Top image: Pierre-Auguste Renoir Bather Admiring Herself in The Water (1910)
Growing up in the 90s, my ideas of beauty were shaped by some ionic women. I was obsessed with Britney Spears, the Spice Girls and every single Disney princess. All of them were slim, toned and in my eyes, the picture of true beauty. I used to think, “One day, when I grow up, I’ll look just like them. I’ll be skinny too, and it’s going to be so cool.” Of course, my childhood fantasy bore very little resemblance to the reality of my curvy, full-figured body.
But, I still kept the hope alive that one day, I might actually look like Belle, Posh Spice or Britney. Because of this, I had a negative body image for most of my adolescence. I thought that beauty existed solely in these images. I was able to break myself of this mentality, but my road to body acceptance did not begin with Instagram queens or ads in magazines. It was something much more old school. Learning to appreciate the beauty of my curves actually began with Renaissance and Impressionist art.
Some people might walk into a museum or gallery and see old dusty paintings from other centuries, but I see kindred spirits, unparalleled beauty and women who look more like me than any magazine cover I’ve ever seen.
Peter Paul Rubens The Judgment of Paris (1639)
My first foray into studying art came when I was 20 years old and studying abroad in the South of France. I had been to museum, but I had never actually studied art, and I was just taking art history for fun. But, when we began examining the techniques and subjects of artists like Peter Paul Rubens, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Delacroix, and many others, my professor would always slip in the fact that they really liked women with curves. And, after a few hundred slides of paintings from across the centuries, there was a full-scale apocalypse inside my mind.
It took me twenty years and quite a few museum visits, but I finally understood the fact that slim is not a default word for beautiful. The slimness I had idolized was something much more modern, and people in the 17th, 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries would have very different perceptions of the women that I wanted to emulate.
Looking at these masterpieces I was overwhelmed by the feelings of warmth, sensuality, beauty and grace exuded by these women. The way the light bends and floats around them, and the softness of their curves, it all seemed like a fantasy. Ah yes, fantasy, the dreaded word returns, but this time it didn’t signify the unattainable.
The moment I finally allowed myself to be overcome by these fanciful reactions to the paintings was when I began to see the parallels between these women and myself. I realized that if I thought these women were beautiful, there was no reason I couldn’t see myself in the same way.
Rembrandt Bathsheba at Her Bath (1654)
Today, we have so many outlets for curvy women to celebrate their beauty, but if you are looking for a vintage perspective on the subjects, take a look back at these masterpieces. You might gain a whole new level appreciation for your curves.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir Bathers (1918)