The Unusual Genealogy of the Visible Woman

The visible woman exists in many different incarnations, from a long-running children's toy to a museum attraction to the digital assemblage of a sectioned human body. In all of her forms, the visible woman suggests an enduring desire to achieve complete bodily transparency, particularly in the case of the female body.

The American visible woman has roots, oddly enough, in Weimar Germany, where Bruno Gebhard was the curator of the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden. In 1937, Gebhard emigrated to the United States. He became the first director of the Cleveland Health Museum, arranging to have a number of German exhibits reproduced, including a model of a transparent woman. This model, named Juno, was the first life-sized visible woman to be displayed in the United States. She inspired a legion of imitators.

This project (a work in progress) traces the various manifestations of the visible woman in American culture. I argue that the enduring popularity of the visible woman testifies to the continuing attraction of corporeal transparency and malleability.

Read about Bruno Gebhard.

Visit Juno's current home.

See the Smithsonian's page on the Visible Woman toy.