Lara's Body

please note: this is a project of the year 2000, kept here as archive for!
It is not updated anymore!







Lara With two guns



Lara Bikini


Lara naked

Lara Croft's body is probably the first thing about her that catches our attention. It is also probably one of the main reasons for her enormous popularity. Therefore it is essential to look at this body and at the meanings it generates:

The Body as Locus of Power

It is largely the merit of Michel Foucault to bring the body into the theoretical discussions and to unmask it as the primary site for the operation of modern forms of power; power that is not top-down and repressive but rather subtle and elusive, producing so-called 'docile bodies.'
Many feminists argue that the attempt to attain the ever-elusive, ever-changing and homogenising ideal of femininity and feminine beauty turns women's bodies into precisely these docile bodies by forcing women to spend their energies 'improving', transforming and subjugating their bodies to external regulations.
In our culture the ideals of femininity are mainly perpetuated via visual imagery and this ideal demand women to exhibit the 'best of both worlds': warm, nurturing, charming and tough, cool and successful.
Lara is a prime example of this ideal: she is tough, physically fit, independent and in control but she retains her 'feminine' qualities in the way she moves, dresses, offers herself for representation and particularly in the way her body is formed - an ideal that is especially difficult and even dangerous to attempt to realise (eg through plastic surgery or eating disorders). It can be argued therefore that she perpetuates a potentially limiting and inhibiting image of a woman's body.

The Body as Commodity

In our postmodern consumer culture everything has been turned into a commodity or a good to be consumed. Lara is constructed in precisely this way, capitalist discourse permeates her entire existence. She is there to be consumed and she helps to bring other products for consumption to the public's interests via advertisments.
Lara takes the commodification and idealisation of the body to an extreme: she is readily available at all times and in all circumstances, she is linked to consumer goods and she is often reduced to a commodity. She can be used and/or looked at whenever the 'owner' feels like it and he (or she) is free to choose how to look at her.
But Lara can be counter-consumed, consumed in ways that were not intended by the producers and marketers. By reading her against the grain and by refusing to consume her blindly and passively the consumer holds the power to challenge capitalist strategies. The possibilities range from the appropriation of Lara by lesbian communities to the positive role model teenage girls might discern in Lara, actively ignoring th more limiting and reductive sides of her and focussing on her empowering and liberating characteristics.

The Body as Sexual Object

The reduction of Lara's body to a mere sexual object (her physical fitness only serving to further her attractiveness) is a perfect example for what Foucault has described as the evergrowing discourse on sex. In our obsessiveness with sex we have come to percieve sex as the ultimate standard against which the body and pleasure are measured. All bodily pleasures are always related to sexuality: they are understood in the terms of the degree to which they deviate from, conform to, improve or avoid sex.
This connection between pleasure and sex can clearly be seen in the representations of Lara: the game and the other products she advertises would not sell as well if they were not related to sexual pleasure via Lara's body.

But the hypersexualisation of Lara's body serves more ends than just raising her market value: it serves to reinforce biological difference. In her article Forms of Technological Embodiment Anne Balsamo poses the question why certain bodies are represented in an overly sexualised way. Her argument, concerning female body builders, equally applies to Lara:

female body builders who develop big muscles, and consequently greater strength, are considered transgressive of the natural 'order' of things - an order that defines women as weak and frail. Their transgressive body displays are neutralized in the mass media through representations that sexualise their athletic bodies - their sexual attractiveness is asserted over their physical capabilities.

When looking at representations of Lara this is precisely what we see: her sexual attractiveness is clearly more important than her physical capabilities (not to speak of the weapons she carries). This is one of the reasons why she is not perceived as potentially threating. The fear that a strong and even armed woman might induce in a male consumer is radically diminished. Even though she may challenge the common notion of femninity as weak, compliant and depending, the inherent thrat that existing social order might be overthrown is reduced by overemphasising the biological differences between men and women. In this way we are constantly reminded and reassured of these differences which are so essentially necessary to justify male superiority.
Particularly in the present times, which bring about many changes and wquestion many constructs hitherto unquestioned, these reassurances are especially sought after. Technological developments blur the boundaries between nature and culture, between man and machine. Balsamo argues that the more this boundary challenged and the proper order of things therefore questioned, the more heavily other borders will be guarded.



© Birgit Pretzsch, August 2000 in case of questions or comments please mail me

All this information is basically a summary of my Masters thesis "A Postmodern Analysis of Lara Croft: Body, Identity, Reality"