Note: These Botero-inspired, body positive fashion images are NSFW. They are also not safe for preserving outmoded paradigms of what a woman’s body should be.
We are born naked and when we die, our bodies are stripped, examined and prepared for burial. Between birth and death, we are contextualized and classified by fashion. It is our nakedness that is universal and transcendent. It is fashion that gives us a sense of time, space and place. Fashion changes. That’s its nature. Our nakedness does not change.
So much of fashion for women revolves around hiding, camouflaging, binding, masking and correcting flaws. Many of those flaws even become fashionable after a time. What’s considered beautiful to one generation is horrifying to another. Binding of the feet, whalebone corsets, and obligatory shape wear are all examples of how we try to minimize women even in the space that they take up in their physical, tangible life. We do this in the name of beauty and glamour, but the tacit message is that a woman is not allowed to take up too much space and must expect to suffer as part of daily life as a matter, of course, to be acceptable to those around her. Wallis Simpson’s famous quip, “You can never be too rich or too thin,” has stayed with women long after her death.
Idealized images of the female form have been around since humans began the endeavor of making art but over time, our ideas of what a woman should be and could be have grown smaller and smaller. Would the Venus of Willendorf be considered gorgeous today if we saw her living, nude, in the flesh?
Siegfried Kracauer famously said, “The photograph annihilates the person.” Indeed, we live in an age of hyper-inundation of images. The average American sees 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day, many of aspirational models portraying fictionalized situations rather than actual people living actual lives. Kracauer also said,”…what appears in the photograph is not the person but the sum of what can be subtracted from him or her.” People are reduced to objects, things, ideas, sales pitches, and talking points instead of subjectivities. The average woman has been annihilated in this unrelenting tide of over-processed, idealized imagery of unobtainable standards.
Is body positivity just having a moment? Is it fashionable? Or is body comfort, body positivity, and body acceptance something that we can reclaim as women? Is fashion having a fat fetish moment or can we truly embrace women of all sizes? Can we truly and whole-heartedly say all sizes and shapes are deserving of being clothed well?
These photographs are deeply informed by Fernando Botero’s oeuvre. Botero often imagined bodies as round and full, comic even at times, as opposed to clean lines and hard, harsh angles. Can we too have a full circle moment? Is it possible to enjoy looking at many different types of body types in photography and allow for their subjectivity?
We privilege chiseled perfectly toned, perfectly controlled bodies. This is what we hold up as the ideal. This is what advertisers sell to us. This is what so many women suffer for— trying to prove that they are in control of their lives by being in control of their bodies. It’s about proving to the world if you are indeed control of your own life. The sad history is, that even today, with remarkable freedoms for women, not all women have equal access to those freedoms. We are not always in control of our bodies at all times, all over the world.
Nakedness is also vulnerability. You’re not hiding, you’re not distracting, and you’re not camouflaged. You’re there with all your rolls, pooches, all your stretch marks, all your cellulite, freckles, and moles. Forty percent of American women are obese. That’s a large minority. Instead of pressuring these women to be more in control, to work harder, to do better, perhaps we should unbind our thinking. Perhaps we should drop our whalebone thought corsets and make fashion compassionate. Let’s be seen, heard and accepted as we are.
According to the American Psychological Association, women are twice as likely to report that they’re stressed and then men. Instead of gouging women’s pain points as a means to sell them things, it would be far more effective to extend the everyday woman the compassion she deserves, whether she’s a size 6 or size 16 or a size 26.
Instead of belaboring whether a woman is visually attractive or sexy, it’s far more important to help every woman find what’s within her that’s attractive, vibrant, sexy and alive. That’s why body positivity is so important–not to make the range of what we find sexy and sexual bigger, literally, but to help people feel better about themselves in the world that often undermines our mental and emotional health and our well-being in the name of profit.