When I came across Yossi Loloi’s work a few months back, I couldn’t help but gasp. Not because I was perturbed. Not because I was disapproving. But because in front of my eyes were some of the most artistic, nude images I’d ever beheld of big, beautiful women. And it made me surprised that someone had taken that kind of risk – it overwhelmed me with a mixture of joy, relief and awe that I still get every time I look at the photos.
Unlike the plus-size models found in Vogue Italia or Elle (who I believe are fighting for body acceptance in their own way even though they’re usually size 10 or 12’s), these women weren’t just a “little big” or “a smidge chubby.” They were BIG BIG. They were SSBBW’s (super-sized, big beautiful women) – meaning they were all about 450 pounds and heavier. And nude, 450-pound ladies are not something you see every day.
Back in 2006, Italian visual artist and photographer Yossi Loloi, a self identified warrior against the mainstream, started his “Full Beauty” project while living in New York for three months. He’d always had an inexplicable fascination with larger women, but it was during his time in New York that he was introduced to the world of “fat acceptance” and body love – and so the powerful need to explore this world began. He attended a gathering where big women and lovers thereof met and bonded over their positive perceptions of the rubenesque, and it was there that he shot the first two photos that would later become part of his “Full Beauty” project – which ultimately included shots of both regular women and high profile models in the SSBBW world, like Candy and Kelly Kay.
“I am praising difference,” said Loloi. “That same difference that makes us all special. All I am trying to underline here is that we all have the right to be appreciated the way we are and that there is no dictatorship on what regards taste. It seems like we’ve forgotten that somewhere in our path as humans.”
What Loloi told me is something I struggle with on a day-to-day basis. For anyone to deny that there is irrevocable negativity surrounding those labeled “overweight,” “fat,” or “obese” would be absurd. This discrimination has simply become the norm: bigger people have become the bullied – the targets of humiliation. And thus, those who do perceive beauty in largeness feel judged. For a long time, I felt judged – for being bigger than “average” and not trying to do something to change it. So to see someone like Loloi step out, admit to finding beauty in big women and tackle the controversy that is “beauty in the big” is just…inspiring.
From the start, Loloi knew that his project would create controversy, but regardless, he kept at it. “All I was focused on was trying to create the most quiet and intimate, yet contemporary and strong images possible,” he said. “I knew some viewers might have mixed feelings or even strong reactions to my work, but I never took that in during the process. I was concentrated on giving the viewer the opportunity to admire something they rarely get to see.”
And it’s true…people rarely get to see women this big posing at professional photo shoots, whether in the nude or otherwise. As with most things, people tend to fear what they are not used to – what is unknown or what they are told is wrong, like being big and proud of it. It wasn’t shocking to Loloi that many comments revolving around his project were negative. “What really counts is that people are speaking about it,” he said. “That is exactly why I created this project. It is only through a discussion that things change.”
The discussion toward weight acceptance was definitely one that needed some nudging, whether in the positive or negative direction. Anything that requires change needs to be talked about, and it’s expected for the subject in question to be discussed with negative stereotypes and bitter comments leeching on (whether infuriating or not, any discussion is taking things forward).
One parasitic comment Loloi will undoubtedly continue receiving (along with any blogger, model or spokesperson fighting for fat acceptance) is that his work “promotes obesity.” “If I was a doctor, I would probably agree with you,” he said. “But since I’m an artist, my role is to show a different perspective on things. These are artistic photos and should be analyzed for their message. What I am trying to underline with my work is that any individual has the right to be considered beautiful – and that beauty does not belong to one category in this world.”
This accusation of thinspired, “the world would be better if we were all skinny” proponents is inescapable to anyone on the pro-plus-size side of the struggle. And the issue that those “waging a war on obesity” fail to recognize is that a heavier weight does not equate to an unhealthier person. “There has been and still is very strong brainwashing from the media, be it reality shows or health shows pushing people to look ‘good’ by losing weight; even pushing us to undergo plastic surgery is accepted by society,” he said. “To me that is no less worrying than people being overweight.”
Yet no one discusses this issue. No one discusses the risks of plastic surgery to the same degree as the supposed risks of being heavy. Data for last year shows that one in 500 people who undergo plastic surgery will die – and one in 600 “tummy tuck” patients will die. This does not include the number of people who experience life-threatening situations or severe illness because of their procedures – those numbers are much higher. And yet…we accept these things because the point of them is to be “beautiful” as society perceives beauty to be: thin.
“The more people accuse me of promoting fat, the more I understand that there is more work to be done to remind people that we are beautiful because we are different,” said Loloi. “Why is showing a nude fat women labeled a ‘provocation’ but seeing a ‘fit’ model nude on a magazine is not? My work is considered provocation because it’s not mainstream, and people can’t except difference, and to me, that is a very interesting result socially speaking.”
An interesting result, indeed. And one that proves the amount of close-mindedness still out there. Back in November, I wrote about the hypocrisy so evident to me when it comes to nude modeling for plus-size women as opposed to straight size ones. Huffington Post reporter Chastity Garner Valentine proposed the question: Why are plus-size models always naked? But they aren’t always naked. The problem lies in that there are less plus-size models doing high fashion – and so when one of them poses in the nude for Vogue, it is instantly more discussed than straight size models doing the same thing, because there are more of them and they’ve posed nude for years, to the point where we’re used to seeing naked, skinny girls, but seeing a naked “fat” one is blasphemous.
And so, it can be said that the plus-size, BBW and SSBBW women out there willing to pose nude despite the obvious fact that people will hate them for it can be described as nothing short of “brave,” as Loloi says. Loloi and the subjects worked to create serene scenes where they could be comfortable and pose in their true form. No photo shopping was done. No cellulite was hidden. No “imperfections” erased with a magic marker. “My main goal was to show super-sized women to people that feel uncomfortable with them and cause them to reconsider their views,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to ‘flatter’ through editing, I was more interested in being honest and blunt to show a more human intimacy.”
To say the photos are intimate is an understatement – and not simply because they are nude. They are intimate because they are vulnerable yet courageous. The women depicted are targets of societal backlash, but they are strong. They have a cause. They fight for acceptance in a world that doesn’t approve of the slightest bulging of a love handle, let alone “morbid obesity” or the possibility that some people find beauty in stretch marks and cellulite and all those things women spend thousands of dollars on every year trying to erase. They fight for the basic human rights to unique perception, choice, preference and taste. Loloi and the women he’s photographed see beauty in something many people are blind to – and that makes the “Full Beauty” project immeasurably daring. “This isn’t just about the acknowledgement of fat as subversive beauty,” said Loloi. “It’s the realization that simply anyone can be beautiful.”
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