I went in search of Renaissance art today, remembering that there was a particular period in which women’s bodies were depicted as large and voluptuous. My need to find such was hardly creativity-inspired; instead, rather desperate. I kind of hoped that seeing them would help me better see myself.
I am about twenty pounds above where I normally hover and thirty from my idealistic goal. Never mind that this has been my idealistic goal for more than twenty years. Never mind that I am now in my mid-50s, post-menopausal, and hosting a significantly slower metabolism. Never mind that the last guy I dated would sometimes say, “You’re chunking-up a little bit, aren’t you?” and that maybe, even subconsciously, I (still) respond in rebellion and rage. And never mind that for the past 18-months (interestingly, the amount of time since the guy and I broke up), I have been working exclusively from home, sitting at my computer for 10-12 hour days – no movement, no standing, no break. I understand it all.
You’d think I could extend myself some grace. But no. That idealized vision of myself (no matter how unrealistic), haunts, plagues, and deceives.
Somehow I have convinced myself that I will be happier once I see that number on the scale again, once I can get rid of the multiple sizes of clothes my closet holds, once I can be thin. I know it’s not true, that it’s all an illusion. But that doesn’t silence the voice within that will not leave me be, that rolls its eyes when I get dressed in the morning, that sighs as I walk past the mirror, that says, “It’s Monday. Get your shit together this week, OK?” that nods in determined agreement as I witness the world around me saying only thin equals good, only thin equals acceptable, only thin equals lovable, only thin equals worthy.
Believe me, I know better. I am well-versed in the objectification of women, the media’s tyranny, the cultural messaging. I know all about the necessity of being embodied and present and accepting all of me, my whole and complete self. And I remind myself of this repeatedly, even while I stand in line at the grocery store and stare at the covers of People or Self or Cosmopolitan and deliberate over the purchase of Peanut M&Ms.
So back to the Renaissance art.
Artist Peter Paul Rubens was particularly fond of creating images of women who were large, curved, and far from what we describe as perfect and beautiful today. One of his final works was called The Three Graces. Three ample women, barely clothed but for some gossamer here and there, and forming a circle together so that one of them has her back to her viewers. They are thought to be Aglaia – which means radiance, Euphrosine – which means joy, and Thalia – which means flowering, and they served Aphrodite, the goddess of love. I can’t help but wonder what they are
saying to one another, what they know that I don’t, what stories they tell amongst themselves.
Here’s what I don’t have to wonder at all: Not a one of them is talking about how they were merely wearing gossamer because nothing else in their closet fit. Not a one of them is saying, “Look at me! Can you believe how much weight I’ve gained?” Not a one of them is talking of a new diet or exercise plan or seemingly miraculous form of self-affirmation. Not a one of them would have considered such a thing. And without that self-critique, without that shame, and within the trifecta of their
friendship and love, all we see is beauty…and grace.
I want in on that. Yes, in on the graces of radiance, joy, and flowering; even more, in on Grace itself x 3.
So I think I’m going to call this my Three Graces Season. Because I’m not opposed to wearing gossamer. Because even with Peanut M&Ms in hand, I want to be reminded that beauty is relative and true and ever-present and mine even now, evermore, always. Because I’d rather serve the goddess Aphrodite, love Herself, than the insipid little gods who keep nattering on and making me crazy.
May it be so.