Beauty Tainted, Beauty Pure

Laurie and Debbie say: Meloukhia at this ain’t livin’ is hosting the second ever Big Fat Carnival. We’ll be hosting in August. In June the host will be Vegan Kid, whose post featured in this carnival is right up our alley.

She starts out by saying just how delighted she was by Leonard Nimoy’s photographs of fat nudes. “I wanna show the world the beauty in dancing naked when its demanded that we stay clothed.” And then she talks about how that changed.

But my elation was soon grounded as i looked at the title of the photo set, “Full Body Project”. … The other sets had names like “The Dance Nudes”, “The Borghese Series”, and “The Shekhina Project”. These sets were about beauty, individuals, settings, and movement, not about the bodies.

In the dominant culture, conventionally beautiful, temporarily able-bodied, White assigned-wimmin are denied their bodies. Partly because their bodies are normalized and partly because their bodies are no longer bodies, but objects. However, the rest of us are never allowed to forget our bodies. Not only are we taught to hate our bodies, but we are constantly reminded of how much others hate our bodies. Even when someone seemingly tries to highlight the beauty of a group of people dancing naked regardless of their size, … when we label the photo series “Full Body Project”. Once again, it ceases to be about pure beauty, because those outside the standards of conventional beauty can never reach pure beauty. Instead, we are a tainted beauty – a beauty of pity.”

This is what Women En Large is about for us: about showcasing the beauty of real women without comparisons. We always talk about beauty and power together, about how the photographs highlight truths about everyone … which became even clearer once Laurie started shooting Familiar Men and Women of Japan.

When we were putting together the book of Women En Large, people repeatedly suggested that Laurie pose naked for the artist photograph. While that would be fine for most books of nudes, in this case it would have made Vegan Kid’s comments as true about our work as they were about Nimoy’s: half of the reviews and critiques would have focused on the difference between Laurie’s thin body and all the other bodies. We knew that wasn’t where we wanted to go.

One thing Laurie calls Women En Large is “my statement on the female nude … at least for now.”

Nimoy’s work is beautiful, and at the same time in the end it’s about “othering” his models by comparing them with his (or his culture’s) definition of “normal.” Our work is exactly the opposite: the goal is to make everyone “normal.” To use Vegan Kid’s language, we’re working to make a space (and a world) where everyone is “allowed to exist in harmony with our bodies, to love our bodies as beauty.”

<br /> <a href="" rel="tag nofollow">body image</a><br /> feminism<br /> fat<br /> Big Fat Carnival<br /> photography<br /> Leonard Nimoy<br /> beauty<br /> women<br /> <a href="" rel="tag nofollow">Body Impolitic</a><br />

3 thoughts on “Beauty Tainted, Beauty Pure

  1. Instead, we are a tainted beauty – a beauty of pity.

    I haven’t seen all of Nimoy’s work and maybe there’s something about his photos of fat women that makes them “a beauty of pity.” I didn’t feel pity myself looking at the ones I saw online. Is it possible that the “pity” and the “taint” are at least partly in the mind of the beholder? Many of us have (internalized or external) fat hatred and hatred of female bodies because that’s what our culture teaches us, and it’s very hard to undo.

  2. I agree with comment #2. But these are not beautiful pics to me. Not necessarily because of the fat, although there is something very self-conscious and in your face about it. It’s possible that Nimoy is simply not that talented a photographer, too, because there are millions of ways to present naked people so that the are appealing, regardless of size. I think that calling it “full body project” gives away his own ambivalence, as well as the fact that the photos may not appeal to many (not only because of the fatness of the subjects). It reminded me of the Dove Ads that were so self-consciously trying to declare that these “real” women are beautiful. They didn’t look beautiful to me, and not because they weren’t skinny; but because the lighting was bad and their outfits were just plain cotton and they weren’t posed in an interesting manner. I feel that Dove shot itself in the foot, like Nimoy, bent over backwards trying to be all PC about what is real, but in the end, their own ambivalence shone through.

    I think there is a lot to be said for context. I saw a very fat woman doing bellydance, with utter confidence, and colorful costuming. She was mesmerizing, delightful.

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