Portraits Of Young Polygamist Women Are Unsettling, Telling

Before I looked at the New York Times Magazine photographs of the young women of the FLDS, I figured that the photos would be reminiscent of Diane Arbus, who was famous for her simultaneously arresting, voyeuristic and arguably exploitative photographs of fringe subcultures (nudists, circus freaks, genetic anomalies). But Stephanie Sinclair, the Times photographer who was given unprecedented access to the quotidian goings on amongst the female members of the FLDS, has a much softer, subtle touch. Her photographs are moving in their mundanity; strip away the bizarre bouffant hairstyles and dowdy prairie dresses and the women of the FLDS look like any other young women caring for small children. However — and it's difficult to know if this is an accurate representation of the culture, or a deliberate choice on Sinclair's part — there is a certain weary blankness imprinted on the faces of the women. The only smiling females photographed are those under 10 years old.Of course, it's easy for me to read into their faces and project my own preconceived notions of the sect onto their unlined brows. Maybe they look weary because they're new moms, or because of the stress of the government raid on their ranch, or perhaps they've been bickering with their six sister-wives about who takes care of the babies. As the woman who wrote the accompanying article to these photographs, Sara Corbett notes, "We may never know much about the individual circumstances of the young women in these pages or, most important, whether the relationships that carried some of them into motherhood were forced upon them. The women Sinclair met offered no information about the nature of their marriages or who the fathers of their children are." Corbett also touches on the curious irony implicit in the attention paid to the FLDS women. "What's interesting is that in a case that is, at heart, about doctrinaire male authority, and supposed abuse committed by men, it's the women of the F.L.D.S. who have largely had to assume a public mantle these past months, making court appearances, trying to defend both their faith and their lifestyle in the face of deep skepticism," Corbett writes. Though I think there's an easy explanation to why the country's fascination is fixed solely on the FLDS women. There is a simple reason the FLDS men perpetuate a system that rewards them, honors them, imbues them with power. Why the FLDS women continue on is much harder to reconcile with modern societal expectations. In that sense, these photos are Arbusean after all: they make the viewer deeply uncomfortable, and they make us reevaluate our social contexts. Young Women Of The FLDS [NYT] Children Of God [NYT]


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