Last Sunday the New York Times ran a fascinating cover story called “What do women want?” on a group of female researchers who are trying to understand what ignites female lust. It’s a really diverse treatment of the subject, with theories ranging from intimacy to narcissism, all explored through robust clinical studies.
My particular interest in the piece relates to the arousal-sensing dress I’m working on as part of my biodynamic clothing project. The premise of the project is for the garment to sense when the (female) wearer is aroused and to move in response. My original framework was based on an internal/external model, where the goal was to take an internal emotional state and project it outwards onto the “skin” of the body, much like a peacock or any of a series of other animals. Using that construct, it seems most plausible to use light or some other display technology to communicate the output. But all along I’ve really had my mind set on using motion for the output, a decision that has created numerous design opportunities, as well as many obstacles.
Reading the article, a passage struck me that I believe illustrates another possible framework for viewing the movement aspect of the garment. In this section, the author is explaining a theory relating to the disconnect between female test subject’s subjective self-evaluation of their arousal and the physical biodata, and a contrasting tendency in men.
The penis is external, its reactions more readily perceived and pressing upon consciousness. Women might more likely have grown up, for reasons of both bodily architecture and culture – and here was culture again, undercutting clarity – with a dimmer awareness of the erotic messages of their genitals.
Motion, then, is indicative of a totally different construct – that of a leveling between men and women. Female arousal, as the article makes plain, is mysterious and often impossible to detect. Arousal in men is, by contrast, apparent, and its mode of expression is through motion. Therefore it is natural to imagine that a prosthesis (for clothing is prosthesis, at its root) depicting female arousal would also exhibit motion.
This passage also suggests to me a powerful justification for the arousal-sensing garment: to conceptually bridge the gap between mind and body for wearer and/or audience. The dress is not intended as a ready-to-wear piece – it’s an exploration into the power of technology to bring responsiveness and emotion to previously static products in our lives. But the idea of using technology to bridge this mind-body gap is very intriguing. One macro interest area for me in my work is the notion of how objects can transform our interactions with others. But perhaps this idea of biodynamic clothing could also hold potential for self-discovery, so that in the process of interacting with an object, you strengthen connections within yourself.
PS: As to why the graphic above, it’s the first pull quote from the article and I just really loved the type treatment!