From Curvy to Thin

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From Curvy to Thin
Andrea Higgins
LIM College

What defines the ideal body for a woman? Throughout time, a woman’s body has been perceived in so many different ways, but today the most popular image for a woman’s body is one that is thin and lacks curves. Many things have influenced this ideal, but one of the biggest influences is popular culture. In earlier centuries, popular culture’s preference for voluptuous female bodies is depicted in early Western art. Today’s popular culture contributes to the ideal that being thin is not only one of the requirements for a modeling career in high fashion, but also one of the requirements for acceptance in society. This paper will review how a woman’s body was perceived in earlier centuries as represented in Western art and how it is represented today in popular culture. In earlier centuries, you were not considered a woman unless you had curves. Evidence of this body image can be dated back to prehistoric times with the miniature statue of Venus of Willendorf. Venus of Willendorf was discovered in the Danube River, located in Austria. This statue is said to have dated back 25,000 years ago (Venus, n.d.). Christopher Whitcombe (2000) describes Venus of Willendorf as: A sculpture that shows a woman with a large stomach that overhangs but does not hide her pubic area. A roll of fat extends around her middle, joining with large but rather flat buttocks. Her thighs are also large and pressed together down to the knees. Her breasts are full and appear soft, but they are not sagging and pendulous. Her genital area would appear to have been deliberately emphasized with the labia of the vulva carefully detailed and made clearly visible, perhaps unnaturally so, and as if she had no pubic hair. This, combined with her large breasts and the roundness of her stomach, suggests that the "subject" of the sculpture is female procreativity and nurture and the piece has long been identified as some sort of fertility idol. (p. 3) The people who made this statue lived in a harsh ice-age environment where features of fatness and fertility would have been highly desirable (Venus, n.d.). When viewing Western art paintings dating back 500-600 years ago, one could see that the women models in these paintings have very similar body characteristics to that of Venus of Willendorf. Throughout the history of Western Art, artists like Peter Paul Rubens and Titian used models that were curvy, voluptuous, and thick. In the words of Professor Mary Saleeby (personal communication, September 25, 2011), “These artists took the female body to another level showing it as a sensual vessel in addition to a maternal one.” For example, in Titian’s “Venus Anadyomene” he paints Venus coming out of the sea. Titian uses the Venus’ nudity to show viewers the curves of her legs, arms, stomach, and pelvic area (Venus Anadyomene, n.d.). Nearly a century later, Peter Paul Rubens, who was influenced by Titian, expressed an interest in painting thick and curvy women in his works such as “Venus at a Mirror” and “The Hermit and the Sleeping Angelica.” His interest in painting thick and curvy women introduced the term “Rubenesque” which is define as a plus-size woman (Peter, n.d.). Similar to the prehistoric beliefs, early Western popular culture believed that a woman who was curvy and voluptuous was a sign of being fertile and able to reproduce. Voluptuousness also showed a status of wealth because being curvy meant that you could afford to eat. It was rare for artists to use thin models in paintings because being thin meant a woman was poor or doing religious practices (McPhee, 2000). According to Dr. Joan Brumberg, in the fourteenth century Saint Catherine of Sienna, starved to death at the age of 33 for refusing to eat because of regret for her sins (McPhee, 2000). In the nineteenth century women wanted to be thin because it meant they had conquered their carnal appetites such as food and eating (McPhee, 2000). Now, centuries...
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