“I am interested in the paradox of living in a society that condemns pedophilia, yet where the sexualisation of children and women as childlike is so apparent. Baby Face is a performance about the infantilisation of adult women and being a big girl.” – Katy Dye
As I entered the theatre, Take Good Care of my Baby by Bobby Vee played repeatedly. By it’s fourth or fifth rendition it had created an uncanny sense of discomfort in the room. There are a few songs you’ll sing along to, because you always have, without realising the dulcet undertones of inappropriate desire. Young Girl by Gary Pucket and The Union Gap is an obvious example, and now I know that Take Good Care of my Baby is also amongst the ranks.
“Once upon a time that little girl was mine
If I’d been true I know she’d never be with you, so
Take good care of my baby”
What age does a girl turn when it no longer becomes acceptable to patronise her in order to humour adults?
What age does a girl turn when it begins to become acceptable to infantilise her for adult entertainment?
With a face as bare as the set, Katy Dye entered the stage, fully dressed and sucking on a lollypop. She picked me out from the crowd, admiring my hair. She moved on to another member of the audience, complimenting them on their sense of style. She continued flattering the crowd as her comments slowly became more uncomfortable. She began to pick up on “your rosy cheeks!” along with similar attributes commonly associated with young children. Eventually, the vulgarity of her words outweighed the initial intention of the compliments.
The rest of the performance followed suit, it began somewhat tame and continued to grow in creepiness. The ridiculous levels that Baby Face reaches serve to highlight the same qualities within the facets of today’s society; the media, Disney films, advertising, music, the modelling industry, our own behaviour, baby voices.
Katy Dye created Baby Face after noticing a “paradox of living in a society that condemns pedophilia, yet where the sexualisation of children and women as childlike is so apparent”. When I think about Hit Me Baby One More Time (sorry Britney), knee socks, how the removal of pubescent body hair for women is not just normal, but -sexy-, amongst the plethora of other ways women are portrayed, addressed and expected to be, I find myself agreeing with her.
I have noticed that children are getting older. I actually feel older saying so, but I see the younger relatives of my friends wearing makeup I wouldn’t know how to use and looking as if they could be my age. The industry for anti-aging products is also booming. Do the pressures that result in these polar opposite, yet oddly similar phenomena come from the media, the need to appease ‘what men want’, a genuine personal preference of each individual, or something else completely?
How small does a girl have to be before calling them a ‘big girl’ changes its meaning?
How big does a girl have to grow before it’s acceptable to call her ‘baby’?
“And if you should discover
That you don’t really love her
Just send my baby back home to me
Take good care of my baby“
I caught up with Katy following her performances at In Between Time festival to discuss.
Baby Face resonated with me before I went to see the show, as I have always struggled with the expectation to remove my body hair and have never quite been comfortable living in a body that seems prepubescent to me. However, I am always met with reactions that make me feel like I am disgusting when expressing this. Everybody has experienced pressure to embody a version of themselves from another point in their life; to grow up when they are young, or to look younger once they are grown. Is this something that resonates with you?
Yes, I totally agree with the point about body hair – it is (in my opinion) one of the most normalised aspects of infantilising ourselves. However, many argue that shaving is ’empowering’, or a form of taking control over your own body. I can see both points of view, but for me, the link between the smooth legs of 9-year-old girls and grown women investing a lot of time, effort and money into getting back silky smooth legs/vagina/underarms is somehow disturbing. And yes – I see it as a strange demand to be placed upon adult women. Do you think that it is unfair to say this is a disempowering act – when to others this, and many similar acts, may be very empowering?
I don’t feel like disempowerment and empowerment are mutually exclusive when applied to a broad spectrum. A lot of people don’t give themselves the chance to just be hairy and actually see what their bodies look like. Without having had that experience with yourself, then you’re robbing yourself of not just the liberation, but the chance to make an informed choice. So yes, it is empowering, as long as the person is giving themself that choice.
People can be unaware of how affected their choices and opinions are by things like the media, advertising and porn. Often people state that they simply prefer their, or their partner’s, bodies to be hairless as if that opinion is built without any kind of peripheral pressure. I find body hair fascinating in this way as it fuzzes the line between what people actually find sexy, and what people feel like they should find sexy.
