Manolo for the Big Girl Fashion, Lifestyle, and Humor for the Plus Sized Woman.

July 18, 2011

Big Girls in Art: Fat…like me?

Filed under: Art — Miss Plumcake @ 5:31 pm

Let me tell you everything I knew about Ensenada before yesterday:

The Road to Ensenada is plenty wide and fast. I knew that because it’s in the lyrics of The Road to Ensenada by Lyle Lovett from the album of the same name which happens to be my favorite Lyle Lovett album when I’m feeling particularly Texan.

The lovestruck young waiter who jumped the gate of Villa Plumcake my first night in Mexico was from Ensenada (fun hint: if you are trying to impress a lady of position and quality, do not offer her hardcore intravenous street drugs on your first outing. Odds are if she won’t drink the tap water she probably won’t be all that enthused at the prospect of sharing a needleful of Mexican methamphetamine)

As it turns out, the road to Ensenada is about six feet wide and built into the side of what can only be described as OHMYGODSLOWDOWNIDONTWANTTODIEONTHISDAMNCLIFF. But it turns out Ensenada is a great harbor town with an excellent fish market and in a strange way I can’t exactly describe, reminds me a lot of Wales.

If I was a good and faithful blogger, dedicated to journalistic excellence and all that other stuff that doesn’t involve sitting in a cantina eating ceviche out of a cracked sundae glass and drinking 50 cent Coronas with a hot Latin boy, I’d have a picture and all the salient details of an enormous sculpture of a big girl’s kelp-covered torso and over which our antediluvian carriage driver waxed poetic while he and his equally aged horse jostled us around in a shiny (wherein shiny = not shiny in any conceivable sense) little surrey with the fringe on the top, doing his best to put an end to the last vestiges of dignity or bladder control I once possessed.

But I think we both know that in the journalistic battle between reportage and cheap beer, cheap beer will always, nay MUST always win, so I don’t have a picture of the big girl, or even really any idea where it was other than “next to that churro place” which I’m not exactly sure narrows it down enough to work my inimitable google-fu.

The driver went on and on and on about that sculpture, it’s new to the city (thus making my internet searching even more fruitless) and he’s clearly very enamored of it. At one point he even made a joke to my companion that I was the model.

My companion, the aforementioned Hot Latin Boy suggested it might be the work of Guillermo Valentin.

I have mixed feeling about artists who portray big women where the bigness is the focus. It smacks of fetishism and being reduced –even if it’s in a positive light– to one simple characteristic: fatness.

That’s not me. I mean, sure I’m fat. If I stay still long enough small Mexican children try to use me for shade, but that’s not ALL I am, it’s not even my most striking characteristic unless you’re looking at me from 50 feet away. I have a hard time feeling good about to being reduced –even symbolically– to a characteristic that frankly is kind of boring to me.

I’ll try to get more information on the sculpture and hash out my own complicated feelings on big girls in art, but for now I’d like to leave you with a few examples of Valentin’s work and ask you how YOU feel about fat women in art. Put it in the comments, gang!


  1. I feel the same way about naked fat women in art as I do about naked not-fat women in art: bored and annoyed at the same time. I’m sick of women’s bodies being objectified by dudes with cameras, clay, and paint. Think of something new to do, guys, because objectifying a fat girl instead of a thin one? It’s not exactly a new and revolutionary idea. [See: Rubens, Peter Paul]

    Comment by Jezebella — July 18, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

  2. Jezebella, what about naked men in art? Do they irritate you, too?

    Also, I kind of… I mean, I’m probably just being dense, but I had thought that objectification was the *definition* of art. It’s reducing a person, thing, or idea into an art object–whether it’s a woman into a sculpture, a family into a painting, a society into a poem, or an emotion into a symphony. Do all of these objectifications annoy you?

    Comment by wildflower — July 18, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

  3. Reminds me of Botero, who does fat women, men, dogs, horses etc. They are just tedious and silly. Went to Venice once during some sort of Botero exhibit and there they were, all over the city, hurting my eyes.

    Comment by Klee — July 18, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  4. I find it kinda reminiscent of the Venus from Dusseldorf. With the exaggerated “female” parts (belly and breast) and the stunted limbs. Without googleing and learning more about the artist and his perspective I’m not willing to call this fetish (like I would the guy who does the fat pin-ups). Idk, at first glance it strikes me as a modern Venus. Not exciting, just feminine. Or at least, this artists concept of feminine.

