Images of Female Plenitude

Venus of Willendorf Paper Sculptures
Remember Haley Morris-Cafiero, whose ongoing art project involves capturing images of strangers who look disapprovingly at her overweight body? Her article, “How I Got Back at the Strangers Who Mock Me for Being Fat,” appeared on the AlterNet.org website and elicited many comments. One was from a reader named Marie, who contributed this:

A friend and her daughters were offended by a neighbor’s ‘No Fat Chicks’ bumper sticker on his pick-up truck. When they asked him to remove it as they were not anorexic model-types, he laughed. The women bought another bumper sticker that was luckily a similar color. They covered ‘No’ with ‘I (Heart symbol).’ The ‘improved’ new bumper sticker then read, ‘I (Heart symbol) Fat Chicks.’ This lasted for at least 2 weeks before he noticed and returned with the original, offensive bumper sticker.

The Venus of Willendorf Project aimed to do much more than alter bumper stickers, and its founder launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help accomplish her goals. Unfortunately the funding didn’t come in, despite the mass of provocative material provided by activist Brenda Oelbaum. The slogan was, “Artist mounts national ad campaign to take down the $66 billion diet industry. Invest in freedom from self-loathing. DUMP THE DIETS!”

Another slogan is, “Not every diet becomes an eating disorder, but every eating disorder begins with a diet!” The main idea that Oelbaum wishes to get across is that even a large person can be healthy, and beyond that, a woman’s size is nobody’s business or problem but her own. In other words, she advocates fat acceptance, which is a double-edged sword.

Like many others, the artist has noticed the absurdity of women’s magazines that carry both scrumptious recipes and useless diet plans within their pages. She wanted to buy ad space close to objectionable weight loss advertising, to put her own message across. A classically trained painter, she also makes Venus of Willendorf sculptures from the covers of diet books.

It all started several years ago, when a diet commercial on television caught her eye, which she describes like this:

The ad featured a split screen, on one side a rotating figure of the ‘Venus of Willendorf’ on the other a list of medical conditions attributed to obesity. A man’s voice over asked the viewer ‘Do you really want to look like this?’ […] At that time the ‘Venus of Willendorf’ was still the oldest known representation of the human form found on earth. The ‘Venus’ is traditionally the first image shown to students in high school humanities classes; and in the 1960’s and 70’s it was a powerful icon for the Women’s Movement. In this ad she was being used to promote female body loathing by advertising executives and a diet company.

Oelbaum feels that the diet industry itself is a big cause of the obesity epidemic, and Americans spend $66 billion per year on it, and what they are really selling us is “pipe dreams, low self-esteem, depression and ironically, even more fat.” One of the things the artist wanted to buy is a $67,000 ad in Glamour. The diet industry can certainly afford that much.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How I Got Back at the Strangers Who Mock Me for Being Fat,” AlterNet.org, 05/15/13
Source: “The Venus of Willendorf Project Goes National,” Indiegogo.com
Image by Amanda Moyer.

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