Yes, that is so true! I really do personally think that all of these outside factors of how women should be and look is the main influencer in body hair – and it is almost impossible to stand outside that objectively and just say ‘I just like a hairless body.’ I think if a person ever catches themselves doing something where no reasonable questioning has come into it – we are, to some extent, brainwashed and we can’t dress that up in the name of ’empowerment’. Yes, I also agree with the idea – for all sexes – if you are not giving yourself the choice to find out the alternative way of being, how are you going to know what you really like? So many of the things we class as sexy – or fetishes – are almost like stock cartoons that we accept are sexy. What people like and what turns people on is really so individual and imaginative. And unfortunately, through mainstream porn and popular culture, we are all given such a limited idea of what is acceptably sexy and what isn’t, using the same uniform ideas to signify sexiness or desirability.
Are there any personal experiences that fuelled your creation, and the subsequent birthing (if you will), of Baby Face?
Yes, there was a lot of personal experiences that fuelled the creation of the piece. It came from feeling infantilised within relationships, but also subconsciously using this infantilisation to feel loved/to make someone closer. It was only upon reflection, when creating Baby Face, that I realised how quickly this sort of behaviour can get out of control. Another starting point was realising that people often guess my age as younger than I actually am, and I found that complementary. In retrospect, this seems disturbing and I wanted to question further how young a comparison can be for it to still resonate as a compliment? We say that the comparison with a baby’s smooth, smooth skin is complimentary, as long as we block out the disgusting/completely dependent gross reality of babies!
Did you have a particular reaction, or realisation, you wanted the crowd to take away with them from the piece? Do you worry that people may come away from it remembering only the hilarity of the sensational aspects of the show, without really thinking about the morally abject issues that it raises?
This is the reaction that I am very much interested in provoking in people. I aim to openly call out how normalised the daily infantilisation towards women is; behaviour received in a relationship, hundreds of adverts women may see on anti ageing treatments, an image of a child model dressed up to look sexy in a magazine, normalised behaviours such as shaving your post-pubescent body hair, looking ‘cute’. It is the hypocritical nature of humans that Baby Face touches on – that in some ways our society seems to abhor paedophilia, and yet the messages around us encourage the coveting of ultimate youth. Through some of the more extreme ways in which the piece is performed, Baby Face highlights how the sorts of images I bring up are easily and comfortably consumed by ourselves in many other situations. I suppose I want to use that hilarity to get people to see the absurd hypocritical nature of our culture.
One thing I respected about Baby Face, was that there was a real cross section of people in the audience. It was reviving to see that there were so many different types of people there, it must be great for you to see this within your audience too.
In terms of people’s ages, it is refreshing to see lots of different people. I often wonder what the most contrasting place would be to perform the show, maybe in a place like the Debenhams make-up aisles, or to a group of teenage girls, or even to a group of predominantly older women? Every audience member has a completely different attitude towards the piece depending on what kind of relevance it had to their lives and I find this fascinating, I would love to do a post-show debate sometime!
I’ve often found it difficult to talk about women’s issues with people who don’t necessarily identify with terms like feminism, and Baby Face helped me realise that entertainment is a practical and accessible platform to encourage people to feel open about having a conversation. When did you decide to start using performance to explore uncomfortable issues?
I became interested in doing performances like this when I was working as a theatre usher at Riverside Studios in London and I was seeing lots of different kinds of performances. I remember one such piece called ‘Adolf’, which I thought was going to be a standard biographical performance of the historical figure. It was really the opposite. The performer opened a can of beer and started to talk about any suppressed racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist thoughts he had. By doing this he was questioning how much the othering of each other has taken place throughout history, and how perhaps the more civilised on the surface we appear – the more we may be hiding our intolerance of difference. People actually got up and left the theatre in protest.
This experience really stuck in my memory and fuelled a lot of my interest in making performance. It made me realise live performance is probably one of the most subversive and uncomfortable mediums to work in. It is this that makes it the best medium to reflect on ourselves as humans. We are live in front of you and there is nothing to hide anymore!
Thanks so much Katy, it was great chatting to you and I look forward to catching to future shows.
If you would like to learn more about Katy or get in touch, visit her here.
Katy has upcoming performances of her piece Flag. Flag is a performance that explores what it means to be patriotic and what the identity of Britain is really made of.
Catch it on the 18th and 19th April at Camden People’s Theatre.
To see more and buy tickets click here.