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Body Positivity in Art - Why it's important

How people view themselves is influenced by how they view others and how they are represented in the media. All media - tv,cinema, magazines, social media, art, etc... Little girls growing up would flip through magazines and see these very thin looking models, covered in make-up and believe that is what they had to strive for. Little boys are bombarded with pictures of tall, perfect Adonis like males who work out 24-7 and have a nutritionist who won't let them drink that beer that will give them a beer gut. On the other hand, women are also expected to look good for men - I have never heard of men feeling they have to look good for women. Men, on the other hand, are expected to be rich to be able to provide for women. You would have thought that with women being allowed to vote, work and all that, they'd be off the hook, but no. Unfortunately, as the minimum salary barely rises, but the cost of living sky-rocketed, you now need two working grown-ups in a household to afford the cost of living, and if they have children, it's even more costly and stressful. There are several graphs and studies on this, but if you live in the UK, here is a living wage calculator.


But, as usual, I deviate. Even though the economist in me wants to talk about wage disparity, women's rights, and so on and so forth, we are here to talk about fine art. Fine art and body positivity.


When I think about fine art today and art in the past and body types, I can't help but think about Peter Paul Rubens and his women. Rubens also painted men looking more like your everyday man, and that is how he depicts Bacchus. Although I would say that in the case of Bacchus, his debauchery and love of food and especially wine, would mean that this is a more realistic depiction. As for the women, they were normally portrayed as soft and round. Your everyday woman.


"Bacchus" by Peter Paul Rubens (1638-40)
"Bacchus" by P.P. Rubens (1638-40)
"Venus, Mars, Cupid" by Rubens  early 1630s
"Venus, Mars, Cupid" by Rubens (c.1630s)

On April 07, 2017, body positivity activist, transgender, and plus size model Shay Neary wrote a piece on her personal truth on Instagram:


My naked body is my favorite outfit. Art museums are one of my guilty pleasures, that this wonderful city possesses. When I get to go, it's always a confidence boost. I look at statues and paintings of women from time past, and how the men who painted them were too keen to admire them in all their glory. Rubens, being one of favorites of course, he always captured the essence of women my size and stature. The sheer simplicity of the human body, draped in fabric, living life or escaping from death. When I model, I often think of the art I admire. How once upon a time, my body was not only fawned upon, but revered. When I want to lose weight, I will. But this body, as much as it's shunned or commented upon, whether it be my health or how we shouldn't promote obesity... is mine. You have no idea of anything other than an image. To be honest, I find my body astoundingly beautiful... I show it, in hopes that women who aren't comfortable in their own bodies find some form of solace. That one day, they find as much love as I have for my body - in theirs. So that fellow woman realizes that she isn't alone... The comfort lies within yourself, just choose to admire it. #bopo#bodylove#bodypositivity#girlslikeus#celebratemysize#body4me


For those who have heard of Boterismo, Fernando Botero is a Colombian artist born in 1932 and is know for painting rounded, voluptuous figures of both men and women. His paintings have attracted a lot of attention over the years because of his unique style. I remember seeing his paintings back in 1993 and being mesmerized by the lively colours and style.


"The Bedroom" (2009) and "The Hunter" (2011) both by Fernando Botero

At present time, I have been following many artists on Instagram promoting body positivity. I have written about Jenny Saville and Aleah Chapin and how they bring the female gaze to the arts by painting absolutely gorgeous, realistic women. I could probably talk endlessly about their art and how everyone should own a piece as a reminder that every body shape is normal, every body shape is beautiful. Here is a link to that article.


A contemporary artist I have not talked about yet is Emma Hopkins. Her main focus is the human flesh and the human body in all shapes and forms. Her paintings have a raw visceral quality to them and I would absolutely recommend you click on her name and visit her website. She explores what it is to be human, what it is to be a bag of flesh, meat and bones; male, female, child, old, young, transgender, human.


"Sophie and Carla" by Emma Hopkins (2019) BP award
"Sophie and Carla" by Emma Hopkins (2019)
Geri Morgan by Emma Hopkins
"Geri Morgan" by Emma Hopkins (2019)

In 2019, Emma Hopkins received the Young Artist Award - National Portrait Gallery, BP Portrait Award 2019, for her piece "Sophie and Carla".


There are many other artists out there bringing body positivity to the arts, especially in the Illustration category, such as the Dutch artist, Lois va Baarle, who uses Instagram as a vehicle for spreading the message. She once discussed how she was making the characters rounder and more realistic, especially for her younger audience and hoping they would see more of themselves depicted in her illustrations.


"Bubbly" by Lois van Baarle (2019)

If you have a favourite artist, model, actor, who promotes body positivity, feel free to share it in the comments section and start a discussion on the importance of all inclusive representation in the arts and life in general. For instance, actors and models posting pictures of themselves on Instagram without make-up and Photoshop, which is quite revealing about the "magic" of post production. The things people do to appear perfect, which is simply an illusion. Be yourself, be happy with yourself, don't buy into illusions and marketing - they just want you to keep on buying their products.


Sorry for the lack of regular posts. Lockdown means homeschooling and homeschooling means no computer and time to write. So I am currently locking myself up in the Studio and painting.