    Comment by BatGirl — July 18, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

  5. from Willendorf…sorry

    Comment by BatGirl — July 18, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

  6. “I have mixed feeling about artists who portray big women where the bigness is the focus. It smacks of fetishism and being reduced –even if it’s in a positive light– to one simple characteristic: fatness.”

    Exactly. I am so much more than my largeness and so is the woman (women?) who modeled for his sculptures. I’m no art history major but I don’t connect to his work. Mainly because he makes no effort to put any type of soul into those sculptures. The way he sculpts them removes any focus from their faces.

    On a similar note, when that song by Mika came out, “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful),” I had that same bad taste in my mouth. It was gimmicky and

    Comment by Kate K — July 18, 2011 @ 8:34 pm

  7. Ack, I hit submit too quickly! To finish the thought, “it was gimmicky and it felt disingenuous, like I was supposed to LOVE this song and make it my anthem just because I’m big.”

    Comment by Kate K — July 18, 2011 @ 8:41 pm

  8. I’m with Wildflower on this one. I think any art evokes a response. When I look at these particular pieces the words they evoke for me are: fecundity, sensuality, strength. The woman in the 3rd piece looks like she could hold the world up. They make me feel strong, proud, and powerful. Though I am a fat woman, however, I’m not really relating to them as a fat woman. To me these are goddesses. Their fat is secondary to their strength and, in the case of the 2nd figure, refusal to be ashamed.

    Comment by Melody — July 18, 2011 @ 8:50 pm

  9. Am I the only one who looks at these pieces and doesn’t see “Big Girls”? I see stylized folk portraits of women, period.

    And for the record, I think they’re lovely and I want the first one, please, kthx.

    Comment by Whitney — July 18, 2011 @ 10:34 pm

  10. There is a lot going on in these, which is interesting because there isn’t much going on in them to my eye. They have the Socialist Realism vibe, and the Mexican folk art by way of Diego Rivera (sp?) and the goddessy-Venus-vibe. They are fine. Whatever.

    As for fat ladies in art in general, it depends. If the fatness focus is good, then good. If it is all HELLO FAT FOCUS HI, then, eh.

    I don’t think of fatness as my only meaningful characteristic, but the occasional fat contemplation is a good art appreciation experience. If it was the only art around I would be bummed. But as part of an art spectrum touching on other things I care about, it’s fine.

    Also, some Frida Kahlo (Khalo? I so can’t spell) loving teen probably died and went to heaven after seeing these because fatprettyladyartJudyChicago. By which I mean, for an audience in a different place in their lives/art appreciation experience, I could see the appeal.

    Comment by AnthroK8 — July 18, 2011 @ 11:41 pm

  11. Well, the women in the art have to be *a* size, so big is as valid an option as any other. I guess the question for me is how the artist expects us to respond to the choice. If it’s just what he likes to do, or the world he’s trying to reflect, or what the model who responded to his craigslist ad looks like, then sure, why not. But if he expects to be praised for his open-mindedness, or thinks that fat women will look at them and feel validated in their existence or, God help me, that this is somehow dangerous and edgy, then yeah. No.

    Comment by Daisyj — July 19, 2011 @ 12:48 am

  12. I’m not really sure of the deeper significance of the whole deal, but I know two things.

    1. The Road to Ensenada is amazing from front to back.

    2. I’d much rather look at this than pictures of Crystal Renn up to her…elbows in spaghetti.

    Comment by hickchick — July 19, 2011 @ 1:01 am

  13. I’m shallow. Depends entirely on if I like them. All the above? No. Gaston Lachaise – yes. I don’t like the idea of someone doing it exclusively (seems both irritatingly fetishistic and also has lack of artistic scope), but I don’t like the idea of being missed out and live in a world of Degas’ skinny ballerinas.

    LOVED a couple of the Lucian Freud paintings of bigger girls. LOVED!! For me I think it hinges around you should have more to say as an artist than “fat gals are fat”.

    Used to love the “fat girls in art” postings, by the way.

