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Glamour, Excess and Commodification: The Female Body in 1950s Britain

Wednesday 20 October 2021, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Lynda Nead (Birkbeck, University of London)


This presentation considers the distinctive blonde bombshell body of the 1950s; curvaceous and opulent, almost baroque. This body seems the perfect corporeal expression of the emerging affluence and last-ditch military and imperial defiance of Britain in this period. It is the visual culmination of the migration of a U.S., Hollywood-style glamour to Britain. Glamour and sexualised femininity were part of a larger passage of commodities across the Atlantic in this period, but in the process something important happens: Blonde becomes British; Marilyn Monroe becomes Diana Dors, the pin-up girl of the Suez Crisis.

The vulgar excess of the 1950s bombshell body troubled and interfered with a deep-seated myth of British restraint and subtlety. It was, quite simply, too much, beyond containment, and in the end, it came down to a question of scale, or, more accurately, a loss of scale. The expansive female bodies of the 1950s demanded something more than existing flatscreen cinema technologies and these years saw an explosion of cinema-specific technological innovations such as CinemaScope, Cinerama, 3-D, stereoscopic sound and Technicolor.

Drawing on a range of visual culture including photography, film, cartoons and fine art, the paper will explore the many meanings of the female body in 1950s Britain.

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