"There Is No Excellent Beauty That Hath Not Some Strangeness In The Proportion"
When you go to a museum, the last thing you expect to see is yourself. But there I was, stretched out on a chaise lounge, completely naked and staring back unabashedly and unapologetically. The funny thing was that this wasn't really a picture of me — in fact, there's no way it could've been: I am not a 17th century Italian woman whose portrait is hanging in the Musée D'Orsay. Well, last time I checked, at least.
It was bizarre, really, for me to feel like I somehow related to this woman. She lived in a different time, or was made up by the painter, for all I knew. But I liked her. I liked her confidence, the all-knowing glint in her eye — and most of all, I liked how her body shared an uncanny resemblance with mine.
Growing up, I always felt that my body was an unusual shape. My boobs are the kind that polite British people would call “modest,” and I inherited my family's big, open rib cage, so I have no tapered waist to speak of. On top of that, I'm built like an athlete, so my legs and hips have always been large and muscular — traits that my mother assured me were strengths, but I had regarded as obstacles between me and low-waisted skinny jeans. I felt as though I was made wrong, like if there were a few adjustments here or there, I would look like I was supposed to.
So when I noticed that my body type was all over the walls of this museum — shared by Greek statues, in paintings of bored-looking Dutch women, and even more French and Italian portraits of naked women posing much like the woman I had seen earlier, I suddenly was overcome with an unexplainably strong emotion. I felt silly as I sat down. It's not like I'm one of those people who loses it because she is just so damn moved by art. So I looked down at my phone as a respite, scrolling mindlessly through my Pinterest feed. And just as if the universe were trying to nudge me in the right direction, I came upon this quote by English philosopher Francis Bacon: "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion."
And it hit me: These bodies weren't smooth and perfectly hourglass-shaped, like the ones I was used to seeing on TV and in magazines. They had peaks and valleys and curves and jagged edges. They were the kinds that show folds when they sit up, and took up space in the frame. These women were proudly asymmetric, disproportionate — and they were beautiful.
I didn't realize that I lived without seeing my body type presented as beautiful until I suddenly saw it everywhere — and it made me feel a strange mix of comfort and sadness. Comfort, because I felt like these works of art were homages and celebrations of bodies like mine. Painters and sculptors from all over the Western world, for centuries, revered these shapes so much that they were moved to capture and immortalize them. But I was also saddened by the reminder that I, like so many other women, are constantly deprived of images of ourselves. And we're in desperate need of them — particularly women of color. Wouldn't it be lovely to look around and be met with images that praised familiar shapes and silhouettes, instead of having to actively seek them out?
I now think about this notion of rejecting proportion and beauty all the time. I think about how, when we airbrush models or get rid of our curves, we're making ourselves less distinguishable and much more boring to look at. Our uniqueness, our asymmetry, your mole near your nose, her round belly, my protruding ribs, are what make us interesting and more beautiful. And that's something worth painting.
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