Thank you to our internet friend “T” for bringing to our attention this fascinating photo exhibition at the Rencontres d’Arles.
In France today, the women known as Les Insoumises are feisty feminists who will not take any affront to their dignity lying down. During the Second Empire (1852-70), lying down was just what Les Insoumises excelled at, and dignity had nothing to do with it.
They were courtesans whose nickname “insoumises,” meaning insubordinate, came from the fact that, unlike common prostitutes, they refused to submit to police licensing or conventional morals. They were glamorous, venal and usually ended up badly but while the going was good they were celebrated, from before the Empire and after its end, by writers from Dumas fils to Maupassant and Zola.
At the 39th-annual Rencontres d’Arles, France’s most famous photography festival, the guest curator, the couturier Christian Lacroix, chose Les Insoumises to feature in a special and very entertaining section, explaining that he has long been fascinated by these colorful transgressors.
The 50 photographs on view at the festival, which runs until Sept. 14, were collected by Philippe and Marion Jacquier, a husband-and-wife team who specialize in vintage prints in their Galerie Lumière des Roses in Montreuil, on the edge of Paris.
Here is Big Girl Alice la Provençale, who is described in the exhibit as “glorying in all the profitable vices,” including “peepshow lesbianism.”
Francesca wishes to point out that Big Girls are, still today, often sought-after for, ah, profitable ventures. But because beauty standards have changed, today what used to be called a “desire” is now called a “fetish.” Still, the men, they have all sorts of tastes; that is why Baskin Robbins makes so many delicious flavors!
Les Insoumises were much more robust and well-fed than the supercovermodels of today. Francesca believes that the day of the plump girl will return at some point, and then the bony, flat-bellied girls will be the ones in the websites of the dark underbelly of the internet. Francesca says this as a statement of opinion, with no schadenfreude involved. The dignity, it is something that the women of all weights deserve to keep.