In the comments to our last post, Stef asks, “And can people (of any age) relearn what they think is beautiful — change it or add to it? If so how can we encourage people to learn to find more realistic, more diverse images of people beautiful?”
And Guy Thomas answers: “I certainly think my ideas about what is beautiful have changed or at least expanded. … I think familiarity helps expand our appreciation of beauty. Once you see enough people in wheelchairs that you can notice anything besides the wheelchair. You can start noticing how one has nice hair or beautiful eyes or pretty ebony skin etc.”
Obviously, we both believe, with Guy, that people can relearn their definitions of beauty–and power, and desirability, and strength–that’s why we do this work.
We live in a time where the mass-market definitions of beauty are contracting: getting ever thinner, ever more buffed, ever younger, ever less plausible. At the same time, various communities and subcultures are expanding their range for “beautiful,” while other groups are successfully defending age-old traditional standards. In some progressive circles in the United States, aging women are now represented much more frequently as sexy than we were thirty years ago. Meanwhile, in many segments of the African-American and Latino communities, the power and sexiness of fat in both men and women is and has always been appreciated, in a way that is not true in the larger society.
As we said in our first post, “you can talk and write about body image until you’re blue in the face, but if you aren’t showing images, you aren’t doing squat.” This is why we’re committed to books, because books are tangible, intimate, and lasting in a way that gallery shows are not. People share our books with friends; they end up in therapists’ offices, university libraries, and all kinds of helpful places. And this is also why we’d like to use this blog to create a reference library of photographic (and other) images that help us expand our range of beauty.