Meat Mirror probes the horror of beauty and booty


Meat Mirror looks through the veneer of social media to the brutal realities of cosmetic surgery. Inspired by Beauty’s New Normal, a 2018 Four Corners expose on the tactics of the beauty industry, this performance-activated multimedia installation explores the normalisation of cosmetic surgery, using the collision of ‘appearance’ in both the actual and digital public spheres.

This collaboration between artist Jay Younger and performer Lisa O’Neill uses a pool almost four metres wide, a suspended upturned dressing table, a waterfall running down the mirror face into the pool and an Instagram feed projected onto the mirror – that progresses from the usual airbrushed perfection to harsh surgical realities. Its imagery highlights the tactics used to lure vulnerable women into spending money on new body ideals.

The particular focus of Meat Mirror is the ‘booty lift’ (or BBL – Brazilian butt lift). An Instagram campaign @meat_mirror has, in recent weeks, promoted interest with a game that invites followers to guess “Who is behind the Behind?” with images of impossibly plumped (celebrity) buttocks. (In order to do well you do need some prior study.) While this subject interacts with the rising tide of female fury in the zeitgeist (#MeToo, Brittany Higgins, and new openness from women about long term systemic sexism), it is also a seamless part of Jay Younger’s practice. For some 30 years she has used art to “take the political body and women’s issues into the public realm.”

On weekends, choreographed performances by Lisa O’Neill take place in front of the mirror, with Instagram an overt presence within the private boudoir of an “outmoded 1940s gullible Esther Williams type character. She is seduced into having surgery. Her (inflatable) bottom increases over the seven minute performance until she is exhausted and nearly dead. It has a humorous yet melancholic ending.”

Younger says, “In Brazil you can get cosmetic surgery in the public health system – it is common and cheap. They have a lot of bodies to practice on, hence the BBL. In Australia we tend to think that harm is happening elsewhere, but it is a billion dollar industry. I was stunned to learn that in Australia the term ‘plastic surgeon’ is not protected – a weekend of training allows people to operate. Men and women are conned into believing that this kind of change will make their lives better. Often it has made their life worse. People have died: there are a lot of botched surgeries. This is the impetus behind Meat Mirror.”

The installation is at Mappin’s Nursery in Brisbane’s West End, part of the city-wide Brisbane Art Design (BAD) festival (7–30 May), and the Anywhere Festival (6–23 May), both of which take art into unexpected places. The nursery is also ideal for reaching a lay audience: “People shopping for plants and contemplating natural beauty come across it in their paths,” the artist says.

Younger’s work is always ambitious; she has used multimedia, installation, photography and other two dimensional media to explore feminist issues in the past with a dark, yet humorous intensity. Yet, she says, this work is “a bigger, more open collaboration than anything I have done before – possessing satire, schlock horror, and elements of the aqua-musical.”

Meat Mirror highlights the ubiquity of social media in the private domain, a transformation of the individual in the mirror into a monetizable commodity – sheer absurdity providing some relief from the brutal realities at its heart.

Meat Mirror performances are scheduled every Saturday and Sunday during the BAD festival, and on 5 June and 20 June when the show is at The Walls on the Gold Coast.

Meat Mirror
Jay Younger and Lisa O’Neill
Mappin’s Nursery, part of Brisbane Art Design (BAD) festival
8 May – 30 May

The Walls
5 June – 21 June

Preview Words by Louise Martin-Chew