Beauty ideals, in reference of women, have constantly evolved throughout the centuries. Both in art and in the real world women are subject to frequent criticism, both positive and negative, no matter what they look like.
The Venus of Willendorf, a prehistoric statue from the Stone Age, is the complete opposite of an idealized female body type [today]. She has no face, and a very large round stomach. One might be quick to say that this body type would be considered obese, but her shape has great meaning behind it. Her voluptuous curves are symbolic of the fact that the Venus is a representation of fertility and a woman’s ability to create life. Although this body type is not one that would be called beautiful in today’s society, it holds larger meaning in order to display one of the greatest treasures of the female human body.
Marilyn Monroe, a huge public figure back in the 1950s/1960s, was embraced for her womanly features. Her curves were what made her famous. She did not have a protruding collarbone, her ribs did not show, she did not have a set of perfect abs. Her skin was soft and creamy, she jiggled, she moved, and yet she was a sex symbol. In more recent years there have been countless stories in the news about models who are damaging their health by working towards a size 00. Being stick-thin often allows a modeling career and modeling careers make for pretty good money. Skinny is an industry.
In my most recent Sculpture class, my professor, the talented Stephen Colley, assigned us students to make small busts. They were to be no larger than our fists, headless, and limbless. This project was about creating a form using only the core of the body. We were to sculpt figures out of clay, make slip and plaster casts, and then paint the product. How, I thought to myself, am I supposed to suggest beauty, movement, charm, etc. without the arms, legs, and a face?
I thought back to The Winged Victory, my favorite sculpture (as mentioned in a previous blog post). The Winged Victory has no face and no arms, yet she is still exuberant, emanating an air of confidence and strength. I wanted my miniature busts to equate the same. I wanted my bust to be voluptuous, a little dig at modern society, where many people believe “the skinnier the better”.
I wanted my bust to portray the fact that beauty can be found no matter what a woman’s size may be. She is not skinny nor is she overweight. She is thick, shapely, fleshy, and in my opinion: strong. She is sturdy in her stance, in the way she holds herself. She is also sturdy in the very literal sense of being a sculpture than can stand on her stump thighs.
My professor, whose opinion always held great value for me, praised my small bust and gave me splendid feedback. His favorite part? Her hourglass figure. He praised her thick thighs and her toned back. However she also has a soft pouch on her lower abdomen, a roll of skin where her back twists, breasts that are beginning to sag. All the things that a woman would probably be embarrassed about are what make this bust special to me.
She is human.