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Art Exhibit Challenges Societal Notion of Beauty

  • Wang Yiru

Western culture is fascinated with celebrity and beauty, where being thin is often equated with being attractive. The mass media and fashion industry often perpetuate this myth. But a controversial ban on underweight models during Madrid's Fashion Week has led many to wonder when is thin too thin? A recent art exhibit in New York City entitled "Dangerous Beauty" took a reflective look at society's ideal of beauty. For producer Wang Yiru, Elaine Lu has the story.

Dangerous Beauty, an exhibition at the Chelsea Art Museum in New York, set out to challenge society's notion of beauty. Visitors were confronted with Jacob Dahlgren's bathroom scale as they walked into the exhibition.

Curator Manon Slome says the purpose of the exhibit was to create a little anxiety for the audience. "People are scared to be weighed in public and that's why I want to have this at the beginning of the show to create a sense of anxiety which I feel is the result of the beauty industry."

The works on display come from a variety of media: painting, sculpture, photography, and video and were intended to provoke, shock and ultimately challenge visitors.

Tom Sanford's oil and acrylic on wood captures the celebrity anorexia phenomenon.

Joshua Neustein's video records the extreme diet of one very thin model.

Orlan's photographs chronicle her famous 40 days of forehead implant surgery.

Daniella Dooling's video, "Whirling," played while the straitjacket she wore – covered in artificial fingernails – was displayed.

"What you see is a straight jacket in an institution that a person is bound with, and it's covered with 10,00 acrylic fingernails,” explains Slome. “It's interesting because the piece is called Camisole. And a camisole is a Victorian age feminine undergarment. Sort of a disconnection between the title of the piece and the reality of the piece creates this underpinning of different constraints of what binds women."

Curator Slome says the exhibit tried to shatter those perceptions. "Dangerous Beauty was about, because I think people hurt themselves both emotionally and physically trying to attain to this unrealistic standard of beauty, particularly in this post-feminist era, why have we backslided into this very stereotypical notion of beauty. "

Many visitors, like Elizabeth Beahm, appreciate that message..

"What this exhibit has done, for me, is make me feel much more comfortable with who I am and how my body looks,” she says. “It's OK to be older, to have lines in your face, to have a little belly. I don't want to look like any of these women or manikins."

Not all models starve themselves in their pursuit of beauty.

"I've always been very active, I go to the gym, take kick-boxing two nights a week,” says Hadis, a model. “I love to run on the weekends. I have a house on Pennsylvania, I usually do [run] six miles a day, and stay very active. Dieting is not for me. I can't do it."

"There are always certain clients for certain types of girls,” adds another model, Schilling. “You will find your clients and who you can work with, being however you look. If not, maybe you need to do something else because I don't think it's important to harm yourself for anything."

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