In The Eye of The Beholder and The Artist

"Wrong Century" by Tomas_KucerovskyWrong Century by Tomas Kucerovsky
(click for larger view)

This illustration, is making the social media rounds, especially within the plus-sized community. It depicts the way plus-sized beauty is seen by most in this century versus how such beauty was seen in previous centuries.

I saw this illustration for the first time at 2:30am just before I went to bed. I could not quite figure out why my gut reaction to it was “WTF?”. I understood the overall point made, but that gut reaction lingered. Considering the time and I had to rise in a couple of hours for work, I emailed it to myself so I can review the art when I was not half sleep deprived.

I have now seen the illustration with a lucid mind (hah since we’re speaking of MY mind), in the bright light of day and now I understand my gut reaction.

The artist has the woman in the illustration gazing a famous painting of what are no doubt big beautiful women, while others near her mock her corpulent beauty. I cannot decide if her expression is wistful of a time when women with her physical attributes were greatly desired and considered the height of beauty, or if she is woeful of the fact that beauty such as hers is not considered so now.

What triggered my gut reaction was Kucerovsky use of Rubens Rape of the daughters of Leucippus as the beauty counterpoint. Why this specific painting? Why could Kucerovsky have not used say…

Judgement of Paris by RubensJudgement of Paris The goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athena being judged on their beauty by Paris.
(click for larger view)

or better…

The Three Graces by Peter Paul RubensThe Three Graces – more naked goddesses to behold!

or best…

Venus in Front of her Mirror by Peter Paul RubensVenus In Front Of Her Mirror
(click for larger view)

Now when a painting of the Goddess of Love and Beauty has more rolls than a bakery, there is no mistaking what the standard of beauty was in Rubens’ time. There is a reason to this day that the classic euphemism for a big beautiful woman is Rubenesque.

Of all the marvelous works of Rubens’ available that depict beauty as it was seen then, he chooses a painting depicting abduction and rape of women as his example! So now we are not Goddess worthy even within a picture of a picture, but abduction and rape is a-okay? What exactly is being said to us big gals here?

As a plus-sized beauty in the 21st Century, should I be grateful now if I am lucky enough to be seen as an object of desire even by rapist? Is that the only way we big girls can “get some”? If the female in the illustration is looking wistfully at this painting, what does that say about the artist’s interpretation of what he thinks is the mindset of today’s fat woman? That we’re so desperate we’d willingly accept rape?

Were this a face-to-face conversation, this would be about the point where one of my friends would say to me, “You see too much into things!” and I generally retort with, “And you don’t see at all!”

The overall essence of Kucerovsky ‘s illustration is good, it really is, but it also leaves such a bitter aftertaste in my mouth, that I can barely appreciate the zest of the original flavor.

16 thoughts on “In The Eye of The Beholder and The Artist

  1. “More rolls than a bakery”…. haven’t heard that one before… funny!
    I think most women in the world who have access to modern advertising have issues with their body image. We are all subject to the tyranny of the scale. It’s so unnatural.

    • Granted, modern advertising does not help, but this is more than just ones personal body issue. The scale simply provides a number associated with a body. This is an issue on how society now perceives the person in that body because of the number attached to it. The presumed character of a person who is 6’2″ and 300 pounds is not going to be looked at the same way as someone who is 5’2″ and 300 pounds. 300 pounds is 300 pounds, the tyranny is how the 5’2″ person is often perceived and treated because of it.

      Thanks for commenting.

      • (Raises hand) I’m the shorty so described, and yeah, people do seem to hate me for my body. When it’s said “I’m not overweight, I’m undertall,” I have a wistful little frisson of feeling kin. Thanks for noting that.
        And- I looked at the strip before I read your words, and instantly was averse to the chosen artwork, same reasoning. Right there with you.

  2. As an artist I highly doubt this was a careless mistake. One does not spend hours making art without thinking about it.

  3. To play devil’s advocate, the illustration could be also interpreted as a tongue-in-cheek “fat women have no self esteem other than wanting to be raped.” It could be dark and disturbing while making fun of those naive enough to think it’s a worship of big women.

    • Valid counter point, but yes, a dark and disturbing one indeed if a thought process advocating a desire to be raped is considered merely tongue-in-cheek. Let us hope this truly is not the case here.

      Thanks for both comments, LJ.

