The readable body of Trisha Paytas
Trisha Kay Paytas is an American YouTuber and media personality. Born in California and raised in Illinois, she relocated to Los Angeles in her teens. In California, she became a stripper and began acting on the side. She made over 45 television appearances and appeared in a number of music videos by famous artists (Wikipedia, 2019).
The mediatizations of Trisha Paytas' body
Trisha Paytas is an example of how we decide to show our bodies in specific ways depending on specific platforms. That is why we decided to write about her, using some theoretical notions borrowed from the French philosopher Michel Foucault. Trisha Paytas has multiple and different accounts on a variety of social media and websites. On each, she presents herself, and her body, in a different way. She often speaks about sexual subjects, and that is relevant in our analysis as we want to show how individuals limit their sexual expression according to context, especially in public domains such as social media.
On social media, we encounter much visual display of bodies. People attend to their bodies; they work hard on them so that they can appear desirable to the eyes of others. This is because we can (and do) read bodies in moralized ways: we see bodies and then make moral judgments about the person. But what are the norms? What is considered attractive? And why?
For our analysis, we seek inspiration in Foucault's work on abnormality and the body. In the 19th century, Foucault writes, the readable body emerges. The body becomes like a book that we can read: the way in which we present ourselves to others, becomes the index for our bodies, which are used to produce meanings and index an identity (Foucault, 2003).
Trisha's main channel vs her vlog channel
In the age of globalization everything on social media spreads quickly; sometimes it seems as if everyone wants to be liked and look like the best version of themselves. In the way we present ourselves online we make others see us in a particular way.
Trisha uses her body differently on different YouTube accounts - main channel and vlog channel - where she now has 4.8 million subscribers. She presents herself as more constructed on the main account (blndsundoll4mj). The topics of her videos range from beauty, binge eating, losing weight to sex(uality).
The vlog channel (Trisha Paytas) is used for day to day videos with less doctored looks, including cooking in her underwear. Here, she shows her real personality. This can be called a morphing body. She goes from a sophisticated body, which got her famous in the first place, to a more realistic version of herself, which seeks approval and is very emotional.
We can use Foucauldian thinking to look at how she presents herself and creates a social interpretation of Trisha. This creates a moralized behavioral script; it is moralized in the sense that we have moral opinions about it. Some people call her a confident and empowered woman, because she is not afraid to show her body and act in any way she likes. As Foucault puts it, to be considered a normal person and to live in a healthy society we need to be in control of ourselves (Foucault, 2003). Trisha’s vlog channel lacks self-control and moderation: she appears not afraid to be judged, she’s very emotional, and she puts videos of breakdowns online. All of this can create a sense of abnormality.
More and more people undergo plastic surgeries to fix some aspect of their bodies that they do not find attractive. Trisha Paytas is no exception, and this is the second way in which she morphs her body. Trisha has said: “There’s no one body part of me that is real” (Famous Entertainment, 2019). She has had liposuction (surgery of removing fat from one area and adding it to another), cheek fillers, breast augmentation, Brazilian butt lift, and lip injections.
For Foucault, bodies are always of absolute importance, especially how we read them to the smallest details. He mentions that the way we organize our body reflects our ultimate control over it (Foucault, 2003). Usually Trisha tries to come across as the confident type, but in a few videos she admits she's insecure about herself and is addicted to plastic surgery. Being an addict signalizes lack of control, a feature of abnormality.
Sex and sexuality
When Trisha Paytas was a teenager, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. There she also began doing professional lingerie modeling and she worked as a stripper and an escort to support herself (Wikipedia, 2019). Her YouTube channels feature a lot of sexuality, varying from ‘sex toy hauls’ and ‘lingerie try on videos’ on her main channel to talking about sex(uality) on her vlog channel.
In the book ‘Abnormal, Lectures at the Collège de France 1974-1975’, Michel Foucault talks about the moralised body. The way we show our bodies to other people is always judged in a moral way. For example, reading a body to index ‘sluttiness’ is to make a moral evaluation. Especially the videos where she tries on sexy lingerie, or the way she does her hair and make-up, invite us to read her body. And when doing so, we apply our own morals.
In the 19th century, according to Foucault, the idea emerged that we can all be bad in our essence, our nature. All of us have the desire, the irrational instinct, to do things that are transgressive. Some of these instincts are sexual, and if we want a healthy, decent and hygienic society, we have to bring sexuality under control. In other words: in order to be 'normal' and rational, we need to be able to have control over our irrational instincts.
If we now look at Trisha Paytas from the perspective of Foucault's theories we could say that she is either not able to control her need for sharing sexual desires on her YouTube channels, or that she specifically chooses to share and make videos about sexuality. Through the eyes of mainstream society this can be seen as abnormal. Trisha has sexual desires, and instead of controlling them and keeping them private, she has decided to share them online. Trisha confesses her sexual desires through the online platform YouTube.
