Haunting Photo Series Shows What The “Ideal Female Body” Used To Look Like

by Brenda Pitt

Warning: This post may not be safe for work.

Images of idealized beauty permeate most of the media we consume, and it has for hundreds of years; throughout decades dominated by shifting aesthetics and beauty standards, the idea of the attractive female has taken numerous forms. Titian’s reclining Venus, for example, is shaped differently from the fashion models of today’s ad campaigns, and African diasporic art offers yet another ideal. More often than not, women who don’t fit the mould of the day are excluded, judged, and made to feel less-than. 


With Unadorned, the photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten hopes to recall the classical vision of the female body, one dominated by soft curves, accentuated dreamy candle-light. She explains, “I […] wanted to photograph people who are labeled as ‘fat’ as judged by today’s society.” Asking both men and women to strip before her dreamy lens, she hopes to invite a dialogue on what we consider beautiful and worthy of artistic rendering.


Inspired by the 15th-17th century masters’ return to classical aesthetics, Fullerton-Batten celebrates human anatomy and sensuality. Like Michelangelo, she accentuates and exaggerates luxurious, sensual parts of the body with lighting and draped jewelry: the breasts, the midsection, the buttocks gleam under her lighting. Her magnificent, Rembrandt-esque tones and her subjects’ marvelous poses serve to further accentuate the elegant foreshortening of the body. A house, open books, and a staircase shrink in the context of a glorious, lounging female. Natural elements like lemons and ripened fruit mirror the curvatures of the human body. 


As with the works of Titian and his contemporaries, mirrors and the larger concept of self-perception play a role in the humanist idea of identity. Before Fullerton-Batten’s lens, these woman and men come face with their own nakedness, and they assert themselves, engaging in a sensual form of self-actualization. For the artist, the series showcases the strength of the individual in the face of societal expectations; her subjects radiate “self-confidence [… and] accept their bodies as nature intended them to be.” She explains, “They are honest to themselves in a world too often dominated by manipulated beauty.”


No matter the beauty ideal to which a society subscribes, our bodies, resplendent in their diversity, are our own. Each and every one is miraculously capable of expressing and embracing desire. Fullerton-Batten’s deeply human images need not apply only to her specific subjects, for within all bodies and all body types, there lies an irreverent individuality and potential celebration of the self. More than a validation of one body over another, Fullerton-Batten’s work should be an affirmation of all our shapes, reminding us that any single “beauty ideal” is arbitrary and often damaging. 

Thanks to Beautiful/Decay

Published April 23, 2014

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