Our bodies – A visual journey.

July 7, 2012

A comment responding to my last blog post, talked about Norman Lindsay’s paintings. This got me thinking about how our perceptions of what is considered beautiful, when thinking about the female form, have changed over the centuries.

In the 17th Century, Peter Rubens was painting women and they were always a little large and hearty.

The following painting, The Three Graces, was painted around 1693:

I think a lot of women can identify with some of the features present in this painting – biggish bums, solid thighs, bumps, creases, folds and boobs that are a bit smaller than what’s happening in the under-carriage. I think Rubens was a ‘bum’ guy because you can see the women depicted in his paintings in much the same way.

Question #67: Is this the ‘natural’ form of a woman?

Maybe. In that day, I’m sure there were ‘fashions’ (as there always are), but I wonder if altering body shape was one of the goals – as it is obsessively today.

Here is a painting, Imperia, by Norman Lindsay. Norman was painting in the early 1900s (this one was 1920). I think he was definitely a ‘breast’ man:

If you have a look at his female subjects, they were very buxom indeed…but they were also big in the thigh area and around the tummy…plus there’s pubic hair. As I wrote in my response to Hannah, I think the waxed/Brazilian of the pubic area is a new, acquired taste…possibly connecting it to a look where women look pre-pubescent?

By looking at these two paintings, if you had either of these bodies – which a lot of women do – you would probably be unhappy with certain parts. Hell, if women have the ‘perfect’ body, they still find something to hate about it – hence all the ‘altering’ that goes on. (Read my last post – The beauty we aspire to, does not come naturally…or cheaply. Click here)

Were these women unhappy with their bodies? I wonder…

When I was in my early 20s (early 1990s) I remember there was a big story in Cosmopolitan about women’s bodies, that has stayed with me all these years later. Over a two page spread, they had photographs of the bodies, front and back, of about fifteen or so women. Their heads weren’t in the picture and they were completely nude with their hands held together in front of their pubic area.

The article wanted to know what women AND men felt was a beautiful female body. I remember my eyes gravitating towards this gorgeous, lean and ‘perfect’ body. She had longish legs, small waist and breasts that were just right – not too big and not too small. She looked like a size 10 (quite small here in Australia) and she had my vote.

The following month, the results were in. Out of the wonderful mix of body shapes and sizes, the women and men demonstrated a very definitive preference through their choices.

90% of women (yes, 90) voted the same body I had chosen, as the best. No surprises there! My older self feels disappointed with my younger-me…I was as predictable as the rest of the women…all chasing (and still chasing) one body weight and shape.

The men’s choice, however, was interesting. If memory serves about 86% (still a high number) picked the size 14 girl. She was in proportion BUT there were some serious curves…especially around the thigh, stomach and breast area.

Fascinating. I wonder if the guys of today would choose similarly?

To the young women of today, who are fighting their own battle to belong, feel at peace with themselves and (dare I say) find a way to be in love with their bodies, there’s not much of a mirror out there telling them that their bodies are ALL beautiful in their unique way.

I had a friend post a picture on Facebook of an overstretched and biggish stomach from having children. The image was trying in inspire women to love their untaut tummies due to the fact that they had made and grown a HUMAN BEING inside them – an absolute miracle…BUT most mums I know, don’t have that feeling of tenderness towards their stomachs – quite the opposite, in fact.

Question #68: Why do we do it to ourselves?

When I went to Google images of tummies, I predominantly got two images – a ‘hot’ flat stomach or a pregnant belly. (More hot than not!)

How sad that at the end of that pregnant belly, some women are left with a feeling of self-loathing towards what their body is left with. And when they turn for help, all they see is young, slim, taut and perky. C’mon.


The change happens within you and it CAN if you do the following (and it IS this simple):

Go to the mirror NOW and look at yourself through new eyes!! Woooo Hoooo!!

Deep Breath.


20 Responses to “Our bodies – A visual journey.”

  1. Kristie said

    Loved this Paula. A reality hit.

