up as an opportunity for girls to recognize their own insecurities in another and learn to cope with them. There are many YA novels with female protagonists who seem to meet society’s beauty standards (Katniss in The Hunger Games and Tris in Divergent come to mind). These girls do not open the discussion of how to cope with insecurities about appearance. Similarly, a character who owns her flaws is admirable, but may not help a teenage girl who just doesn’t feel that she can be that confident. By presenting Pressia as a character who is insecure about aspects of her appearance but ultimately learns to see them as marks of survival, a young reader can better identify with her struggle. We see Pressia go through a journey of acceptance with her deformities which can show girls that it is okay to feel insecure at times (their feelings should not be invalidated) but that it is possible to accept and even embrace the parts of yourself that do not conform to beauty standards.
    I think is important to note too that Pressia is insecure about her doll-head fist and scars but she does not dwell on them for extended periods of time. When she first dons her new OSR uniform, she mentions that she hates that the sleeves do not cover her hand but does not obsess over it for long (196). She also feels powerful in the outfit and moves on from her insecurities quickly. Like anyone, Pressia is occasionally insecure and I think it is possible to present that in a novel without having it weaken her character. She actually mentions her hand and scars less and less frequently as the novel progresses.
    That being said, I agree that the text can be read in such a way that her acceptance of her doll-head is caused by Bradwell’s acknowledgement of it as beautiful. This is problematic. Though I would not say Bradwell is the only reason Pressia feels less insecure about her hand, his flattery coincides with her independent realizations and I think it may be read by a YA audience as a result of it. This implication that a girl cannot feel beautiful until told so by a male is not exactly the feminist message I would have liked to see come from Pressia embracing her body.

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  6. Charlotte and Kirtsy,
    Your post takes up some very interesting and important issues facing young women in contemporary society. Pressia’s disgust of her own deformity and desire to hide it does speak volumes to many young readers’ likely personal experience with the desire to change one’s appearance. However, like the comments have noted, Pressia’s experience is not entirely representative of real-life beauty standards, as deformities are the norm. Thus in her desire to hide her own physical abnormalities, Pressia is in fact acting to appear non-conforming.

    Though your post focuses on beauty standards and feminine self-consciousness in relation to body shape and function, I would like to complicate your argument by adding the concept of classism to the discussion. Pressia’s desire to appear pure, and many other characters’ desires (such as El Capitan who initially wanted to remove his brother from his back), highlights not only the citizens’ desire for bodies which do not appear deformed, but also the citizens’ desire to appear as occupying a specific upper-class status. The pures, located in the Dome, can be understood as upper-class citizens: they have the privilege of constant security, shelter, access to food, water, and social services such as education and health care. In this manner, they occupy the upper 1% of this dystopian world; they are the citizens with privilege. As such, the wretches confined outside the Dome can necessarily represent a lower-class identity: they have no access to security, limited access to food and water, and must barter and scavenge to survive. Pressia’s, El Capitan’s, and others’ desire to thus appear pure falls within a classist rhetoric; they desire to be pure because to be pure is to confer a specific classed location, an upper-class existence which would result in safety, security, and envy from one’s peers.

    The desire to confer a specific classed positionality is reinforced by Ingership’s wife’s constant disguise: her stocking ‘second-skin.’ Ingership’s wife must adorn this skin due to her husband’s influence, as it is him who desires she look and act in accordance to societal expectations of womanhood. The stocking skin serves to hide her deformity, and does so well, as when Pressia first meets her she notably questions if Ingership’s wife was indeed actually pure. Although in the realm of the outside-the-Dome world the Ingership’s are arguably upper-class, in relation to the pures within the Dome they remain less advantaged. Thus, in forcing his wife to wear the stocking skin, Ingership ensures that others view him and his wife as closely to pure as possible, to thus ensure that they are conceived of as higher on the class hierarchy.

    In the addition of class to the reading of “Pure,” we can complicate our understanding of girlhood and beauty standards, creating an intersectional framework through which Pressia’s character can be unpacked. Baggot thus brings into consciousness the multiple and interconnected aspects of social inequalities, which I assert serves to criticize and begin to dismantle the powers responsible for said inequality.

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  7. I agree with a point made earlier in the comments, when we are introduced to El Capitan, he is painfully aware of his brother being fused to his back. He even says and thinks things that sounded quite similar to Pressia when she thinks about her own fused body. Their fusions hinder both of their lifestyles, force them to be conscious of the past and drive them to consider suicide. They both test the boundaries of the things they are fused with, refusing to accept that the objects have become as much a part of them as their own limbs. While their fusions are considerably different in size and literal burden, they both seem equally plagued. The character of El Capitan brings the discussion of body image, insecurity and the desire to conform to both genders instead of focusing on only the female perspective. El Capitan’s fusion is a visible and heavy burden that he must carry everyday and also affects his stature and shape. If it were not for his fusion, he could be considered a stereotypical “jock” type character, with his physically demanding job that involves control and risk and lack of emotional openness. His brother, like Pressia, is a constant reminder of the past, but more importantly, himself at a younger age, linking him to innocence and youth, things that contrast the male ideal of strength and stoic behaviour. I really enjoyed reading your blog post!

