The Willendorf Project: Brenda Oelbaum Goes National with the Goddess at Her Back

Lynne Murray says:

In August of 2010, I posted here about feminist artist Brenda Oelbaum’s work turning diet books into papier mâché models of the Venus of Willendorf.

Postcard Image by Daphne Doerr

Now Brenda is bringing her vision to the larger stage with “a national ad campaign to take down $66 BILLION Diet Industry.” She calls her project “DUMP THE DIETS! a Fight for Freedom from self-loathing.”

Venuses Left to Right: Fonda, Last Chance, Scarsdale, Stop the Insanity, Simmons

As Brenda puts it:

Think about how many diet ads you see on a daily basis, and see for yourself how much the diet industry is really spending on making you feel bad about yourself.

It’s time to invest in some positive messages!

We are tired of measuring our worth on a bathroom scale! We are not a number and neither are our children. We are beautiful and can be healthy at our current size.

We are all unique and valuable.



Brenda plans to post her message by purchasing ads in national publications right beside the ads and articles with product placement to sell the diets.

She can’t do it on her own, of course, one artist versus a billion dollar propaganda machine is too much of an unequal contest. But Brenda is now mobilizing crowdsourcing to help fund her Dump the Diet ads where the general public can see them. She reports:

I have already placed ads in several magazines that will appear the first two weeks on May in honor of “No Diet Day,” May 6th. Now I need you to turn this grass roots effort into a movement.

Part of what resonates with me and many others about Brenda’s work is her brilliant use of the physical substance– the paper that composes diet books–to build a mental structure to help us heal the deep hole diet books have carved in our souls.

My wounds from years of diet go so deep and are so constantly vulnerable to re-infection that they need to heal from the inside, one layer of healthy tissue at a time, in a process remarkably similar to ripping out the pages of the diet book and pasting them onto a paper-mâché sculpture.

The cult surrounding diet books, ads and programs builds its strength upon the American dream of changing oneself through hard work. The desire for success via self-improvement strikes such a chord in our national consciousness that it can be easily echoed and then evoked to twist personal goals into impossible dreams of magical physical transformation.

But no matter how much money we spend chasing the dream, change can only work if it is based on actual possibility. Dieting does change our bodies, but not the way we wish and dream for. Instead the result is the opposite! Weight cycling and eating disorders are the predictable and proven results for the vast majority of those who follow any and every diet plan. Ragen at Dances with Fat defines it well:

[L]et’s talk about what “dieting” means (so that we can avoid the “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change!” discussion.)  Dieting occurs when someone gives their body less food than it needs to survive in the hope that it will eat itself, thereby becoming smaller.  Call it a diet, call it a lifestyle change, if you are starving your body hoping that it will eat itself resulting in intentional weight loss, congratulations you are on a diet.  (You are completely and totally allowed to diet, I’m just saying let’s call it what it is.)

Turning a fat person into a permanently thin person is essentially impossible, which makes it the perfect scam for the con artist–a gold mine. Once the hook is set, the infinitely exploitable sucker will buy variations on one useless diet or another for decades if not for the rest of her/his lifetime. Those who engage in this Long Con have sold billions of copies of such “Create Your Own Eating Disorder” books, not to mention all the diet-oriented paraphernalia that accompany them.

Brenda’s use of the Venus of Willendorf as the sculpture made from diet books strikes at the very heart of fear and prejudice toward larger bodies. These statues once represented goddesses–abundance, fertility and largesse. Now they are objects of ridicule. And by extension, those of us whose bodies resemble the goddess have also become targets for abuse, commands that we starve ourselves (seriously, “just stop eating” is a popular insult often yelled at fat women), and sometimes even violence.

One of the beautiful subtexts and ironies in Brenda’s work is using the pages of diet books to create a fat figure, just as the dieting process itself is now proven to stimulate long-term weight gain–creating a fat or fatter figure.

Brenda’s work shows bravery worthy of a goddess–I adore the picture of her, resolute, nude, surrounded by towering walls of diet books. Passionate, committed individuals banding together can have a profound effect.

The Willendorf Project is a wise investment toward growing a wiser future.