Walking through the museum, I was struck by how fulsome the women appeared in the paintings. Their curvaceous bodies boasted rolls of fat, sweet little bellies, thighs that were broad and strong, breasts that were firm and ripe. They seemed neither ashamed, nor particularly concerned by their appearance. This, of course, was a painter’s perspective, and perhaps the women then were just as addled with insecurities, as they are now. However, for a very brief period, I was able to suspend all bodily angst, and gaze upon the beauty of the feminine form before norms and diktats started fashioning taste.
These were Renaissance painters who delighted in realism. Therefore, I must conclude, that the women they painted, were not too far removed from the women they saw in their everyday living. Compare that to the emaciated models that people the catwalks of Paris and Milan, and a strange dichotomy emerges. At what point did women stop looking like women in popular culture? When did having a BMI less than 18 constitute having the perfect figure?
I took my daughters along as I wanted them to be exposed to the Old Masters. See the interplay of light and shadows, observe the craftsmanship, the breathtaking talent of these amazing artists. Subliminally, however, I also wanted them to absorb the message that a woman’s body is a wondrous thing. It has the ability to create and sustain life within it. It is not merely a clothes horse. Having a thigh gap is by no means the apex of its achievement.
Sadly, as more young girls succumb to the lure of the fashion magazines, and to the peer pressure of having collar bones that could slice you in two, the incidence of anorexia and bulimia continue to rise.
As my ten year old looks down at the tiny swell of her stomach, and declares she needs to go on a diet, I have to turn my gaze inward, and ask myself, how much I am to blame as well. Every time I have sighed at a pair of trousers that don’t fit, or after a night of excess, vowed to rein it in. Every time I have rejected a dessert with a martyred air, what message have I relayed to my progeny? That denial is good? Virtuous even? That my being a size ten is more important than my being kind, intelligent, aware and grounded?
In examination of what constitutes beauty, I must examine not just what lies without, but also what lies within. An awareness, and a synergy of the two is perhaps the nearest realisation of a body beautiful.