For Foucault, the structure of confession becomes the mode of society's control: ‘Today, on one side we have a series of institutionalized practices for the confession of sexuality: psychiatry, psychoanalysis, sexology’ (Michel Foucault, 2003, p.170). We still see this in our current times: there is a huge market for sexuality (dating sites, lifestyle magazine, pornography, etcetera), but when we speak about sexuality we have to do it in the form of a confession. Our real sexuality remains a secret and can only be revealed in organized, isolated zones of veridiction. The zone that Trisha uses to confess is, however, not an isolated zone: it is public, online and accessible. She is making the private public by speaking truthfully about sexuality on her YouTube channels.
What is interesting is that, while we might not see YouTube as a closed space, it is definitely a regulated space of free speech. Whenever we talk about sexuality on YouTube, it needs to be done in a particular way. There are genres of veridiction, so to speak.
There are genres of veridiction: you can speak about sexuality, but only in a highly controlled way.
According to Foucault, we have a number of spaces in modern society in which it is okay to talk about sexuality, and many in which it is not. You can speak about sexuality, but not everywhere, not in every way, and not with everyone. If Trisha Paytas wants to show herself in an appealing or erotic way, she has to do so in a highly controlled way. YouTube is not a highly specialized environment, and thus, Trisha (and any other YouTuber) needs to be careful and think of the limits that the social media platform allows. YouTube has nudity and sexual content policies which impose limitations on the kind of content you can upload (Support.Google.com, 2019). Overly explicit sexuality is avoided, and has to be replaced by all sort of very delicately controlled statements of sexuality.
Trisha, too, has to obey these YouTube limits, and if she wishes to share her sexual desires and sexuality, she has to do so in a different way. Whenever Trisha uploads a haul where she tries on lingerie or other revealing clothing, she has to make sure that she covers the right parts of her body as full nudity is not allowed. If you do want to see more of Trisha, you can go and visit her patreon page called ‘Trishyland’. This patreon page allows paying members to see all kinds of videos that would not be allowed on Youtube. Trisha makes use of the availability of other social media platforms that restrict her less. This way, Trisha can share and commodify her sexuality and sexual desire.
The care of the self is an important aspect of our everyday lives. We adjust our behavior according to context. We look for details, and use techniques that help us look normal. Everything we do, we do in the knowledge that others may see us: from the way we dress, to the way we do our hair, to the way we eat.
Social rules and moral judgments can lead to people morphing their bodies: if we don't conform to social norms of beauty, we may be seen as outsiders.
The fact that Trisha Paytas shows her 'real self' in the vlog channel is very much appreciated by her followers, because she doesn't seem to conform to some social norms. We can see this in the image below, a screenshot of the comment section of one of her YouTube videos.
At the same time, in the video “How I Deal with Bullying and Hate”, Trisha explains how she was “never attractive in school”. Talking about high school, she says: “I didn’t really take care of myself the way I do now, so the way I presented myself was definitely one that people would easily pick on.” But then, Trisha also explains that after transferring to a new school “it was bad but it was better, because I did lose weight, my mum helped me with my clothes, I went to get my hair done and I was tanning.” This shows how important our appearances are. Social rules and moral judgments can lead to people morphing their bodies: if we don't conform to social norms of beauty, we may be seen as outsiders.
Hence, a “sociology of norms” has developed in the 20th century that helps to define the (ab)normal individual. This way of thinking leads us to a science of averages. For example, being overweight is considered abnormal, and we have ways to measure that (BMI). Algorithms in the online world make decisions based on statistical data. We notice deviations from normality, and we make judgements on abnormality all the time. We have a benchmark for almost everything, and everyone is measured according to norms.
Getting control over our instincts makes us normal. On the contrary, being extreme means to be irrational, and therefore abnormal. This kind of behaviour is stimulated by the current digital environment, with its abundant visual display of readable bodies. Trisha can be considered abnormal based on her weight and her eating behavior, as publicized in her videos.
Why Trisha is (ab)normal
Trisha has two YouTube channels in which she uses her body differently. The way she presents herself, creates a moralized behavioral script. The body and how we may read it plays an important role in our society. We question whether people are normal or not, in every aspect of daily life. Curation of image is about deciding how to show yourself, and since we can read bodies, we know we have to be moderate (=normal).
Foucault talks about sexual instincts and how, when we cannot control them, we are a danger to society. Thus - through the eyes of Foucault - Trisha Paytas’ choice to talk openly about sex(uality) on her YouTube channels, goes against protecting society. When confessing our sexuality, we have to do so in isolated zones of veridiction.
Since YouTube is not a highly specialized environment, Trisha has used another platform - Patreon - to continue making videos about sex(uality). People work on their self-presentation because they want to be seen as a particular person. In this context, behavior is always moralized and judged, there is no neutrality in that. Hence, we can say that identity is a moral-evaluative category.
Famous Entertainment. (2019). Trisha Paytas | Before and After Transformations | blndsundoll4mj.
Foucault, Michel (2003). Abnormal, Lectures at the Collège de France 1974-1975. (Vol. 2). Macmillan.
Support.Google.com. (2019). Nudity and sexual content policies.
Wikipedia. (2019). Trisha Paytas.