Cultural Appropriations · Rants For Thought

My Name Is Hester: Carlsen’s Exhibit & Modern Society

As a woman in today’s culture, there have been very few times that I have felt beautiful.

There are different reasons for this. I was bullied as a young girl during formative years where women start to see themselves in the eyes of others. I was told I’d never be pretty and no one would ever love me or find me attractive. I gained a lot of weight as a teenager and have fought fatphobia every day of my life since then. I still fight it – I got huge backlash for my last post, and many of the comments I got over the different social media outlets didn’t at all address what I said. They sneered at the fact that I’m a fat woman, and therefore, I guess my opinions are automatically invalid. (That doesn’t hurt my feelings. It’s just an observation of how people use your appearance to invalidate what you say.)

In this culture of needing to be perfect, I find myself focusing on the parts of me that aren’t. I might have beautiful eyes, but my skin is often dry, sensitive and flaky. I struggle with trying to make it perfect and smooth. I might have nice hair, but what does that matter when my body isn’t what society deems attractive? It’s a daily struggle to be a woman of any sort, but it definitely is harder when you’re fat. Although this isn’t my experience, I’ve also been told it’s harder when you’re a person of colour or if you’re disabled or disfigured. Basically, you need to be thin, white, and amazingly beautiful to be considered “perfect” in today’s society.

Usually, this knowledge doesn’t bother me, because like I said – I fight the stereotype. I believe that women of all shapes, sizes, races and abilities are beautiful. I refuse to let society tell me I need to look like Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars. I try to find my own inner and outer beauty. It’s sometimes just hard when I feel like most women are ripped to pieces and sewn back together into more pleasing forms.

And I think that’s what Asger Carlsen, a Danish male artist who used to work in the criminal forensic field, is trying to show in his Hester exhibition. (Be careful if you click: the images are not safe for work and can be disturbing to look at.) The bodies are lumped and distorted. Often they’re standing in strange positions, though there is one with the body of a fat woman crumpled on the floor that I identified with strongly. They’re ugly. They’re disturbing. And yet, they’re strangely beautiful.

Because they represent how women feel today, in today’s culture. That we feel like crumpled, lumped-up pieces of meat cobbled together to look “better”. That we wish we had someone else’s legs, or someone else’s butt, or someone else’s arms or stomach, and then we’d look “better”. That those of us with invisible or visible disabilities, or fat bodies, or not the “right” skin colour, feel like we can never win.

Carlsen, I think, is trying to show this strange and desperate need to be accepted. He’s also showing that by wanting to be someone else, or have someone else’s parts, we’re not really going to look or feel any better. We’re just a patchwork representation of what we wish we looked like. And while parts of beauty can be seen, the entire impression is repellent and hard to look at.

I feel that the themes of inner beauty and society’s perfection really come out in this exhibition. One of my Facebook friends said, “They look like figures from Silent Hill [a popular video game and horror movie franchise],” and I agree. Because the figures in Silent Hill are lost. They’re not really human. They’re not beautiful. They’re not themselves.

This was a powerful reminder to me that I need to recognize my own perfection, beauty, and worth. Society will never see me as beautiful, but society isn’t the be-all and end-all of what beauty is. In fact, I find Carlsen’s work both beautiful and repellent. It’s certainly truthful. And it’s definitely sending a message.

It inspires me to stand up and say that I get it. And I refuse to look at other women and wish I had their legs, stomach, shoulders, face. Because mine are good enough and gorgeous enough.

And if that’s not good enough for society? Well, that’s not my problem . . . perhaps society would find Carlsen’s figures more to their liking, then. Because essentially, that’s what society is forcing women to be.

And honestly? I reject that idea. I’ll be the fat woman in the corner without a head or arms . . . because at least she accepts that she has worth and beauty, too, even if she sometimes can’t deal with it.

She, and everyone else, deserves to feel worthy and beautiful.

Selfie, one of my favourites.
Selfie, one of my favourites.

4 thoughts on “My Name Is Hester: Carlsen’s Exhibit & Modern Society

  1. Wow, those are grotesque. I think I agree about the message he’s trying to send. Since he used to be a crime photographer, the genesis of his ideas might be a little more sinister than that. Several of those pieces look like they are gestating.

  2. That exhibit is…disturbing. But fascinating. I think, as well, they would be better seen in person – something is just lost through this screen.

    It saddens me the amount of commenters I see resorting to attacking a person’s looks rather than what they are saying. I’m sorry your post seems to have stirred them up. No one deserves that. There is so much hatred and negativity floating around the internet.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post. I struggle with accepting my looks and often catch myself comparing my body to others. It’s a hard habit and cycle to break.

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