    Sarah.

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  8. To contend your point regarding “Baggott’s attempt to normalize disability and deformity within the novel”. It can be argued that Baggot’s usage of disability and deformity is used more to critique the understanding of disability within society by contrasting the Pures and the Wretches. Even within the Wretches there is a hierarchy of deformity, furthering this divide. The Wretches themselves are still susceptible to questioning and observing the different deformities, and in no way normalizing them. Although, there is an argument that even though the doll head does not hinder Pressia’s ability to function in her society, her internal feelings about it represent discourse surrounding disabilities and how they are viewed within society. The Wretches are unable to be fixed and therefore unable to be a part of the Dome society. This notion follows the idea that society chooses to address disability by separation and not adaptability.

    It is recognizable that there is a trope surrounding the male love interest being the influence of the female protagonist finding herself beautiful. It can be argued that this situation might be considered different. To play devil’s advocate, can it be argued that Pressia believes her deformity is beautiful as a result of Bradwell because they can both relate to having deformities. Perhaps Pressia sees this as a way to understand Bradwell’s perspective on the deformities, one of pride. If Partridge was the one to influence this realization it would be different considering he does not understand the lived experience of having a deformity as a result of the detonations.

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  9. Modern day society has a set of normative ideals which define the word beauty and the concept of beautiful. Similarly to the feelings which Pressia experiences in the novel surrounding her deformity, girls in modern day society struggle to conform to beauty ideals. This results in an impossible standard being set for girls, especially those with disabilities. Modern day media campaigns have begun to challenge these conceptions of beauty and disability by presenting girls such as Madeline Stuart who is an aspiring model with Down Syndrome. Madeline is challenging the normative constructions of beauty throughout her modelling career and her appearances throughout social media. Advertising for kids and girls’ clothing ads have also started to use kids with disabilities in their commercials. In this way, modern day society is challenging socialized beauty ideals. That being said, girls are still subjected to the scrutiny and unattainable beauty standards which are prevalent in modern society.
    I argue that it devalues and diminishes Pressia’s agency to say that she only believes that her disability is beautiful as a result of Bradwell thinking that it is. Pressia, throughout her journey in the novel, grows and learns to appreciate and accepts her deformity. Though she hides it at first, the events which unfold throughout the novel shape Pressia’s identity and her self image. To attribute that growth to the opinions of Bradwell would be an injustice to Pressia’s character.

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  10. This blog post was a very interesting take on how the apparently intrinsic self-consciousness in girls was applied in Pure. I disagree that Pressia’s eventual acceptance of her doll-head fist can only be attributed to Bradwell and his influence on Pressia. I concur that it was acceptance from her newly discovered family that allows Pressia to see that it is a part of her and is not something that she needs to be ashamed of. Despite Bradwell’s influence, Pressia is still embarrassed of her deformity, even up until she and Partridge are in their mother’s underground bunker. Partridge goes to hold her hand but he finds her doll’s head instead. “Pressia expects him to recoil, but he doesn’t” which makes her feel like she has been accepted by him (365). This is an especially significant acceptance because it comes from her half-brother, who is a Pure, and Pressia cannot help but feel self-conscious when she compares herself to him.

    Further, her mother gives the doll’s head sentimental value. The doll is what allows Aribelle to recognize Pressia as her daughter. Pressia’s description of Aribelle is also one of the only instances of her describing a character’s deformities as beautiful. Her mother lost her arms and legs after the Detonations, and Pressia can see the “delicacy, care, love that’s been poured into” the prosthetics (371). It is the first time that Bradwell’s views have actually made sense to her, which shows that Pressia’s own opinions, as well as those of her brother and mother, had just as much influence on Pressia’s self-confidence and the way she views deformities as her love interest did.

