The Democratic National Convention and the Olympics had a couple of things in common. They both exemplified the strength inherent in diversity and tolerance, and they both had some seriously powerful women’s bodies on display.
I’ve always been fascinated by the different shapes and sizes of athletes’ bodies during the Olympics and not because I’m objectifying them, but the opposite: their diversity proves to me that there is not one physical ideal of beauty—especially, most especially–in women. Gymnast Simone Biles is tiny and compact with the shoulders and hips of a linebacker. Swimmer Katie Ledecky is tall and long with big, big shoulders. And weightlifter Sarah Elizabeth Robles is a mountain. And thay are each so, so beautiful.
At the Democratic convention, Chelsea Clinton strode out on stage, post recent baby-birthing in a siren red, tight sheath, belly rolls, breasts and boutay on full powerful display. She owned her body and what it could do. The beauty of power and strength is the new standard of feminine beauty.
Sure there are holdouts—those women who still think that looking like Barbie is beauty. But I think if they gave it some thought—scratched the surface—they would see that Barbie is a man’s idealization of a women—blank expression on the face, large breasts, small hips, little shoulders—all the better to live in subservience.
And speaking of subservience, does anyone remember what those Republican convention women looked like? Hmmm, yes. Barbie.
It came to me while I was slathering on the face cream—a cream made by my local farmer of beeswax so unprocessed that it smelled like honey—that what my society values in women is innocence, or the appearance thereof. We slather on the cream to hide the wrinkles that, god forbid, make us look like we have lived a life. It seems society prefers their women as girls. Untouched, inexperienced.
The United States is still a macho nation, alas, and so while wrinkles and grey hair in men are “distinguished” and “powerful”, the same look on women is viewed with aversion. Because what our culture wants in its women is not their power, but their fecundity and helplessness.
Well, it’s time to challenge that viewpoint.
We women are not powerless, and we’re not the inexperienced, innocent creatures society would like us to pretend we are. We have wrinkles. These wrinkles ARE our beauty. Wrinkles are the physical manifestation of a life lived, and what could be more beautiful than that?
I exhibited my baskets and weaving at my first high-end craft show in 1996. Participation was by invitation only and I was excited to be picked, to be in the rarified atmosphere of craftspeople whose work I had often admired from a distance. I thought of all the stimulating conversations we artists would have while waiting for sales. We would talk about what inspires us; we would discuss techniques. We would bond as artists participating in a sort of salon, the kind that Isabella Stewart Gardner used to hold.
But it was all so very, very different. Everyone was kind and helpful to a fault, but the conversations, rather than being about craft and the deeply held life philosophies that had brought us to our individual art forms, were about something else. Money. Only about money. What kind of a booth would attract the most sales; how to crank out as many products as possible with the least amount of effort; what promoters and shows to avoid because of lack of sales. I was deeply disillusioned. I wasn’t making baskets and weaving cloth because that was the only thing I knew how to do, I was doing it for the challenge and the expression of creativity. For me, it wasn’t about the money. Which always sounds so noble, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t any more (or less) noble than the motivation I did have, which was recognition, or to put it into less syllables, fame.
My father once told me—he had read it somewhere—that everyone has a primary life motivation that is one of three things: fame or power or money. My first thought was: that’s so tawdry—our strivings can be distilled down to that? But over the years, I’ve come to realize that that is not a bad thing.
We all want to think our lives have mattered. Fame is validation. Money is validation. Power is validation. Being motivated by one (or more) of these three is longing to achieve external validation—the seal of approval that our lives have mattered.
I just attended an event that celebrates children’s book authors and illustrators in a gallery that sells original illustrations from children’s picture books. And to my way of thinking it beautifully illustrated (ha) the truth of money and fame and power. The gallery, by bringing together artists and patrons, hoped to sell some of the original illustrations (money). The artists, by appearing and meeting their fans hoped to amplify their brand (fame) (which leads to selling more books–money) An award that was given out at the event underscored it as a influential voice in the children’s book world (power). Everyone’s needs were being filled; everyone’s motives being addressed.
Where’s the art in all this, you ask?
The art is back in the studio, in the solitude of creating, in the hard work of delving the depths day after solitary day.
A little money, fame and power is a just reward, I think, for such honest labor.