    • questionsforwomen said

      Thanks so much Kristie! You, my sweet friend, are a striking beauty. I’d like you to stop shaking your head now and nod in agreeance with me because you are! xxx

  2. Yes- I completely agree that Norm was a “breast” man.
    I can relate to what you wrote about that Cosmo article. I have curves, and no matter how often my husband tells me that he loves me just as I am, I feel like I fall short of what a “beautiful” young woman is meant to be- mainly, due to all of the wobbly bits! I also think that a lot of young men are drawn to tall/thin/big breasted women because that is what they think they are supposed to like.

    • questionsforwomen said

      Thank you for this blog post’s inspiration! Your comment got me to ‘articulate’ this issue of our bodies, but didn’t know how. I’m in the Blue Mountains often and always see the sign to Norm’s ‘gallery.’ I MUST go there now!
      We ALL have wobbly bits – at some point in our lives, we all go through a wobbly bit stage. Of course there are women who struggle worse than others – but on the whole, women are beautiful regardless of bits! Look at Adele (one amongst so many)! But there aren’t enough ‘Adeles’ in the spotlight.
      Now go look in the mirror and say the magic words! 🙂
      Thanks so much, Hannah.

  3. lamehousewife said

    Another great post!

  4. Verina said

    wow for minute there I thought I was looking into a mirror! ROFL
    or perception of women has changed. AND I agree with you on the brazillian thing ( unless you are a bikini model maybe..) But I have a real issue with men that want their mature women to look like prepubescent girls and hello that means under about 14!!!
    People also bring up these sorts of pictures when talking about porn, and pornographic images on t shirts and in advertising.. and they say well these are naked…
    well yes they are and there is nothing wrong with the human body being naked. The problem lies in how it is presented. And Porn presents it in a way that places women only for the sexual entertainment of men.. we become nothing more than a physical playstation. To present this image to children as the born is a dangerous and sad indictment of our society. I think Lindsay would agree….

    • questionsforwomen said

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s a simple problem with terrible consequences on our kids – as their minds make decisions about their reality.
      Thanks for your comment!

  5. Rob Macken said

    This is to first of all assure you that men are following your blog, though I have been unsure at times whether I should comment as it seems to me that some of the discussions were aimed at women. However, as the female form has been a subject of enormous interest to me for some time, I will venture my pesrpective. Back in the late nineties I was watching the swimming events at the Olympics, ’96 from memory, and I said to a friend how sensational the swimmers bodies were, both men and women. I admired the upside down triangle shape and the finely defined muscles. I was told quite sharply that my tastes were completely culturally formed, it was after all the time of Sarah Connor. I felt a little chastened by this as it made my appreciation feel artificial.

    As time has gone on and with the advantage of age and hindsight, I have come to find my enjoyment of the female form is shaped more by age than culture. Young fit people will always be attractive but women, with age, become more womanly, as my wife and I go into middle age I find myself attracted to her curves and warmth, winter is particularly a great time for a full bodied cuddle. I feel a little sorry for heterosexual women and gay men, because with middle age blokes just get fat.

    Another memory comes to mind of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who is also a teacher. We were complaining about the incredibly little clothing the girls were wearing to school on mufty day and the difficulty it posed in teaching them. I asked her if the girls thought it would impress the boys and she said when she was a teenager she dressed to impress her girl friends and fit in with them.

    I guess this is just a long and winded way of saying that I suspect much of the pressure on girls and women to fit a particular body shape comes from other women. I’m not exonerating men from being shallow and stupid, I’m just saying that maybe it is time for the brothers and fathers of teenagers and young women to tell them that they don’t need to fit an unrealistic body shape and stupid fashions to be attractive to their contempories. As a boy from a catholic single sex school any attention from a girl was enough to fall hopelessly in love.

    and a PS from his wife. My Mother told the Priest to get lost when he told her she had to purify her body before god in the catholic church after giving birth. I think I received a good atitude towards accepting being what we are, from her. But I feel the pessure too at time when I’m down.

