If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what does society have to say about bodies that don’t fit the norm for beauty standards? Bellevue College’s current art exhibition, Changing Bodies, challenges the notion that bodies must be considered beautiful in order to be considered valid.
The exhibit features artists from a range of backgrounds and a variety of body types and shapes from people of different ages, ethnicities, and genders. Most of the pieces on display are self-portrayals in a mix of mediums, from sculpture to photography to paintings (oil, acrylic, watercolor) on wood, canvas, and paper. These works showcase how a body’s image is perceived by the self and by society.
The artists featured are Kim Anderson, Mario Joyce Belyusar, Pat DeCaro, Eridian Falcone, Pamm Hanson, Barry Johnson, Andrea Marcos, Hannah McBroom, Sam Newton, Hanako O’Leary, Amy Royale, and Elizabeth Seibel.
The works of art touched on how bodies change over time due to the process of aging, physical changes, etc. and how the perception of those bodies are transformed. One artist painted a series of self portraits showing how her face changed over a period of ten years. Another used digitally manipulated photographs to communicate a sense of alienation and control over how the body changes during hormone therapy in a series called “Dysmorphia.” A ceramic sculpture piece was a creative representation of how one artist felt after abortion, and how she felt she was perceived by others. Another photographer showed how her body was affected by extreme weight loss following obesity. A painting without a face depicted how identity is affected by race, and a collage portrayed the idea that identities have layers of history that cannot be obscured. All of these pieces touch on the idea that the physical form of a person is transformed in the eyes of the viewer.
Many of the pieces featured have a certain amount of shock value. Bodies with stretch marks, body hair, and wrinkles aren’t normally presented in art. The exhibition defies conventional beauty standards in an extreme way.Some viewers may feel uncomfortable when confronted with bodies that aren’t typically displayed. The point of the exhibit is to question society’s feelings on bodies that tend to be ignored or hidden away. There was a great range of representation in the gallery, with diverse races, ages, gender identities, and body types, but the message of inclusivity could have been stronger if there was representation of people with disabilities.
The exhibit is certainly thought-provoking, and through the evaluation of our perception of others we can reflect on our evaluation of ourselves. The currently acceptable beauty standards exclude many bodies who don’t fit the norm. By displaying unconventional bodies as art, the exhibit makes a statement that all shapes and sizes are acceptable at all stages of life. The progression of time is inevitable, and bodies are transformed by a number of circumstances and events; all of them are valid as part of the human experience. By opening a discussion on how society perceives the whole spectrum of bodies, the exhibit marks a new understanding of the differences and similarities shared.