    Comment by Josie — July 19, 2011 @ 5:28 am

  14. Hmm… This is a tricky one. All of the following is opinion of course.

    The male gaze on female bodies is a major theme of Western art – it’s just a historical fact, so I’m not too bothered on that account. Wildflower’s right, in that art (particularly visual art) is about turning reality into an object, but I don’t think that’s the problem with these pieces. The problem, as Jezebella noticed immediately, is that they’re REPETITIVE and, consequently, boring.

    Fixing on a type or subject matter is another common artist’s practice, and not a problem by itself – think Degas’ ballerinas or Monet’s cathedrals. Deliberate variations on a theme are worthwhile when they each say something different about it. Some fetishistic art can be interesting for that reason. But these pieces have nothing to say: each of these fat women is fat in exactly the same way (especially #1 and #3). Or as Josie puts it perfectly, the statement here is “fat girls are fat”.


    Comment by Jophiel — July 19, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  15. I’m with Whitney and Melody on this – I found the figures strong and proud and pleasing. And I want the third figure – she looks like a female Atlas.

    I know I view the girls thru ‘fat girl goggles’ but the I don’t feel the figures are objects of ridicule or mocking so in that they are just objects of art and beautiful to me.

    I saw a beautiful wood carving of an old Caribbean woman the other day that affected me the same way. She was neither stylized or idealized. She was heavy older black women with jowls and wrinkles and she was smoking a cigar. I thought it was wonderful that an artist could see and celebrate someone so very real that you so rarely see in art.

    Comment by Thea — July 19, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

  16. I’m with Wildflower and Kate on this: in a lot of ways, all art is “fetishistic”–in the strict sense of the word. And the fascination with the round, swollen, “fat” or fecund female body is so obviously about beauty that comes from creativity, strength, endurance, and plenty. It goes deeper than any sexual notion attached to it. After all, Venus of Willendorf is definitely not the lone ancient piece: archeologists have found millions of these round “Venus” figurines from every age in history, some hundreds or thousands of years old. It’s clear we’re hardwired to find meaning and beauty there, because these modern offerings are just the latest in an ancient visual tradition.

    As for Botero, I always thought he sees the figures in his paintings as embodying this sensuality, strength, and richness, but he is hardly only jokey or silly. His painting series on the Abu Ghraib torture photos were incredibly powerful, and rightfully damning. Just because he imbues all the creatures he paints with the qualities of roundess (and all he associates with that) doesn’t mean his work lacks relevance. It’s not just “fat” we’re seeing here. But I have to say it’s sad we see “fat” with the hatred our modern world wants us to view it with, when for millions of years it meant so much more than that to human culture.

    Comment by ChaChaHeels — July 20, 2011 @ 7:33 am

  17. Er…I meant to type “hundreds of thousands of years old”. Sorry.

    Comment by ChaChaHeels — July 20, 2011 @ 7:34 am

  18. Those three figures are not of individuals – they’re of *types*, I’d say. As if the artist is saying, “Look! Here is a fat lady in an uncomfortable pose!” “Look here is another generic fat lady, half-naked, in another uncomfortable pose!” “And yet another fat lady, naked, in an impossible contorted position!” “Look what I can make my models do!”

    They’re all about the artist and his interest in her parts and the way he can rearrange them. I don’t see any expression on her face, or any individuality in her face, or any agency in her posture. He is clearly determining and directing everything that her body is doing. To me, it’s yet another boring dude artist making images of the kind of lady he’d like to bone, with absolutely no interest in what she wants, feels, or desires. This is, of course, my own experience of these sculptures as a viewer, an art historian, and a curator. Your mileage may vary.

    Comment by Jezebella — July 20, 2011 @ 11:54 am

  19. Jezabella,

    Soooooo any opinion that differs from yours is somehow trumped by your education and profession?

    And yet obviously there are people, presumably with equal education who disagree with your position or we wouldn’t see this guys work at all.

    That’s the joy of art – what it brings to each individual

    Comment by Thea — July 20, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

  20. Jezebella, thanks for the response. I kind of get what you are saying now–you prefer individualized art rather than generic representations. I can see that. I’ve always appreciated that the statues and representations of Marianne in France are modeled after a specific person, and not just a generic woman-figure. Although that does raise the question of whether the stupendously beautiful women they choose are representative of the general populace!

