Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Body Image and the Ancient World

     My awesome brother, Michael Alvear, just released a book called Not Tonight Dear, I Feel Fat (Source Books). How he ended up writing a book like this is a story in itself--it all started with a sex advice column that led to a British TV Show, to HBO airplay of said show, to appearances on The Tyra Banks Show, and to a firm belief that anything that stops people from fully enjoying themselves in the bedroom needs to change.
      And whether he was working on the TV show or answering letters, he discovered that the issue that came up with distressing frequency from women was how being self-conscious (or critical) about their bodies (no matter their size) got in the way of their sexual expression.
Aphrodite: baby got back in the ancient world...

     Not Tonight Dear is a fresh look at overcoming the problem of body consciousness, particularly in the bedroom. It's a fascinating read--both for women who struggle with body issues and for the partners who sometimes feel rejected because of their woman's inner struggles. So, um, order it (link above). 

     But, of course, the topic got me thinking about body image in general and how it changes by culture and era.

     Throughout most of history and in most cultures, a curvaceous, well-rounded female form was the ideal. Why? Because a little bit o' meat on dem bones meant the woman was healthy (and possibly wealthy), strong, and more likely to successfully have and nurse children. 
Venus, paragon of ancient hotness: "Thigh-gap--what's that?"
      A skin-and-bones form, to the ancient thinker, likely meant that the gal was either ill, starving, or poor. Ill, starving or poor was not, in general, considered very "sexy."

     Until modern times, that is. Today, a super-thin body--on a woman especially--is considered the height of attractiveness and "class." Ironically, in most of today's western countries, the thin are the wealthy and elite, while the overweight are often considered "lower-class" or poor. 
     The ancients would've been thoroughly confused by the modern preoccupation with ultra-thinness for women. That's not to say that the ancients preferred overweight women--only that they appreciated the roundness of the female form.
     Harry Turtledove and Judith Tarr's novel, Household Gods, does an excellent job of showing this dichotomy in the story of a modern woman who ends up time traveling to ancient Rome. Very quickly, her hard-scrabble life forces her to become very thin--and hungry. So what happens? She stares with envy at the rounder, dimple-cheeked wealthy women she sees at the baths--the kind of figure she used to have.
     Yeah. What goes around, comes around. Seriously, check out my bro's book!


Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Congratulations to Michael!!!! :) e

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Thanks, e!

Amalia Carosella said...

I really wish we paid more attention to these shifts in perception related to how beauty has been defined through the ages, past and present. I feel like a greater awareness of it would be really good for society.