Birgitta Haga Gripsrud

Voluptuousness never looked so…slim…and disappointing?

Left: Sandro Botticelli´s “La Nascita di Venere”. 1486.

Right: re-touched by Anna Utopia Gioardano. Year unknown.

Anna Utopia Gioardano is an Italian artist and model who was brought to my attention through a Facebook link to an article in The Huffington Post (see link at the bottom of this post). Is her work “really” art or is it more like social commentary? It does not really matter to me, because the most interesting aspect about her images resides not in the work itself but in how it makes me think. Contemporary art is good in that way - sometimes - it makes us think about the obvious.

I don´t know if it is just me but I really do not like these trimmed down/toned up versions of classical beauty. They taste like margerine, when you´ve eaten butter all your life. To me it feels almost as though the magic of the renaissance nude resides in its glorious depictions of the fatty tissue itself. The excess seems to underpin the undying appeal of these beauties. Although it is hard to assess the artistic originality or even craft in Gioardano’s contribution to the art world, these re-touched bodies ask us something, and I think we should really think about the question. It has to do with feminine beauty and body ideals - a most complex topic, too vast to cover in a good way in this medium.

However, I am trying to go with the flow here and sometimes provide preliminary or immediate responses to things that find me, and I find interesting. For example, there has recently been a Facebook flutter of photos depicting 1950s and 60s Hollywood icons like Marily Monroe counter-posed with the willowy starved-looking icons from our own time like Keira Knightley. The general message is: how could we get it so wrong, thinking lean and boney more attractive than big breasts, thighs that touch in the top part, soft curves on the hips.

In this sense, Gioardano’s “work” works to bring awareness to our gazes - to think about old and new beauty in the same context. But moreover, I think it is a question of sensuality. And sensuality involves more senses than the look. In art works, like Bronzino’s “Venus, Cupid, Folly And Time” (see below), it is precisely the invocation of touch that is suggested - you want to look because you also want to touch. We are allowed a sense of touch through the Cupid, whose hand is caressing Venus´left breast. And what you imagine, when you picture yourself kissing and simultaneously touching Venus in this way, is the softness of her luscious pale flesh - not the hardness of her ribcage against your hand.

Above: Bronzino’s “Venus, Cupid, Folly And Time”. 1545.

This voluptuous representation of femininity speak of an age where fullness (fat) was a way to signal wealth and health - an opposite of our current ideals. But does the fat on these feminine bodies really appall the modern eye, or do they whisper to us an old dream of rich (symbolic) encounters, meetings laden with silky skin and malleable flesh - soft on the eye and soft to the touch.

Question is: do you like the copy of the slimmed-down Venus or do you prefer the original fleshy one?

Above: re-touched by Anna Utopia Gioardano

Images from: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/02/24/anna-utopia-giordano-venus-_n_1299183.html?ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#s723250


Breasts for kids

What do children think about breasts? What do they have to say about breasts? In Norway, which has the highest breastfeeding rates in the western world, I think most small kids associate breasts with breastfeeding. They’ve seen women suckling babies everywhere, from living rooms to malls and cafes. Some might even have been suckled long enough to remember what it feels like to be breastfed. Some watch jealously as a new sibling takes up their favourite position at Mum´s breast. Breastfed children form a strong psychological and physiological attachment to the mother´s body - and often show a deep fascination with breasts as organs and symbols, even long after weaning. 

Because breasts are important to kids, it´s nice to finally see some children´s literature dedicated to the topic. I was even thinking of writing such a book myself, until a friend of mine in the UK suggested I have a look at two new editions:

You, me and the breast (2011) is by Monica Calaf, with illustrations by Mikel Fuentes. It is written like a loving poem - a mother telling the story of breasts to her older child:

"When you came out of my tummy…the first thing you looked for was my breast. […] At night we would sleep cuddled up next to each other, close to daddy. During the day we would go everywhere together. […] When you were breastfeeding, you were relaxed, happy and contented. We both loved these intimate and special moments."

The Mystery of the Breast (2011) is by Victoria di Aboitiz, with illustrations by Afra. This is the story of an older sibling observing a new member of the family at her mother´s breast:

"When my little brother was born there was a mystery to be solved. I couldn’t help wondering why he spent so much time on mum´s breast. How does the milk come out from the breast? Mum says that when the baby begins to suckle, the milk starts flowing, like a white, dancing river."

Why should there be books for kids about breasts and breastfeeding? Because it helps to articulate important experiences, feelings and thoughts for both children and adults. An added bonus might be that kids who learn to think and talk about breasts and breastfeeding, are more likely to respect women´s bodies (and breasts) as they grow older.