What Vogue Doesn't Know, watercolour on paper, 15X22 inches.

What Vogue Doesn't Know, watercolour on paper, 15X22 inches.

I created this painting about 15 years ago.  It is a rendering of my mother's youngest sister, and my favourite auntie.  She and I were talking this morning, catching up on all our news, so of course my thoughts came back to this....

This is a painting that I probably could have sold a thousand times over.  To say that it resonates with women would be to put it lightly.  When I displayed it for the first time, I was living on Vancouver Island and sharing a public studio with a few  other artists.  People were free to walk in, browse the paintings on display, and talk to the artist who was working there.  

Time and time again, women would stop in front of this piece, let out a sigh, and say something about their bodies or their self image.  And then they would talk about the freedom found in this painting and linger longer than usual to stare at it.

I titled it, What Vogue Doesn't Know, because I wanted to make a statement about beauty, about the incredible conflict we as women carry within us because of the narrow social perception of what is beautiful, and the reality that beauty is much more than the fashion industry's definition.  But the painting really didn't seem to need a title.

It doesn't matter if we are size 2 or size 20, we all feel this conflict. Considering how long the feminist movement has been around I wonder why this is still a problem?  It probably doesn't help that with the rise of the internet, the use of pornography has become almost commonplace.  It is a rare woman who hasn't felt the sting of a comment from boyfriend or husband, or stranger for that matter, regarding some physical feature that doesn't meet their fantasies.  It isn't just the fashion industry contributing to unreal expectations.

And in part because I have a daughter, I worry about the young women today, who seem to conflate feminism with sexual freedom, to the exclusion of all other issues and other aspects of themselves.  And they are saturated with it.  Female singers we can all easily name who don't just sing, but flaunt their bodies, seeking ever greater degrees of shock in the name of personal empowerment, have the younger generations of women flocking to them as role models.  I grew up in a time when my feminist icons were (and still are) people like Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer. Writings such as If Men Could Menstruate and The Female Eunuch were pivotal for me.  What has become, in my view, an opportunistic feminism, isn't feminism at all really but the usual grab for the almighty dollar. And haven't women's bodies already been used for that purpose for centuries?  Hasn't it been long enough?
The heartless cynicism of it all seems to have reached new lows and once again many young women are not seeing how they are being used.  Unfortunately this time, too many other women are capitalizing on the exploitation.

I never sold the painting that started these thoughts today... An artist once said to me, make sure you keep your best pieces, and I have done so with this one.  It hangs in my living room as a reminder to myself that I am most beautiful when I am doing with my time what I love most, spending time with people I love and who love me back, and reaching for ever greater heights in my work and spiritual journey.  

For those women still twisting themselves into all sorts of new knots to satisfy, keep or catch the approval of the man they want, it may be the hardest thing you ever do, but let it go...  At the other end of that struggle is real freedom and a deep sense of satisfaction with oneself.  I am not perfect, I still have days when I struggle, but I think that is the point.  None of us are perfect, and that's okay. (It is no accident that Steinem wrote Revolution From Within later in life.)  I won't get off the road that says I am okay exactly as I am right now. But I will continue to dig deeper, because that is where the only answers are anyway. 

And If we love ourselves and others from the heart, every once in a while someone loves us back, friends and partners.  They are worth the wait while we thrive.... In the meantime, as Audrey Hepburn once said, happy girls are the prettiest girls.

I'll end this muse with another picture of my favourite auntie, something I took when I was visiting her and my uncle in Florida last year.  They have been together for over 50 years.  And he still looks at her like the beauty she is....