    In response to the question about Ingership’s wife being forced to wear the white stocking over her skin, I agree that it is to make her look more desirable and beautiful in Ingership’s eyes. I also agree with the comment that associated purity with being part of an upper class and attributing the stocking to Ingership’s desire to be a part of that upper class. His obsession with perfection was clear from the beginning, with his spotless car, how he did not want El Capitan to come along due to his apparent disgust with Helmud, his dislike for the ash infiltrating his home, and the way he forces his wife to behave. It is odd that Ingership himself does not wear a stocking to cover up his own imperfections. He only forces the women under his control to dress in this way (his wife and the maid), and does not wear a white stocking over his own deformities. This implies that it is more important in Ingership’s eyes to have women appear Pure than men, including himself. Ingership clearly has many old-fashioned beliefs about the way women must appear and behave, and the stocking seems to be one of the many ways in which he oppresses and controls the women around him.

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  11. I completely agree that Baggott attempts to normalize deformities/fusions but ultimately upholds traditional notions of beauty through her character Pressia. Baggott creates a universe where being pure is strange and unusual and within this universe Pressia’s desire to be pure positions her as counter-culture. That is fresh and flips the dichotomy on its head. However, I argue that the way the novel upholds traditional notions of beauty is through Pressia’s insecurities and hatred of her fused doll head/hand because she is a lens through which the reader views this universe. As we have spoken about in class this book does switch between points of view and does not use first person narration but Pressia is the female protagonist and the YA dystopian genre is a genre geared towards teen girls. Again I would recognize that just because the genre is targeted towards teen girls does not mean that other demographics don’t read these novels but Pressia is the leading female protagonist in the book and therefore a vehicle for the (girl) audience to be exposed to this fictional world. I wonder if Pressia’s hatred of her deformities is because she is the lens the (girl) readers see the world through and in their world (our world) such deformities would be considered strange. The position the typical reader comes from is a position that does not position deformities/fusions as normal and pureness as other. We come from a world in which disability and deformity does not conform to standards of beauty. It is this positionality which I see Pressia’s character being tailored to. For an audience which such a different location the way into such a universe is through a character who shares our thinking and views. Pressia’s hatred of her deformity signals to the audience that she desires to conform to our (unrealistic) beauty standards and therefore is like us, she is relatable. It is from this reading that I ask the question: what would it mean to have a protagonist who likes their disability? Who does not seek to conform to our beauty standards and does not wrestle with their deformity but rather views it as a badge of honour from the beginning of the novel: what perspective would that offer?

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  12. This is a very interesting topic for this book because the people who were outside the Dome when the Detonations occurred were all deformed in some way, causing some people physical disabilities. It is the reason Pressia hides her deformed hand inside a sock. In regards to your questions, in modern society, the notion is that being disabled or deformed equates to being less beautiful. Although Bradwell sees Pressia and her disability as beautiful, it is only one compliment that is added to a few other reasons to cause Pressia to see her deformity as something beautiful too. When Pressia meets her mom for the first time, her mom recognizes the doll and, thus, is the final factor for Pressia to accept the doll head that took the place of her hand.

    As for the significance of Pressia fusing with a doll, Baggott suggests that mothering and nurturing is innate; it signifies Pressia’s innocence and her status as a girl. Baggott asserts that traditional gender roles still exist in the outside, even after the Detonations. Pressia, however, tries to break away from her gender stereotypes by hiding the piece of her that shows her as innocent and a girl.

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  13. I agree with the point that Pressia’s view on her appearance and desires for uniformity and how this is reflective of our society, especially in the media. Although I also believe has another Pressia’s desire for uniformity is deeper than physical appearance. Pressia wants to be the same as the people that remember the Before. Pressia does not have any of her own memories and she desires to have them and be able to play I Remember. All of her memories from the Before, she learns, are made up.

    Memory is a missing piece of her identity. All she really knows is she had a doll during the Detonations because it is fused to her hand. Although she, at one point, despises the doll but she learns to accept it. She especially learns to accept the doll when she learns that it was a gift from her mother. This discovery reveals a missing piece of her identity. The thing she despised and wanted to cut off revealed her true identity as Partridge’s half sister when she discovers her mother’s identity.

    The desire for uniformity is also seen in Pure. Although a physical uniformity is not desire in this world but a desire to all have the cure and for everyone to live the same emotionless and passive life. Lena originally wanted to conform and be the same as everyone else because she was scared of what love did to her mother. Only when she discovers the truth, that her mother has been locked away, she wants to escape the uniformity she was desired.

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  14. Hi Charlotte and Kirsty,

    I enjoyed reading your post and its focus on Pressia’s changing relationship with her ‘deformed’ body. I’ve wondered if a lot of the shame that Pressia feels regarding her doll hand and scarred face is influenced by her life in the Before. By being able to remember a time without destruction and fusing Pressia has something to miss and yearn for. Her knowledge and sharing of what the Before was like through the act of “I Remember…” also creates new understanding of what the world was like before the Detonations. Could we assume that even though Pressia was young that she was aware of social beauty standards, which now make her see disgust in her body after the Detonations?

