Violet Glenton

Violet

Blogger, Cake-Lover, History Buff and Amazon Woman.

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Plus Size Women Throughout History: Courbet’s the Bathers

Courbet’s the Bathers

Anyone who has followed my own personal blog for a while would have seen that for my header, I’ve used a painting by Gustav Courbet entitled ‘The Bathers’. Painted in 1853, I’m jumping around history a little to cover different aspects of the ‘Plus Size Women Throughout History’ and I hope you’ll forgive me. In fact, I don’t think you can blame me when I tell you about naughty Courbet.

In a time that had completely fantasized and romanticized the image of women to be the ‘idealised woman’ (often pearly white skin, long hair and an immaculate ballerina-like figure) Courbet was a complete rebel. He felt you should paint things as they are, ‘warts and all’ and the public struggled with this. Throughout his work, he consistently showcases another element of the art world and forms a raw image of funeral scenes, dirty workers in fields and these rather fabulous fat women. Meet The Bathers.

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In The Bathers we see a large lady from behind, showcasing all the glory of her body walking away from a pool, with only a small towel to preserve her modesty. There is another woman, clothed, seated on the ground. The gestures by both women in this image are extremely uncharacteristic of those normally painted. A woman was normally painted as graceful, delicate and classical. Usually some classical work was replicated or idealised. However, Courbet has gone for a much more tangible subject. It may not seem shocking to us now, but I assure you it was at the time. The image was perceived as vulgar and offensive. It all came home to roost when people were offended by the realistic representation of the woman’s bodily details which shows her gorgeous love handles, and much like myself a lady with rather large calves and the odd fat roll.

Courbet's the Bathers

The image was displayed at the Salon in Paris (by force) as Courbet had won a medal and thus an entry into the exhibition. Unfortunately the response to both the painting and the models in it were terrible. Courbet’s work was thought of as dirty and crude. The whole scene differed from classical imagery and literature, it was a completely ‘pointless’ scene with nothing happening. It was all about the woman and her body. It’s thought Courbet added on the thin material to cover the lady’s bottom and preserve her modesty but he still found people were shocked. If you’re wondering about the perception of the bather? She was thought of as a piece of unappetising flesh and was cast off as dirty and repulsive.

Me? I love this piece. I feel there is a rare realism that wasn’t seen at this time. Men would often be displayed in paintings covered in blood and dirt as heroic, so what is so unappealing as a real woman with a ‘real’ body coming out of her little bath? I say BRAVO Courbet and I take my hat off to you and your gorgeous model. Let’s differ from the ‘norm’ and showcase a more realistic, diverse society.

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Plus Size Women Throughout History: Hatshepsut

We return again for a little snippet into the History of bad ass plus size women in History, this time to Ancient Egypt. Have you heard of Hatshepsut I wonder? Or Hot-Chicken-Soup as I call her. This Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt is longer than any other ruler before and after her in Egyptian History. As you probably studied at school or are widely aware of, the Pharaohs of Egypt that shadow Hatshepsut Tutankhamun and Cleopatra. Very rarely is Hatshepsut’s history studied, which is very unfortunate as she really was a killer queen. If you visit Egypt, the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut is completely unmissable. I’d highly recommend visiting even though it is now partly destroyed.

Hatshepsut did not start out as the role of Pharaoh but instead ruled as regent on behalf of her son Thuthmosis III. However, when the time came to pass power to him, she instead took control herself. The Pharaoh’s mummy is now displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and gives us a great insight into her intriguing character. Firstly, this gothic chic lady sported black and red nail polish- you go Glen coco! Secondly, she was a chubby chic (likely to have diabetes according to Archaeologists) and had a 22 year rule under her belt. Did I also mention she liked to wear a false beard every now and then? That was her nod to tradition and a fashion accessory I will avoid for a little while, not sure I can pull that look off.

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Plus Size Women Throughout History: Hatshepsut

We can gain a lot by looking at the public images and statues that represent her as slender. An unlikely portrayal due to her remains and that the Pharaoh’s diet mainly contained that of sugar, bread and wine. So why was she portrayed so differently in the public light? I expect that much as today, the circulated images were a false representation of her body, and this was due to society at the time thinking trimmer bodies were more appealing to the eye.

I won’t go into the full rule and end that met Hatshepsut but recommend a little bit of googling if you are interested in more about the queen who slaaayed or simply click here.

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Plus Size Women Throughout History: Venus of Willendorf

Plus Size Women Throughout History: Venus of Willendorf
When faced with the challenging task of writing a Plus Size History, I can’t help but return to pull out my rather large Archaeology books from University. In the past, plus size women have been represented in all kinds of lights and believe me, there are some incredibly positive images of these fabulous women. I suppose going chronologically one of the first figurines representing these fabulous women is the Venus of Willendorf, a sculpture figurine dating back to the Palaeolithic period. Here she is for all of us to behold:
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Although little is known about Venus, archaeologists have associated this plus size beauty with connotations of fertility and womanhood. The figure’s face is really non existent, and I have to admit it’s wonderful to see so much positivity based on purely the beauty of the body. In this case, Venus has a cracking pair, and much like me, must have been partial to a slice of cake. Venus was small enough to be carried in your pocket and therefore carried from site to site for many to oogle over. I think the most beautiful part of this object is the fact that Venus is naked. Whoever carved this item was embracing and embodied their ideal form of beauty, and in this case the pure naked human form. So why has the carver picked a fuller figured model? Consider the time in which this was made, food was NOT a given, you couldn’t pop to Tesco for your microwave korma. The fact is, Venus is pretty plump and this represents her as a healthy, wealthy individual.
Since this period, there has been a huge development in the images of sexuality, what represents ‘womanhood’ and what is ‘normal’.  I hope to explore this and I’d love for you to take the journey with me.
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