Hello! I know, it's been a while... But I have something to say:
If you have been following my art at all, you know that I like painting women: powerful, mystical and whimsical women; goddesses, witches, and otherworldly beauties. But something came to my attention recently and once I saw it, I could not unsee it.
With all my paintings lined up in front of me (or piled up, my studio has limited space) I realized how narrow an image of beauty I have been reproducing and have been complicit in perpetuating in my work. Thin. White. Able-bodied. Cisgendered. Yes, you’ve seen her before… She is in all the commercials, she saturates your Instagram feed, she is the heroine of every movie you see, and she is even celebrated through the work of the contemporary artists I admire the most. And now, look at that, she even dominates the privacy of my own creative life and expression!
It’s gross, but it’s not that surprising. Perhaps, like me, you’ve internalized her image too. It’s pretty much impossible to remain impermeable to cultural influences. We have all been socialized by a capitalist culture that tells women their bodies are ugly and disgusting just to sell them the solution. And we are all, to some extent, harmed by these narrow beauty standards. Actually, it’s hard to think of even one woman I know who does not feel weird around food and who is truly at ease in her body.
What is most concerning to me is that beauty standards are never truly about physical appearance. The reason why women have been the target for beauty idolization across ages and across most cultures is embedded in The Patriarchy (organ plays, evil laugh). Conforming to cultural beauty standards is more about how we behave, how we obey. The thin ideal means that we stay hungry and you know what? Hunger sucks. Actually, Naomi Wolf states this rather powerfully in her classic book, The Beauty Myth. She explains that the caloric restriction goes beyond weight loss by resulting in "a distinctive personality whose traits are passivity, anxiety, and emotionality. It is those traits, and not thinness for its own sake, that the dominant culture wants to create in the private sense of self of recently liberated women in order to cancel out the dangers of their liberation". So yes, no kidding, hunger keeps our attention away from actualizing our true self, and getting shit done, and, oh wait, social change.
So, all this rant just to say that I gave myself the challenge to redefine and expand my own sense of beauty and painted a women of a different and more unconventional body type in all her splendor! And this is something, from now on, that I will keep doing. More body diversity in art means that more people can relate to more pieces of artworks, can see themselves reflected in it. Art should speak to all of us, be a mirror for all selves, in all shapes and forms.
Thank you for reading.
Anne-Sophie Cournoyer is an artist and illustrator of all things aethereal. She lives in Victoria, BC and this is her blog. Welcome!