anxiety, art, dieting, exercise, fashion, fitness, health, healthy eating, Joy Behar, lifestyle, Marilyn Monroe, master artists, Metropolitan Museum of Art, models, nutrition, NYC, overeating, paintings, self-esteem, Twiggy, women
Perusing the portraits of women painted by the early masters in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in NYC, aroused in me a bit of jealousy. I stood there, staring, in this gallery of European paintings, 1250-1800, reminded of Joy Behar’s 1988 stand-up routine when she said, “You know when it would have been a great time to be a woman…during the time when Rubens was a painter…That was the time to be a woman…You could have such an attitude…What do you mean, no dessert? I’ve got a sitting with Caravaggio in the morning. If that man doesn’t see some cellulite, I’m history.”
Joy’s joke is relevant still. The representative body image shifted dramatically from the 16th century to present day. I blame Twiggy, the iconic model of the 1960s, who inspired women to drop the Marilyn Monroe curves and aim for Twiggy’s pencil-thin profile. At the time, I had a Twiggy figure naturally, but these days maintaining it is a conscious effort that has me feeling elated on good days (like today, when I counted out six almonds for breakfast) and punitive on bad days (like when I eat cake as though it was my last day on earth).
Twiggy wasn’t the first. Thin was in during the Roaring Twenties. This makes sense. In fashion, it is typical in one’s lifetime to see what goes around, comes around. Long skirts are in, then short and then long again. Straight hair, then curly, back to straight. So I am wondering why this cyclical trend has not occurred over the last half-century. The zaftig physique never really came back in vogue, full-figured models notwithstanding. My theory is that the attention to women’s health played a role.
When society began to focus on women’s health, the debate grew about the connection between weight and health, and continues today. Companies promoting their diet plans, food products and fitness facilities latched onto the concept like snow flakes are attaching themselves to my grass blades at the time of this writing. Since some prospective customers frown upon too much attention to the aesthetics of the “perfect” body, these organizations strategically swayed women to buy their products / services / plans by heavily marketing the health reasons for weight loss. I suppose there are some who join a gym for their health, but forgive me for being skeptical given this skinny-obsessed world we live in. Fear of the obesity epidemic, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers has been good for business in the fitness, diet fad and skinny fashion industries. I am not saying the fear is not real and not to be taken seriously. I am only calling out the industries that prey on that fear.
The museum is so huge, I couldn’t cover a lot of ground in one afternoon. Perhaps in the Modern and Contemporary Art gallery, images of thin women are displayed. And maybe, in the distant future, that art will be viewed by our descendants with disdain, wondering why women starved themselves so. In the meantime, I may post one of these photos on my refrigerator to replace my magnet that states “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels,” which, perhaps one day, will take it’s rightful place as a relic in the museum of targeted marketing.