    • questionsforwomen said

      Yaay, Rob!! I know I have a few male fans and now that I’m directing more questions at the guys, I hope I get some more ‘conversation’ from them too – as you’ve done!
      Thank you sooo much for your comment. I think the female form, in its many wonderful forms, can be appreciated and admired. It’s a shame you were made to feel that way about the swimmers.
      What young women seem to be ignoring is the fact that their shape will change at some point – especially after having kids. Some more than others, of course, but you are COMPLETELY right (and something I’ve always said) – girls compete against girls.
      That’s why I started this blog because, it’s the WOMEN who perpetuate everything we see that’s bad for women. US. We can’t have porn t-shirts without women agreeing to pose etc. etc. I think young men and men at the top are exploiting this (understandibly), so it’s up to us to start saying no to all this. And not by burning bras – just by pulling it back a notch. How? Just like you said – mums AND dads pullig together and strengthen our young girls to grow up saying, “No, I’m not having that.”
      I say the same to girls at school about ALL the attention they could receive from men of all ages. They can’t pick and choose who’s going to look.
      Your comment about middle aged men made me laugh!! Ironically, it’s practically an expectation for men! Haha!
      PS to Rob’s wife – I feel the pressure when I’m down too. x
      Thanks again, Rob…and wife!

  6. Gravitas said

    [sorry…. I went off too early in my previous post 😉 ] I, like Rob, am a long time appreciator of the female form – and that, I hasten to add, I mean the female form in all its forms – body and mind. There is usually something (or several things) attractive in all women – their laugh, their eyes, their new perspectives et al. However the “Mad Men” days are gone when you can tell a woman that openly – because let’s face it.. it’s a little creepy.

    On the rare occasion, when a woman has admitted the same to me (seemingly innocently) I have been overcome with surprise and embarrassment. What’s with that?

    • questionsforwomen said

      Could it be more about our generation? I think we had a pretty good balance of the innocent mixed with the ‘dirty.’ I don’t know if we were great at accepting compliments, either…hahaha! The current generation of teens – 20s seem to be very up front…especially the girls. Different times.
      Here’s to more young men like you and Rob!
      Thanks for stopping by again…tell your friends! Haha! 😉

  7. Harls said

    Hi Paula,

    Just echoing Rob’s comments that the older I get the more I find beauty in all women, particularly women of my own vintage, and what younger men see as imperfections, I see as beautiful and sexy manifestations of femininity (bellies that aren’t flat because they have built a family; boobies that aren’t as perky as they were but have nourished babies and given untold hours of joy to husbands; facial lines that tell the story of a woman’s life).

    But I really have to take exception to the boring, worn out and PLAIN WRONG cliche that some (most?) men like floorboards as opposed to carpet because it reminds them of prepubescent girls. This is about as logical as saying women who prefer men who shave their faces have a secret hankering for prepubescent boys. Obviously this would be ridiculous and wrong assertion. The “prepubescent girls” anology is tantamount to telling a very significant slice of the male population that they are latent pedophiles. Let’s knock this one on the head right now. Most wives of shaven (“down there”) men I know tell me they much prefer hairless genitals on their partner – but nobody is accusing them of being prospective pedophiles!

    In our culture it is widely accepted there are several good reasons for getting rid of excess hair in various places on both sexes. Just because most of that hair is of the type that children don’t have (face, armpits, chest, pubic), there is no need to say our culture is wrong and needs fixing. So let’s not overcomplicate things and tell normal people they have sick tendencies!