    I think that it’s interesting also that her doll head hand, which she despises, is a significant identifier for her mother to finally realize that she is in fact her daughter. This deformed object that she has tried to cut off, and hides constantly, is the only reason she discovers that Aribelle is in fact her mother. Without the doll head Partridge’s mother would only be able to assume that Pressia may be her lost child, due to Pressia’s lack of memory from before the Detonations. Pressia’s deformity in the end reunites her with someone she has missed for the last ten years, and thought to be dead, bringing back that past (the Before).

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  15. I think there are two reasons that Pressia learns to accept her doll-head hand. The first is because Bradwell says that it is beautiful. It feels nice to have someone say that one of your insecurities is beautiful. I argue that this does not challenge Pressia’s integrity as a girl hero, because it makes her human. She is a girl, who has insecurities, and appreciates a compliment from someone she cares about. I argue that there is nothing wrong with learning to love yourself, because someone pointed out that an aspect of who you are is beautiful. People come to understand themselves through others.
    The second is when she learns that the doll was a gift from her mother. In the beginning of the novel, Pressia is embarrassed that she was fused with a doll because she felt she was too old at the time to be playing with dolls. Now that she learns why she had the doll she realizes the significance of it. She is able to accept that it is a part of her, when she learns about its connection to her family. The doll is physically and emotionally a part of who she is.

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  16. I think discussing the white stocking is vital to this novel, as discussed in class, Ingership forces his wife to wear the white stocking for many reasons. I think a huge part of this, which cannot be ignored, is the dominance that he exerts by making her wear something she clearly (to me) does not want to wear, this was against her own will, but through Ingerships influence of her acting in accordance with societies expectation of womanhood and femininity, she conforms. By agreeing to wear this, very weird skin coloured stocking, Baggott paints Ingership’s wife as submissive, and reiterates this image of a 1960’s suburban house wife. I do heavily agree, that Ingership does force her to wear this to make her look pure, rather than desirable, as I think the stocking, is almost supposed to do the opposite and make her less beautiful in a non- appealing, asexual way? Thus, by forcing his wife to wear the ‘second skin’, Ingership ensures that others view him and his wife as closely to pure as possible, as Zoe also mentioned in her response, to ensure that they are perceived with a higher platform in society. I think, by reading this particular passage of this novel, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to our own society, and how there is much frenzy regarding the clothes that young girls often choose to wear, and the criticism they often face for ‘revealing too much’ which often leads to insidious narratives in regards to sexual violence, that somehow, these girls ‘entice’ these violations. Baggott reinforces through Ingership, that as a collective society, we still prefer young females to ‘cover up’, whether this be to preserve our own integrity, or to submit to the desires of a heteropatriachal society.

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  17. I really liked your argument that Baggott reinforces that there are stereotypical ideas of femininity and beauty within modern society. I would argue that Pressia’s insecurity of the doll head that she has been fused to acts as a perfect metaphor that can applied universally, it implicates towards her embarrassment, towards her appearance and desire to conform to what is seen as the norm in terms of beauty. I particularly liked your link to the comment that ‘experimental exposure to either ultra-thin or average-sized models lowered body satisfaction and consequently self-esteem’, as I believe there is a clear link here to Pressia and her insecurity about her deformity, as we are aware we are derived from a society that views bodies that do not typically conform to the norm as not ‘beauty’, thus Baggot offers a critique of society. Furthering this, the fact that Pressia learns to accept her deformity sends out a message that in turn contradicts the notion that we should conform to societal norms of femininity and asks young readers of this novel to question constructs of beauty and suggests that a deconstruction is necessary in today’s society.

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  18. I enjoyed reading your blog post as it brought up a few interesting points. I would agree with you in arguing that Pressia’s insecurities are representative of the self aware and critical eye that girls have today. With constant portrayals of the “ideal” appearance, girls today become insecure and even ashamed of their differences. Pressia’s shame and discomfort echoes this concept. As well, I would suggest that even with adjustments to the “ideal” body, certain people are always still made to feel insecure. Whether the trend is to be model thin, or have a “Kardashian butt,” there will always be someone made to feel insecure. Pressia’s experience parallels this, as everyone has deformities and disabilities, but she feels self conscious in believing that her type of deformity is not normal.
    I would also like to touch on the actual deformity Pressia has, the doll head. I would suggest that this is significant to this novel, as girlhood is a major aspect. I would argue that the doll head represents the childishness that girls so often try to disguise. I remember when I was young, I desperately wanted to seem older and more mature. This is commonly seen in girls who reject “childish toys” as they enter adolescence. Pressia’s attached doll head is representative of the juvenile, and though she tries to pretend it doesn’t exist, it is a part of her existence.

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