As we were in San Miniato for a couple of hours to visit a butcher shop, our professors gave us some free time to explore our surroundings and nearby shops. Immediately, all of my classmates went to try the gelato that was right next door to the butcher shop, but as I looked across the street, something caught my attention. I couldn’t quite see what it was, but something in me was excited, as If I was going to find the world’s biggest treasure. Anticipated, I crossed the street and there it was: the most flawless sculpture I have ever laid my eyes on.
The sculpture in front of me was of a black woman, with sensuous hips, large buttocks and her head held high, as if she’s never been prouder to be herself. Immediately, a smiled showed up on my face. I thought to myself: Wow! I honestly couldn’t have expected to see someone exhibits as much confident as she did. On the other hand, I have to admit that on some level I thought the sculpture, Franco Mauro Franchi, was objectifying and mocking her oversized body as European men had done to Sara Baartman (a woman with similar features) in the 1800s.
This sculpture allowed me to reflect on two specific topics that we have discussed recently in our philosophy class: obesity stigma and aesthetics. There it was a beautiful black woman appreciating every single curve, and one of my reactions was: how inspiring, but also how weird. Because of the obesity stigma that occurs in our society I couldn’t help but feel that the sculpture was made as a way to praise women of larger size, but at the same time I was considering if there was some negativity revolving the intent of the sculpture. We often believe that obesity occurs when people do not have self control and then ridicule them when they decide to fall in love, and find pleasure with their bodies that necessarily does not reflect societal standards. Viewing this sculpture enabled me to think critically of what beauty means to me. I believe that we shouldn’t look down upon others who may be classified as “different” but find ways to encourage others to find pleasure in what they see in the mirror.
Not only were my ideals of beauty changed by the viewing the sculpture, but it also made me question what is actual beauty. In her article, Elizabeth Telfer argues that we should appreciate an object for the sake of it being an object and not because it brings joy to oneself or others. Though there was some validity in her argument, I couldn’t resist the thought that the sculpture was beautiful not only because it was a sculpture but also because of the way it made me feel when I was in front of it: completely mesmerized. When I first read Tefler’s argument I started to question my own beliefs. I thought I was taking something away from the sculpture by appreciating the meaning behind it; which was a woman breaking all social norms. I started to ask myself “is this sculpture beautiful because it makes me reflect or should it just be beautiful because it is an object?” After pondering through these questions I’ve realized that it can actually do both: I can appreciate it for what it is, but also for the pleasure that it brings me.
This painting allowed me to reflect on our American standards of beauty and obesity stigma. It has made me realized that there shouldn’t be a standard on beauty. We should all be able to indulge in our bodily pleasure as long as it is not destructive. Obesity stigma do not allow others to feel proud of their body, and shame them when they do not fit the standards, but our bodies are part of our identity in the same way that food and culture are. Because of this sculpture I now view my maymester in a different light as I was able to not only see the aesthetics and pleasure in the foods that we eat, but to also view it from an artistical point of view. My classmates found their favorite gelato, but I have found the perfect art piece, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!