    • questionsforwomen said

      Hey Harls.
      I’m sorry if my comment about waxing caused that strong interpretation. At NO POINT whatsoever, did I mention the word pedophile – nor do I think every guy who likes it hairless is one nor is every girl who shaves a wanton whore out to only please men. In this case (as with the majority) I’m picturing the tastes of younger men immersed in the current culture – although I have been told by guys in the past that they liked it and joked (and maybe it was just joking) as to why. Match this with a popular look of women in school uniform and that’s where I formed my interpretation.
      I suppose there are times when I may sound like I’m including EVERY man, when I say what I think they are (or seem to be) into – but I’m not. I promise.
      I, funnily enough, have never had the conversation with other women about hairless genitals on their male partners…but this comparisson and the one about it being the same as women liking young boys because they shave their face – are a bit of a stretch. There IS a ‘porny preference’ out there (not by everyone, of course) to women looking ‘younger’, but not the other way around…in the same vein.
      With everything you’re going to find big exceptions to the rule, so with this in mind, I would like you to just see that tiny part, as me commenting on how we women change ourselves (for whatever reason) and STILL end up unhappy.
      Hopefully young men will be guided by more guys like you, Rob and ‘Gravatas’ – then we have to slap the ladies around a bit and get them to embrace themselves.
      Thanks for the heads up…but also know that I’m not anti-male and know there are HEEAAPPSS of good guys out there, who are URGENTLY needed to get in the ears of young men and stand up to help our girls as well.

  8. Loooooved loved loved this post Paula, winner!! Seeing those pics really hit home how obsessed we are with a modern-day ‘norm’ which is just one more example of the filters we so blindly walk with. Thankyou thankyou thankyou xxx

  9. What a lovely article…and yes it is disappointing how obsessed we are with the perfect form, when in reality the perfect body is the one that we’ve got… I agree that sadly most of the judgement of women does come from other women, not men. In all fairness I can’t remember any partners or male friends ever passing judgement or criticism about my body. I think it’s wonderful that this whole topic is much more widely discussed, but there’s still a long way to go…keep up the great work.

    • questionsforwomen said

      Thank you so much for the lovely compliment!
      Yep, it’s us girls who need to snap out of it and embrace who we are. The problem is that it sounds so cheesy and a lot of women simply don’t know how to love what they embody.
      Thanks for stopping by – hope to see you again soon! 😉

  10. Veronica Habib said

    I go to an art school, and our class from time to time have seen a lot of naked females and males in life drawing. We all had this conversation why we have such different attitudes with the female body and the “lean” compared to males (with exception of a few women).

    Most of my friends said they wanted to be skinner bodies and those who were naturally skinny actually had admitted they hated being their size. I was shocked and asked why, they all said they wanted to be more “womanly” and felt they didn’t appear womanly. One of the male class members agreed with them, that he had preferred larger women.

    We all came to the conclusion that when a woman looks at her own body or another woman’s, they usually associate it with clothing and having to fit into something and those thinner like today’s models are usually seen as the preferred body type while viewing clothes. As my friend said men will usually undress women with their eyes rather than dressing them, and the idea of the primitive man once again came into conversation. (We usually roll our eyes about this theory in our classes, almost seems like its always referred to!) In this case I think it plausible, men look for the features of the “child bearing” women sub-consciously as those breast, stomach and thigh areas are supposedly child bearing features.

    This whole theory can also be swiped out, men have preferences like women. For example: tall women wanting tall men because they want a taller man than them. In the end it is preference, and unfortunately the media doesn’t portray reality realistically and we all see men chasing after the ‘skinny’ women. In the real world there is variation even in the dating game, it’s much more optimistic than it seems on tv.

    • questionsforwomen said

      It’s ALWAYS the way – women who are bit bigger, want to be thinner/ smaller ones, bigger/ curly haired lasses want straight hair etc. etc.
      It’s incredible, though, that we SEE beauty in the everyday women and yet we still allow for that saturated mono-look to continue to be subliminally sought.
      You’ve brought up an interesting point about the clothing – again it’s an example of women competing against women to look ‘hotter’. But even though we didn’t compete to look hotter in my day…we still competed. But the guys couldn’t care less about the clothes – as you and your friends said.
      In reality, I think the majority of guys and girls still have their preferences, unfortunately it’s all wrapped up in an image that’s not good for girls now…in sooo many ways.
      Thanks heaps for your comment, Veronica – love the artists’ perspective! 🙂

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