Beauty is in the eye of…

Last Monday the first year students from my college put on an open house showcasing the work they did for their writing class this semester.  I was especially drawn to this one woman’s project whose main focus seemed to be body image.  At the top of a huge canvas was written the question “When was the last time someone told you that were beautiful and you believed it?”  In front of this blank canvas were a series of images.  Each one was a photo of a young woman, stark naked all but for her underwear.  The picture was taken from her neck to her upper knees.  As a side thought, remembering the images, I believe they were all pretty young looking and mostly Caucasian and only one woman was what some might consider “fat” or “obese.”

Anyhow, above each image there was a set of questions and answers I took to be answered by the women portrayed below in the photographs.  They looked a little like this image except the photographs went on down further to show what the women’s breasts, stomachs, etc.

The project reminded me somewhat of this post I read a while ago in the society pages.  These projects also seemed related to this idea of exposing the bodies of normal women.  Warning, the links contain images of naked people.  End warning.

Honestly, it was kind of enlightening.  Rarely do we get to see images of real women naked.  In my own experience, the only times this has happened was fleetingly in the college gym locker rooms, a spattering of times throughout my life with close friends, and most recently in blog posts and articles I’ve stumbled on as I’ve been learning about this whole external internal environment idea and our relationship with our bodies.

As I was looking at these pictures, I found I was rather disappointed in myself.  At each curve, dimple, or fold, I kept thinking how funny they looked, at least in comparison to the sleek images I’d seen plastered across billboards or tv screens barely hidden beneath tiny bits of cloth.  I was also wondering if my own tummy would match up to these more normal women.  How did my hips or breasts compare?  I couldn’t help but bring my own body into question (as I have done consciously or subconsciously  in the face skinny women ads).  I have been taught to think of certain traits and body builds as “beautiful.”  Thinking back, it seems so backward that I should even ask these things given the exposed setting and the provocative message.

At the same time, I was also thinking that the women in these pictures didn’t seem all that pretty from the onset.  I was struck with how normal these women must be, but I also had to reckon with the forces in my head telling me that these women needed some kind of diet, lotion, exercise, or lift.  And then wondered about a possible progression.  If the images in this woman’s project are what normal women look like, and somehow we’ve managed to make these “real” woman into something not beautiful, then what happens after the body is indeed real and goes on to develop a disease of some sort?  I would think that a body we learn to despise from our earliest social education then becomes something that much more atrocious, something fatal, ugly, and atrocious.

When I start thinking about this idea of beautiful and then I think of what “natural” is  when it comes to the body.  Beautiful and natural would seem to ideally have some kind of overlap, yet a natural body is often more what the normal women looked like before dieting, make-up, and Photoshop.

So, when was the last time someone told you that you were beautiful and you believed them?

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