Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Venus Project

In reading my friend Reyna's blog post today, I learned about a project called the Venus Project. Reyna brought up a few points that also sparked my thoughts as I looked at it.
Essentially, the Project is this: Anna Utopia Giordano, an Italian model and artist, decided to photoshop a number (10) of paintings of the goddess Venus (herself a historical symbol of beauty and womanly perfection) to bring their bodies to modern-day perceptions of beauty.
Here are a few examples:

Reyna's qualm with the alterations in the paintings (and Reyna, if you read this, correct me if I'm wrong) was that she didn't feel the altered images really portrayed the beauty of the female figure. She said "My favorite thing about the original paintings is the shape of the woman's body. It is real. It is beautiful. And I've always celebrated my own body when it looked a little bit more like the beautiful women in the paintings I adore. And it makes me stop and wonder, why do we place such an emphasis on being thin? Because a woman's body to me is beautiful with all the curves."

I completely agree with this observation. To me, the altered Venuses look unreal, almost creepy. So after reading what Reyna thought, I went and did a little research on what point Giordano was trying to get across when she did the photoshopping.

The statement Giordano made is this: "Art is always in search of the perfect physical form – it has evolved through history, from the classical proportions of ancient Greece, to the prosperous beauty of the Renaissance, to the spindly look of models like Twiggy and the athletic look of our own time."

So it appears from this statement, and others you can find in any of the numerous press releases (the best-written one in English being this one, in my opinion) linked on her website, that the purpose of her doing this project was twofold: first, to create a visual contrast between how perceptions of beauty have changed over time (between when the paintings were originally made and today-- though the paintings themselves are from wildly different time periods), and second, to make people more aware of the ease (and frequency) of the "industry" in editing and photoshopping figures of women in order to make them appear idealistic (by the way if I'm using funny terminology, it's because I'm actually sitting in my art history class at the moment). However, I kind of feel like the latter purpose was sort of invented by the press and subsequently pinned on the artist.

In any case, the answer to Reyna's question seems to be relative. Most people are aware of the power that models such as Twiggy have had on fashion and modeling, creating such a massive influence even after the presence of incredibly well-liked figures such as Marilyn Monroe, who are bustier, curvier, etc. I actually feel that nowadays there is becoming a split in the perceived beauty of women-- one side prefers the stick-skinny "Skeletor's Daughter" types, and others prefer the curvaceous or "natural" beauty of woman.

To complete your mental images:
From the AnyBody Activism Campaign (there are other photographs I like better, but this is the best I could find in a pinch to illustrate my point)

And here's the thing-- forget it all. First of all, while clearly most of the model industry has ingrained in its mind that thinness is beautiful and clarity of skin and hair and a pouty face is beautiful, this does not have to be the opinion of the whole world. And it isn't. Nobody forces you to listen to what people say. Nobody forces you to say "Hey, that photoshopped picture of Jennifer Connelly on the cover of Vogue is WAY prettier than she is when she's bedraggled and angry in A Beautiful Mind." Honestly, I didn't even recognize the airbrushed version of her when I saw it.

Maybe if you don't know me that well you're thinking I have no right to be making these claims and telling you all to knock it off with the belly-aching because I'm so skinny myself.

And here's the thing about that-- I can't help my body type. And while sometimes it appeals to my lazy self that I don't ever have to go to the gym and exercise in order to stay at a constant clothing size or whatever, most of the time I hate it. My metabolism is often too fast for its own good. I've had way too many subsequent health problems because of it (anemia, difficulty putting on weight, digestive issues, occasional heart condition, whatever). My whole life I've been the brunt of skinny jokes (yes, they exist), which at one sad point in high school caused me to think that was the only way I could get attention and I pushed it a little too far with an eating disorder.

I'm not trying to sound like a pity party. I just want all those women (and men!) out there who struggle so hard to either fit into a perceived mold or to fight against the unrealistic expectations of beauty, to just be calm. Everyone has a different body type, a different metabolism, whatever. They're all beautiful, because a body is a story, not an object of beauty. It is the story of everything that makes you you, from all your scars and uneven-ness, to your bony or chunky hips, to your sharply angled shoulders or softly curved parts; it's you, and THAT'S FINE.

I just wish that the younger people who see things through a simplified and popular lens and haven't yet realized that self image depends more on who you are and how you act that what you look like, and that the things that make you unique are far more beautiful than any perceived notions.

Now I'm ranting. Blah.


LP said...

Shannon, this is splendid! This post should be required reading for everyone. No, wait, simply reading won't do it. We have to find a way to inject directly into their understanding, sort of like how they do in the Matrix. *click!* "I understand what makes people truly beautiful."

Adrien said...

I really liked this. I read a really interesting statement a few months ago - it basically said that instead of focusing on making your body "beautiful" or "ideal" (especially according to what the media tells you it should be), people should focus on the fact that bodies are essentially tools to get us through life and let us live the fullest lives possible. I believe that people should take care of their bodies so they can get through life and really do what they want to, and not worry so much about perceived ideas of "beauty." That's not to say you shouldn't try to make yourself look nice if that's what you want to do, but comparing yourself to images of people that have been edited or of people whose bodies are their source of income (ie actresses who exercise for 3 hours a day and eat only raw foods) (I could go on about this) will not accomplish anything.

Meh. I don't make sense. I just think people should focus on bodies as tools rather than worrying about what other people think they look like.

Wishful thinking.

Reyna said...

No. This is great. Because I am not as good with words as I wish that I was, so I feel like you capture the essence of what I feel. It isn't about the emphasis we place on being thin, it is the emphasis we place on changing what we naturally are. You are naturally thin, your body is almost exactly like my mom's. And it is beautiful and I love it. And it is YOUR body. I think my problem starts when the individual begins to feel pressure to change their natural physique to fit a mold. So I guess it isn't about being thin, for me it's about not being ok with your body. You know?

Jared and Megan said...

I really enjoyed this post, Shannon, it's very thoughtful and rings true. I read something similar to this (unrelated to the Venus Project, it was actually regarding an image of two women in swimsuits, one was a popular actress today and she was very thin, and one was Marilyn Monroe - and above were claims that the thin one was disgusting and the M.M. was beautiful) and while many of the commenters either elected to skinny-bash or fat-bash, there were a few that understood (like you) that *we are all womanly*. One shape is not more beautiful than another overall, everyone has their varying opinions, but every woman is womanly and feminine, no matter her appearance. I also agree with you, that bodies are for using, they are amazing and powerful tools and it is only with them that we can experience life and do certain, important things. Bodies are how we get to make decisions. I hate to read about women putting each other down when it's someone else we should be blaming. I wish everyone had as much clarity as you do. I wish *I* did. Most of the time I know this is true, that it doesn't matter how you look, but you probably know pretty well that I've got some body image issues that I really need to work on. My foolish mind keeps believing that life would be so much easier if I was as skinny as I was at age 14. Um... yeah, that's logical. Not. I should try and bring that back, it would be 90s-tastic. Not!