This beautiful oil painting hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. It was originally met with great criticism because it did not essentially represent what a “real” woman looked like. The limbs are too long (one arm is, in fact, shorter than the other), the spine is too long, the tone of the skin isn’t right, the curve of the pelvis in relation to the curvature of the spine is impossible for a real woman to reproduce. Whatever the original woman from whom Ingres drew his inspiration looked like, she did not look like the woman represented in the painting above. She was changed to fit into Ingres’ artistic ideal, or changed in order to communicate his artistic vision. (To read a brief yet interesting commentary on “La Grande Odalisque”, click here.)
Times haven’t changed very much. Nearly every image of a person that we see has been altered in some way to fit into a cultural, artistic, marketing, or other ideal, or the image has been altered in order to change our perceptions of what the ideal ought to be in the first place. In either case, what we see is not remotely authentic, and the result of this barrage of inauthentic and deceptive imagery is, at the very least, a deepening sense of inadequacy. At the worst, the self-hatred, helplessness, and disempowerment that many of us feel resultant from our life experiences is exacerbated.
In an effort to explore some of the reasons for my own struggles with self-image, I want to dedicate some posts to “Learning to Feel Good About Our Bodies”. I don’t have any magic beans or mantras here. Mainly, I just have questions, and I would love some feedback because I feel pretty victimized in this area. When I look back on my progress over the past five years, I can see a lot of growth in a lot of areas, but body image has remained largely untouched.
I recently came across a British publication entitled Psychologies Magazine, and it frustrates me deeply that they do not post their archives online because they published a series of articles on this topic in their June 2010 publication. Their articles were succinct, helpful, and relevant to the lives of all sorts of women. One thing that I gleaned from reading through their series is that a poor self-image is a problem that haunts every woman. It takes many forms, but it’s there. Not every woman was hurt, abused, or traumatized, but every woman had suffered in some way. My intent, therefore, is to post some longer excerpts from some of their more meaningful articles in an attempt to peel back the layers of our self-image. Wouldn’t it be nice to finally see yourself differently? I don’t mean as that “Perfect 10” you’ve always dreamed of being. I mean being able to look in the mirror and see a beautiful person looking back. And, you wouldn’t need to criticize her or punish her or “should” her or tell her to try harder or work out more or eat less or stand up straighter or insult her or cut her or anything else. You could like her. You might even love her. What a relief that would be.
So, this is all part of telling the truth, I guess. It’s part of telling ourselves what we want. So, find yourself another person. You know, that person who has signed up to be a member of the “You Historical Society”. That person who loves you no matter what you look like or smell like in the morning. And, if they love you after you’ve puked up Mexican food, then you know that they are a Lifetime Member. And, tell them what you want for yourself concerning your body–how you would like to feel about it, how you would like to feel in it, and what would have to change so that you could be happy with it. I’ll post the first excerpt from Psychologies Magazine tomorrow.
By the way, this is a photograph of the first plus size supermodel Emme taken by Theo Westenberger in 1994 for People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People issue. Ingres’ “La Grade Odalisque” was recreated for the shoot. Her soft hips, tummy, and arms were not altered or airbrushed, and she is clearly very beautiful and sensual. Emme is a size 14.
**A note to readers: Please continue to the next post. It’s very short, but I wrote it as an addendum to this one wherein I discuss the great importance of La Grande Odalisque in 19th c. Paris, and what we can learn as post-modern woman from the 19th c. Parisians’ viewing of that painting. As usual, French woman are a few steps ahead of us where beauty and love of self are concerned.