Embracing the Monstrous: Ambivalence and the Grotesque

Throughout my life, I’ve received jibes and teasing remarks about my indecisiveness, my ambivalence, and my hesitance when faced with any kind of conflict, question, or fork in the road. These comments implied that my thoughtfulness was inferior because of its inefficiency, that it was an expression of passivity and subordination to the opinions of others. What these comments really meant was that, through my ambivalence, I rendered myself illegible to those who wanted to classify me in relation to various (often oversimplified) opinions and stances.

“What woman, growing up in a sexist culture, is not ambivalent about her ‘femaleness?’” writes Susan Bordo in the introduction to her book, Unbearable Weight (1). Women’s ambivalence is often linked to weakness. Consider the stereotype of the typical woman-who-can’t-make-up-her-mind: ambivalent women are portrayed as incapable and in constant need of a man to make decisions for them.

pic 1.jpg

Source: Bustle

According to the anonymous artist Ambivalently Yours, this is a minimizing view that discredits the ways ambivalence can empower women. The mix of contradictory emotions women experience is not a sign of stupidity or lack of will, but a natural response to the complexities women navigate every day. Rather than a passive state of confusion, ambivalence is an active state of rebellion against sexist culture. As Ambivalently Yours told the Huffington Post, “the world benefits from people being one thing or another,” and by “refusing to see things in a binary language,” women are resisting the reductiveness that limits their identities (2). Ambivalence is threatening, because it provides alternatives to the “fixed identities that make [women] legible to the outside world” (3).

The female body is a site fraught with ambivalence, a space for constant navigation of presentation, identity, and resistance. In order for women’s bodies to be legible they must fit the dominant beauty ideal, a normalizing force that convinces women their bodies are in constant need of transformation. These disciplinary discourses make women into “‘docile bodies’ channeling their energies inward, toward self-modification, rather than outward, toward social change” (4). The “twin ideologies of normalcy and beauty” create harmful attitudes that not only frame female and disabled bodies as spectacles but also “as pliable bodies to be shaped infinitely so as to conform to a set of standards called ‘normal’ and ‘beautiful’” (5).

pic 2.jpg

Source: Dazed

The establishment of a norm of beauty standards relegates all non-conforming bodies to the realm of the “grotesque.” A grotesque body “transgresses the social order and is exiled into the margins of propriety and decorum” (6). According to Mary Russo, the female body is considered the epitome of the grotesque: a space of blood, amniotic fluids, and milk secretion, traditionally seen as corrupt and impure. Many of Ambivalently Yours’ drawings fit into this category. The artist describes her work as “evolving from something a bit cuter to something more grotesque.” She values the juxtaposition between the pastel pink background and soft colors of her drawings with the creepy, warped women she depicts. A Huffington Post article described them as “mythical monsters that had recently given up on fitting in with the human race” (7).

pic 3

Source: Bustle

Like the debate over ambivalence, representation of the grotesque is “a space of feminist possibility” (8). Grotesque female bodies “incite deviance,” (9) by embracing and displaying their imperfections unapologetically. Ambivalently Yours hopes to inspire women through her drawings, sending the message that they can be more than just one thing, that their thoughts and feelings are complex and don’t need to be reconciled to be valid. The Huffington Post agrees, “there is something wonderfully monstrous about a woman who refuses to fit into fixed categories” (10).

pic 4

Source: Dazed



(1) Susan Bordo. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993: 37.

(2) Priscilla Frank. “Why One Artist Believes Ambivalence is a Form of Feminist Resistance.” Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/one-artist-believes-ambivalence-is-a-form-of-feminist-resistance_us_589c8424e4b0c1284f2ae727.

(3) Frank. “Why One Artist Believes Ambivalence is a Form of Feminist Resistance.”

(4) Kathy Davis. “Remaking the She-Devil: A Critical Look at Feminist Approaches to Beauty.” Hypatia 6, no. 2 (Summer 1991): 28.

(5) Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.” National Women’s Studies Association 14, no. 3 (September 2002): 1-32. JSTOR.

(6) Cathia Jenainati. “Introducing Feminism: A Graphic Guide.” Icon Books Ltd.

(7) Frank. “Why One Artist Believes Ambivalence is a Form of Feminist Resistance.”

(8) Erica McWilliam. “The Grotesque Body as a Feminist Aesthetic?” Counterpoints 168 (2003): 220. JSTOR.

(9) Erica McWilliam. “The Grotesque Body as a Feminist Aesthetic?” 219.

(10) Frank. “Why One Artist Believes Ambivalence is a Form of Feminist Resistance.”



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: