The Birth of Venus, Body Positivity and the Beauty Standards of the Modern Day
Impossible beauty standards have not been smashed. Now more than ever, with contouring, photo editing apps at everybody’s fingertips and affordable cosmetic surgery available in every dentist’s surgery, body positivity is a message that everyone touts while they show off their perfectly round, cellulite-free big butts...
The “perfect” body of 2020s may be more curvaceous than the emaciated heroin chic of the ‘90s (I remember it well… mostly because I have never been one to shy away from food and tummies run in our family), but there’s still an impossible standard to live up to. It doesn’t help when Kim Kardashian, a woman who has felt enough pressure to fill 80% of her body with silicone and still photoshops her selfies, insists that she looks the way she looks because of exercise and a healthy diet. The waifs said that in the ‘90s too, as they vomited up the single apple they had for lunch and snorted a line of coke. It’s understandable that those in the public eye would seek out the means to inject their faces into submission – it’s understandable that anyone would; it’s the lies that are the damaging part.
We Like Big Butts and We Cannot Lie
Let’s face it – butts are in (90s me would have been thrilled)… but only the perfectly smooth ones, and only if you have a flat stomach. Some things never change. But there’s also a new definition of “hourglass”. These days, women who carry their weight low on their hips and into their thighs are being referred to as hourglass, when in fact they have those pesky saddlebags; they are pear-shaped. I presume this is down to language having power – pear shaped doesn’t sound sexy, but the new fashion for thick thighs is distinctly pear shaped. Hourglass, though – that’s what all women have aspired to be for years; it’s what the media has told us we need to be. So the definition of the word is changing to meet the fashion
Anyway, whatever we call it, women still can’t just be a shape – we have to throw ourselves into trying to achieve a smooth, slim version of the new “hourglass”. And that’s not what I wanted to paint. I intend to create a series with real dimples, scars, imperfections. I want to celebrate those parts of us that we can’t hide, but secretly hate.
So it was with a sense of self-disappointment that I realised I’d fallen into the trap of only portraying a certain kind of woman in my art. Namely, thin, conventionally attractive women. From that disappointment, my current body positivity study series was born. I appealed to women on facebook groups on Instagram for photos of their naked bodies in all their unphotoshopped glory. And it worked, can you believe it? I was inundated by photographs of women of all ages, shapes and sizes. It was absolutely glorious. And now I have a lot of work lined up and I’m super pumped about every single piece.
“Real Women” and the Misnomer of Body Positivity
I kicked the body positivity series off with Venus, because it seemed like a logical place. The Birth of Venus is one of my favourite pieces of art. In fact, I love it in all its forms, whoever the artist.
But I didn’t want to venture into the realms of imaginative realism with this piece in case the focal point was taken away from the beautiful curvaceous subject. So there’s no shell, no cherubs, no nymphs or Zephyrus. Just a non-skinny woman with red hair and porcelain skin.
What I never intended was to make a commentary on what women are or should be. After all, surely that’s the exact opposite of body positivity. So when I began to get comments like: “This is a real woman” and “It’s nice to see a proper woman in contemporary art” I began to feel uneasy. I understood that these were supposed to be compliments, but that isn’t how I feel about the situation at all. I agree that the media has a propensity to promote imagery of very slim women; hairless, glossy, flawless and, let’s face it, often white, and that isn’t representative of most of your average women. But that doesn’t mean that I see slim white women as unreal, and voicing the opinion that only larger women are real women is surely just as damaging as the current messaging that’s forced down our throats.
After posting the finished Venus piece on some facebook arts groups, I noticed several comments from slim women trying to fight their corner and getting lost in the deluge of “real women” remarks and I like to think I addressed them all to let them know that I will also be studying slim women in my art. There are as many types of slim women as there are fat ones, after all. I also received several comments about my model being fat and, in one case “grotesque” but after all, that’s why I’m doing this.
So my second body positivity piece may also have portrayed a bigger woman, but there’s many more work on the way and work that doesn’t pit fat and thin against each other. We’re all in this together.
Some Body Positivity Instagrams to Follow
Alex focuses on body confidence and anti-diet culture. She's very open about eating disorders and often shows images of her previously very slim figure next to her current more curvaceous one. She is also very open about how she used to use Photoshop.
Tova is a public figure. She's a writer, performer and comedian. She's also very open about her life and changes to her body following motherhood. It's an incredibly human approach to Instagram and very relateable.
Carina is a fantastic self-portrait artist who promotes body positivity by reclaiming the word "fat". Her entire account is dedicated to challenging the way that fat people are viewed and the damage those preconceptions can do.
Gabrielle is another awesome self portrait artist. She creates wonderful, emotive photography pieces, while talking about eating disorders, mental health issues and the struggles we all go through to find our place in the world.
Purchasing and Prints
You can purchase my art direct from me, or you can head over to Saatchi and see what works I have exclusively through the art gallery.
I also offer free zoom appointments for people who want to view their art from all angles before they buy. Buying art is an investment, so you have to be completely secure before you spend a penny. Contact me to book a viewing and watch the video below to find out more.
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Luxury framed or canvas prints are available from Saatchi.