So, a few weeks ago, I was catching up reading Hazel Dooney's blog, which I discovered earlier this year (from someone else's blog, but now I can't remember which one): http://hazeldooney.blogspot.com/
I was particularly intrigued with this post: http://hazeldooney.blogspot.com/2009/05/my-art-not-at-all-as-advertised.html
Hazel writes about getting the whole advertising thing and its effects on women. I was rather late coming to those conclusions, busily tearing out and pasting pictures of models from magazines in my journals throughout my 20s, like some everlasting teenager. I read about some of the "fat acceptance" stuff in magazines in my 30s, but I don't think I ever really embraced it, still wishing to be thin while failing miserably, exercising, trying to diet, stuffing my face, the usual Fat Girl stuff.
Growing up, I was never one of the Pretty Ones, and I knew it. As an adult, the whole time I lived in Atlanta (1983 to 1995) I never went out in public in shorts, even in the searing Georgia heat. I wore jeans, too self-conscious to show my fat thighs to anyone. When I moved to Memphis in 1995, I was 31. Being around new people gave me some confidence and an opportunity to change, so I wore shorts out, not caring what anyone thought. I was amazed at how much cooler it was in the heat - DUH! My artwork in the first year of grad school consisted of drawings of large women. I'll get back to that in a bit.
I dabbled in some feminist issues in undergrad. In one painting class, the professor wanted us to get a passage from a book, create some artwork, and talk about it to the class. I chose a passage from Judy Chicago's Through the Flower: My Struggle as a Woman Artist, about the Womanspace house. My artwork began to have some female/sexual elements (not really overt, though). The professor liked it because it gave her a chance to rail against Georgia State and the male-dominated art department (she ended up being denied tenure). I find it amusing that Hazel Dooney asks in the post above, "...how many of us remember - let alone care about - the artist Judy Chicago?"
In grad school, I was trying to deal with female body issues, within the Fat Girl context. However, I was not able to communicate my ideas clearly. The professors did not get it, nor did they like it. They asked ridiculous questions like, "Why only women? Why not men? Why does it exclude men? Why not all humanity?" Huh? And they acted like everything feminist had been done in the 60s, why redo it, revisit it, it's old hat, you're reinventing the wheel, we don't like it, etc. (Yes, I'm still bitter, because as teachers they were so freaking useless, and I went horribly into debt to have the pleasure of their unhelpful advice.) They accused me of speaking for all women. What really ticked me off is that there was current info out there, I just didn't know where to find it. Camryn Manheim was doing her one-woman show in NYC about this time, but I had no idea (till I read her book years later).
In grad school, I also made friends with an older woman named Linn, a real 60s feminist. We had a lot of great discussions about female issues. Her artwork was a bit more overt. For her MFA show, she took purses and turned them into art objects and/or books. Her showpiece was a beaded twat inside a black clutch. (You open it and gasp.) She was always pulling books off shelves in bookstores and telling me, "You need to read this!" All the big 60s or 70s feminist manifestos. I bought a lot of books for a big paper for our philosophy class, where we had to do a group project/presentation, based on one word. The words were big concepts like Nature, Time - ours was Woman. My paper was titled, "Subjugated Women Make the Best Consumers," about how the worse women feel about themselves, the more stuff they buy to fix it, and the happier that makes corporate America. For our presentation, we represented the three stages of Woman: Linn was the Crone, I was the Mother, Laura was the Maiden. It involved music, including "I've Got the Power" - hence the graffiti described in the Bravo application.
That semester culminated in my three MFA Women:
Since the professors didn't get my work and didn't support it, I changed it, drifted awhile, till I finally ended up doing the Journaling Project. I never read all the feminist manifestos I purchased (with my credit cards). I briefly thought about going back to school for women's studies, but realized that didn't interest me at all. I thought about getting a teaching job (HA!) and surveying college women where I'd be teaching, about body image issues, etc., but realized that didn't interest me, either - I didn't want the work to be about them, but about me. My work is very personal, and always has been, and probably always will be - my body, my image of my body, my self.
So, back to the here and now:
What I really found amusing about Hazel's post (above) was when she said: "If I looked like Beth Ditto, my methods (and models) would be different. But I don't. I'm a tall, lean, angular female who has worked as a fashion model." I had no idea who Beth Ditto is. Here she is!
I realized: OMG I'M BETH DITTO! (Or, at least, like her body type.)
By comparison, here is Hazel:
I suppose, like Hazel, I realize my artwork would be completely different if I weren't a Fat Girl, but instead were tall, lean, angular and gorgeous (not that there's anything wrong with that).
I have dealt with female issues in my work in a variety of ways throughout the years, from dabbling in undergrad to my large women in grad school. Throughout the J. Project I've written about various issues, including: What does it mean to be female if none of the traditional female trappings interest me? I was never a Girly Girl, into styling my hair, wearing makeup, caring about clothes, shoes, jewelry, my nails, pursuing the Big White Wedding, marriage and children. Even so, I still allowed myself to be affected by the media's version of beauty.
There is also the Self Esteem issue, growing up knowing I never measured up to media standards of beauty, poring over fashion magazines, turning to food, overconsumption and emotional eating, becoming a Fat Girl. Continually wanting to be something I'm not.
There is the issue of my looks. In grad school, a friend noticed I had written in a sketchbook: Why do my self-portraits always look like a man? Then there's the thing that happened in Seattle on the bus (which I wrote as my most embarrassing moment in the Bravo application) - where a woman told her brat to stop bothering "that man," which was me. Sure, I was hiding under a bulky ugly winter coat and had my hair cut short, but, really? She thought I was a man?!
While in Misery, I went to a John Edwards speech at the university, and while waiting in the crowd, I pulled out my j. pieces and made a series of notes on female issues. At the nursing college, one of the professors decried the new rule against false nails, because since having hers removed, she felt like she had "Guy Hands" - so, then, what do I have? I always cut my nails short. I also wrote about wanting to be the woman who just showed up. In any office setting, there are the women who plan the parties, order the cake, purchase the plates and forks, spread the tablecloths, set out everything, call everyone to the event...and there are those who just show up, eat cake, and leave. I want to be the one who just shows up. Too often I am the one who does all the other crap.
So, I'm not really sure how to turn all these various issues into artwork content. But they are still kicking around inside my head.