    What about the Statue of Liberty? Do you dislike her?

    Comment by wildflower — July 20, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

  21. I don’t think the statues pictured are meant to represent “fat ladies” or anything like that: to me, they suggest some sort of general idea of fecundity, voluptuousness, Earth motherliness, etc etc. Something along the lines of Picasso here:

    That said, the sculptor, although competent, doesn’t seem to me to be particularly brilliant. Generic Earth-mother type stuff, mostly.

    Comment by aa — July 20, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

  22. Thea, no. That’s why I said “your mileage may vary.” Merely explaining why I have such definite and vehement ideas about art. It’s something I care about, dig?

    Comment by Jezebella — July 20, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  23. Wildflower, do I like the Statue of Liberty as a work of art? Not so much. Sure, it’s a good symbol and an impressive work of engineering, but as a sculpture she’s no great shakes.

    It’s not so much that I prefer “individual” to “generic,” as I have had my fill of dude artists using women’s bodies to represent things, while not recognizing that women’s bodies belong to, you know, *human beings*. Why are allegorical figures (like Liberty) always women? Because it’s easy for male artists to ignore a woman’s *self* and imagine her as an idea (fecundity, liberte, egalite…). You don’t see too many male allegorical figures. Dudes have personality, identifying traits, selfhood. Male artists don’t find it so easy to pretend like a male body is just a vessel for their inspiration. Women as empty vessels to fill with their ideas? Nothing new about that.

    Comment by Jezebella — July 20, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

  24. aa, the stupendousness of Picasso’s misogyny is widely known and acknowledged. This only supports my previous point: a man who can imagine a woman to be merely a body, a vessel, without agency, can easily imagine her body to be an idea. For Picasso, women were material for his use. Muse, subject, object, but only and ever interesting as long as they were useful to him in some way. As soon as they wanted something for themselves, or stopped being interesting, he traded them in for a younger more pliable fungible woman. He usually had three going at once: a wife on the way out, a steady mistress, and an even younger girlfriend/muse. As each aged out of their role, they might be “promoted” to the next step, or tossed altogether.

    Comment by Jezebella — July 20, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

  25. Well, hell, I had two other responses that disappeared. bother.

    Comment by Jezebella — July 20, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

  26. Jezebella, love your passion – I’ve been beaten up in the past by other experts who use their education as a club to explain why everybody else’s opinion is B.S.

    Wasn’t appropriate to take it out on you. My apologies

    Comment by Thea — July 20, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

  27. Jezebella, very interesting. Thanks for for continuing to share!

    Comment by wildflower — July 20, 2011 @ 6:34 pm

  28. Jezebella, I was only pointing out that I don’t think either the sculptor here or Picasso were interested in depicting fat women qua fat, they were interested in depicting women (whether as vessels, objects of desire, or whatever is another matter).

    Also, Picasso was an immensely gifted artist and his work is always interesting to look at, regardless of whether he was a misogynist or not. This sculptor is merely competent.

    Comment by aa — July 22, 2011 @ 3:54 am

  29. I think these pieces are pretty great. I agree with some of you in that they exude a sense of strength and nurturing mother-earth qualities. I don’t think it’s fair to assume that this artist of any other artist paints or sculpts fat women because he has a thing for fat women. (unless the artist has clearing made that statement.) women have always been used to represent the earth and strength, not necessarily because they are empty shells of things to use as art. I take it as a compliment. When men name their favorite car or boat, what name do they give it? a woman’s name. why? because, materialistic as it may be, they hold that item at the same level of respect and affection. the item is to be cared for as he would a woman etc. i personally enjoy art depicting larger women. to me they are strong and fertile and dripping with life and growth. the one thing that sets women apart from men is their ability to grow life inside of them. that is a wonderful gift and miracle that should be celebrated and i feel is celebrated through art like this!

    Comment by Margie — July 22, 2011 @ 10:15 am

  30. My favourite big beautiful girl in art is Max Beckmann’s “Woman at Her Toilette with Red and White Lilies” (Frau ber der toilette mit roten und weissen lilien). Here’s a great photo and a lovely description by sftrajan:

    It’s in SFMOMA’s collection, and is available from their store through print-on-demand:

    Comment by Brook — July 29, 2011 @ 6:41 am

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