I used to walk along the halls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art soaking up self esteem from the curvy bathers of Renoir, the tender and thick thighs of Botticelli, and the voluptuous lines of Rubens’ ladies. Gazing at these images, I found a reverence for bodies like mine. In these bodies’ lumps and bumps the artists found something worth not only honoring through the creative process but also preserving for years to come on canvas. Fat was not the antithesis of beauty; it was a part of the beauty.
Each time I undress for a shower or bath, I try to take a minute to look at and really appreciate myself. Some days it’s harder than others. Embarrassing as it is to say, I pretend I am art. Sometimes I’ll be Venus on the half shell, or one of Renoir’s bathers. For an instant, the countertops and jars of lotions and creams disappear, and there I am in the canvas of my mind’s eye in all my curvaceous glory, surrounded by a lush landscape.
But imagining is one thing; to act is another.
A friend of mine recently asked me to pose nude for her. At first I was confused that she wanted to paint me. Why me? I’m just…so not perfect. Why spend the time to paint someone so flawed, who could really only achieve that magical standard in her mind’s eye?
As a word of advice, she told me “This sounds silly, but think ‘Draw me like one of your French girls.’” As I stretched on her couch, my head resting on my arms, I was self-conscious, constantly noticing the swell of my tummy, the folds of my chubbiness, the stretch marks that tiger stripe my hips, and wow, my nipples are weird looking. Slowly but surely I became more comfortable as I watched her measure my thighs with her charcoal and gauge the rosiness of my breasts. After a while, it stopped feeling weird and started feeling comfortable. When I began to recognize that sense of comfort, I found a new sense of liberation.
The first time she showed me a painting of myself, I was shocked. Where I saw imperfection, she found grace, comfort, plushness.
I was beautiful for the human body’s sake, not for sake of sexuality or of being objectified. It didn’t matter what anyone thought of my body or whether they considered it sexy. All that mattered was that I existed in curves and swells, in tangled curls of too long brown hair, in pointed toes, in a sloped neck.
In that moment, I got to stop pretending to be art. I was art. Everything shifted. My own body became infinitely more precious to me. Other people’s bodies became more precious to me, more beloved for their individual quirks and characteristics, for their myriad shades of color, for their thousand perfect details.
So, if you have a minute to spare today, just stand before your mirror and remember that your body is complex and amazing. Try your best to ignore any habitual criticism of yourself and silence those unkind voices attempting to compare you to others. Just be, and be beautiful. Let yourself be art for art’s sake.
And for your own sake as well.