The agential ball-girl-body: Girls, beauty-body practices and the school ball (prom)

Year: 2019

Author: Ingram, Toni

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper considers how a feminist new materialist approach offers an ontologically different way of conceiving bodies, beauty-body practices and the high school ball (prom). Existing sexualities research has highlighted how dominant discourses of femininity structure how girls are expected to look, dress and behave. Extending these understandings, this paper considers the becoming of ball-girl-bodies when matter is taken into account. It asks how a relational approach might invite new ways of thinking about bodies and beauty-body practices beyond a discursive and human focus?

The discussion is informed by a recent study in Aotearoa New Zealand exploring the entangled relations that produce girls, sexuality and the school ball. Drawing on the work of Barad (2007), ball-girl-bodies are conceptualised as intra-actively becoming through entanglements of material-discursive and affective forces. The focus of the presentation is to explore beauty-body practices as material-discursive intra-activity. Here, discursive practices associated with beauty and the feminine body are intra-actively entangled with material forces to produce (or enact) the ball-girl-body. This approach highlights the materiality of the body and other matter as active forces in the becoming of ball-girl-bodies. It also offers a rethinking of the subject/object divide, where conventional ‘boundaries’ of the human body are blurred. As such, the paper argues there is no essential ball-girl-body; rather, bodies are material-discursive phenomena continually becoming through dynamic entangled relations. I consider how this approach opens a space for understanding agency and ball-girl-bodies differently: where bodies are not wholly reduced to social scripts and bodily capacities are never fixed.