Wednesday, February 15, 2012

classic beauty

I can remember sitting in my art history class a few years ago, listening as my professor lectured on a Renaissance painting (I can't remember which), when a boy raised his hand. 

"Why are all the women in these paintings so big?" he asked. "I mean, why do they seem overweight? Wouldn't the artists pick more physically perfect models? You can see the cellulite on their thighs."

My professor explained that the standards of beauty were different then. Just as pale skin was once prized, (what we consider) more voluptuous figures were at one time the ideal. Perhaps because wealthy women were more likely to spend their time indoors- sedentary, reposed, munching on delicacies. Perhaps because very full hips signify that a woman's body is fit for bearing children. Perhaps because they simply found full figures more attractive.

Certainly though, it can be a strange sight for modern viewers. We've grown so accustomed to waif-like fashion models that art featuring women with round bellies and full hips (and we might assume, too, that the women in the paintings were enhanced in their own way) looks almost absurd.

Italian artist Anne Utopia Giordano decided to play with this observation. Taking a number of classic nude paintings, she morphed the bodies into a modern day ideal of the female figure. The stomaches are flattened, the breasts made larger, the hips and thighs more slender and sleek. In my opinion, the trick works in both ways: some of the women look more beautiful to me (such as The Birth of Venus by Cabanel, above); others appear too hard-bodied and slim (like The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, below). 

Interestingly, I first saw these images on a blog, A Cup of Jo, where a number of readers were disagreeing in the comments section. Many found the original images far more beautiful and called them "womanly," "real," and "the bodies of real women." Others found the photoshopped pictures more appealing, saying they were not "hungry-looking" (as supporters of the originals had been stating) but gorgeous and toned. The most interesting comments came from those offended by some supporters of the original paintings. "I take offense to a comment above that implies that only one of the figures is 'womanly,'" one woman wrote, ". . . All women are womanly. And not all 'real women' have curves." 

This is something I hadn't quite thought about before. You see so many people arguing for a healthier female body image today, which is great, but then they go on to say one should embrace curves, full hips, sturdier thighs, and bellies because they are "womanly." It does, sometimes, seem that these arguments are a detriment to slimmer women. Because like that commenter asserted, all women are "real women" with "womanly" bodies, no matter their size. Women should learn to love their bodies, whatever size they are (so long as they are still in good health, of course, and neither gorging on food or abstaining from it). And they shouldn't criticize others' bodies by calling them "not real" or "unwomanly." All women are women (quite a difficult concept, I know).

If you're interested in seeing more of these side-by-side comparisons, click here to see the Huffington Post's article on Giordano.

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