Helen. 2021. Bachelor of Fine Arts Thesis.
My work questions the status quo of body standards and food rules. I address these issues through visual metaphor and historical research. I find the glorification of ideal bodies and diets to be detrimental to society, therefore, I often portray women who have lost, or are on their way to losing their human nature. They exist in worlds that are “real” and worlds that are zany. My current focus is on the loss of self while dieting, and I have begun to work in animation because I feel that movement expands the experiences of my characters.
My focus in art began with figure drawing, but as my work became more conceptual, I realized that my painted figures were limited in their experiences and expressions. With animation, there is a new freedom that I had not experienced in working with other mediums. The ability for my figures to transcend their own body rules through drawing in time has allowed them to become truly realized. My animated figures are multiple people experiencing a rush of contradictions and emotions around food, social norms, and body all at once.
My own life experiences have shown me how inflexible society can be, especially in how it allows others to experience their own body and its sensations (such as hunger and nourishment). Books such as Pursuing Perfection, Body Respect, Eating in the Light of the Moon, Hunger Strike, The Body is Not An Apology, and research on the history of diets lead me to discover Helen Gurley Brown, a “devout feminist” and the editor of Cosmopolitan in the 1960s. She was a controversial figure due to her beliefs around sex, beauty, and a woman’s ability to work outside of the home; however, underneath all of these beliefs that a woman can “have it all” she was a self-described functioning “adult anorexic”. This paradox intrigues me: a historically pivotal woman who is simultaneously unable to move past certain harmful beliefs. In addition, she is of my grandmother's generation, which has helped me develop empathy towards my own lineage of body and food issues.
I’m not depicting a biography of Helen, but instead, she acts as a symbol for the contradictions that many women carry- the desire to “have it all” alongside a great fear of and inability to care and nourish one’s own physical body.
In my animation, Helen’s appearance switches often from tall and lanky, to cartoon-like and bouncy, to highly representational. These shifts in appearance represent the contradictions that she and her environment are made of and how she is constantly needing to shift to exist or find meaning.
Our beliefs and emotions are full of contradiction and dichotomy particularly when it comes to our bodies and food. At times my work reads like a dark comedy, other times it’s whimsical or representational. Through the work, I ask “How does food calm us? How does food scare us? What other feelings arise with hunger? What do we get out of denying our body care?”
In my animation, Helen symbolizes polarized views around our bodies, the bodies of others, and the care of those bodies as it relates to food and health. The work is representational of those experiences and the silly-ness that exists when we try to live a normal life while holding on to beliefs which center our worth around our size, health, and ability to control our intuitive nature. It is important to me that my character displays the irony of suffering while simultaneously finding freedom, only to cage herself again and then, again, grant herself freedom.