  4. Perhaps those deriding the artist might care to read the history of the Rape of the Sabine Women. First off, it doesn’t mean ‘rape’ in the modern sense of the word, it means abduction. Secondly, the women were considered highly desirable, and were offered honourable marriages, and rights and freedoms – including the fact that they would be mothers of free men. The Sabines, incensed at the kidnap of their women, went to war with Rome. The women themselves bravely strode into the battle and pleaded with their fathers on one side, and their husbands on the other to stop fighting. The two sides reconciled and pledged to unite as one nation.

    The Sabine women were beautiful, brave and wise. Their actions created a new nation. You do them a disservice by talking of them this way.

    • MrsJ, I will concede that the interpretation of the word rape from Rubens’ time until now may have changed greatly in connotation. However, even used solely as abduction, it was still an act of violence against the women. That the women were later “offered” honorable marriages, etcetera and were able to make the best of the situation after the fact, does not negate its dire beginnings. The women were beautiful, the Romans wanted them and they abducted what they wanted. Rubens’ painting was not honoring the women striding bravely into war, but interpreting the abductions that were the cause it. Thus, my argument which is not against the painting itself, but of Kucerovsky’s use of a painting depicting violence within his illustration – when there were other paintings by the same artist that could have served to make, what is presumed to be, his point – is valid.

      • I do see your point, but I think there is another layer to Kucerovsky’s narrative. The wistful look on the lady’s face could not only be an expression of a desire for somewhere where her body type (and mine) is not only accepted and desired, but also a fantasy wish for someone to carry her away from the taunts and sniggers of the intolerant. One of the other paintings would not have conveyed that yearning. The violence of the abduction is subsumed into the desire for a different century, a different place.

  5. It’s not rape of Sabine women. It’s ‎”Rape of the daughters of Leucippus” in which these women were fought over like property and Ruben has to paint it like these women thoroughly enjoy it. Of course the old text smoothed it out as if they weren’t raped. If you take a women’s body against her will and “marry” her, it’s rape. Rape or abduction, it’s all about power, domination and control over someone.

    In this illustration made by a man, you have a woman looking sad and pining for the days where women were fought over as properties against their will. I think it’s mean spirited and poor taste. As if that’s not terrible enough, we have all these modern women admiring this picture over social network, even after people pointing out the sexual violence. I find it more disturbing than the illustration itself.

    What these people are saying, and I can’t believe it, is that they would rather live in the days and age of being sexually abused than living in this modern day and age where women have control over their own bodies, only to enslave themselves by social expectations from glamour magazines. How sick is that? Can these women’s self esteem sink any lower?

    • “As if that’s not terrible enough, we have all these modern women admiring this picture over social network, even after people pointing out the sexual violence. I find it more disturbing than the illustration itself.”

      That right there is the scary truth.

  6. Pingback: In The Eye of The Beholder and The Artist | jerseygirlwendy

  7. I feel, a combination of your view, Raivenne, and Mrs.J’s, with a toss in of LJ. When I first saw Kucerovsky’s…vision, for lack of a better word, I was dumbfounded. My first thoughts were, the woman is tormented because of her weight, and she is wistful for a time when lushly formed women were valued. But the choice of Ruben’s paintings gave me pause. You can call it “rape” or you can call it “Charlie Brown”, makes no difference. It amounts to a woman being taken against her will. Period. We all know from Ruben’s other works, that he had a love for full-bodied women. In his Venus with her mirror painting for instance, you could sit just about any woman in that chair and snap a photo, and see the same rolls, cellulite, etc. Ruben however, didn’t paint them with any malice, he painted them with the joy of a great artist painting something he saw as beautiful. Perhaps the woman in Kucerovsky’s work was a fan of Ruben. No reason to think otherwise, as I think most women that are overweight (in today’s society) that love art, are fans. I see in magazines every day, women being mocked for their weight. I feel sympathy for celebrities who have babies and then are judiciously watched to see how long it takes them to lose the “baby fat”. I feel some of that woman’s wistfulness, for a time when women were seen as beautiful simply for being women. The painting choice was clearly deliberate, but I’m not sure we are getting the correct meaning from it. Like MrsJ said, it could simply be this woman’s “Calgon, take me away” wish, since her real life is filled with cruelty. In comparison, this vision of Ruben’s might be considered preferable. Anyone who has read romance novels knows there are no shortage of the “kidnap then fall in love” versions out there. It’s a clever work, and the more I ponder on it, it is an honest work and shows the clarity of the artist. LJ? You can argue that violence against women is never romantic, and I will agree with you 100%. But I think what is being depicted here, is that this woman is experiencing violence everyday – in mental torment. To her? The rape of the daughters painting probably IS preferable. Just my two cents (or, four cents with inflation)

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