Photos Reveal How Popular Fashions Leave Uncomfortable Marks

Justin Bartels photographed the lasting impressions that restrictive undergarments make on the skin.
Mar 22, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Justin Bartels was a sociology major in college, but his most famous foray into social science came long after he’d graduated from California State University, San Marcos.

He credits his Impression photo series, which was created in 2011 but has since gone viral and continues to rack up hits on Tumblr, to intimate dating experiences that ocurred far outside the classroom.

The 10 black-and-white images depict parts of a woman’s naked body, focusing on the textured imprints left on her skin from restrictive high heels, stockings and undergarments, such as bras, panties, and corsets. The images take their titles from headlines in women’s fashion magazines: “Hot Jeans for a Hot Body,” “Underwire Cups Give Lauren’s Boobs a Boost,” and “Need a Lift?”

“It interested me that so many women would wear binding or uncomfortable clothing to either impress or attract others or for their own self-esteem,” Bartels told TakePart via email. Now 30, the San Diego–based photographer returned to school several years ago to receive a second degree—this time in photography—at Art Center College of Design.

“I had noticed through my encounters with the opposite sex how much [women] complained about the discomfort from their high heels, tight jeans, underwire brassieres, etc. I wanted the images to capture the ‘after,’ showing what happens when they take off those articles, and the visual proof of their discomfort.”

While the photos depict the deep imprints of straps, stitches, and laces on the body, Bartels said it didn’t take much for the tight clothing to leave marks. The model was his girlfriend at the time, and all the clothes she wore for the photo shoot—and then promptly removed just 30 minutes to an hour later—were her own.

The model in the photographs isn’t alone in wearing clothes that are restrictive or too tight. Nearly half of 1,000 women polled in a U.K. survey last year by the lingerie brand Bluebella said they’d bought an item of clothing or lingerie that was a size too small, and one in 10 had bought an item up to three sizes too small as incentive to lose weight, the Daily Mail reported. It probably doesn’t help that fashion is often modeled by women who weigh 23 percent less than the average woman, according to findings by Plus Model magazine.

Bartels now works as a commercial photographer specializing in fashion, but maybe it’s ironic that his most popular series is a critique of the garment industry. He says he’s currently developing several new photography projects that put his sociology degree to good use.