Celebrity comedians aside, overweight women are pretty much invisible in the media. When they do appear, they’re typically the backdrop in yet another round of tut-tutting about obesity rates. And even then, they’re photographed with their backs turned, or they’re dehumanised by having their heads out of shot.
Italian photographer Yossi Loloi is on a quest to change this. Loloi’s collection of images, the Full Beauty Project, challenges the view that fat bodies should be hidden or are deserving of scorn. His photographs depict naked obese women in all their voluptuousness.
“In my work I portray what larger women represent to me. I focus on their fullness and femininity, as a form of protest against discrimination set by media and by today’s society,” Loloi explains on his website.
“I believe we own ‘freedom of taste’ and [we] shouldn’t be reluctant of expressing [our] inclination towards it. Limiting this freedom is living in a dictatorship of aesthetics.”
The absence of clothes isn’t the most revealing aspect of Loloi’s work. Rather, it’s the absence of shame.
Fat women are rarely afforded the luxury of pride. At best, they’re objects of pity and condescension: coerced by ‘well-meaning’ parties into admitting failure, self-loathing and a desire to redeem themselves.
Loloi’s subjects, by contrast, aren’t ashamed, desperate, miserable or out of control. They’re proud and dignified, boldly staring down the barrel of the camera, as if returning the viewer’s gaze.
“The women depicted are targets of societal backlash, but they are strong,” Loloi said in an interview with Newsweek. “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 … all those things women spend thousands of dollars on every year trying to erase.”
But despite the overt body politics of Loloi’s work, the Full Beauty Project has received more criticism than support. He has been accused of promoting unhealthy lifestyles.
“I think that whenever someone suggests that I’m promoting ‘fatness’, he is heading in the wrong direction,” Loloi said. “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 the world.”
“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,” he said.
The shrill outcry about promoting obesity is as boring as it is predictable. And the backlash against Loloi’s images often says more about the critics’ own prejudices than their genuine concern for these women’s health.
But as striking as Loloi’s images are, their potential to effect change is confined within the narrow limits of the politics of beauty. While the images may broaden the parameters of what we consider beautiful, they still operate within an economy where beauty is the sole source of a woman’s worth.
A similar collection of photographs of men would, most likely, have less of an impact for the simple reason that men aren’t required to be beautiful. Because men are valued for being clever, competent, funny and ambitious, they have no need to take their clothes off to make a political statement about their worth.
However, it is progress to see overweight women doing something other than being yelled at and belittled by a celebrity trainer in the media spotlight. But if we really want to validate the experiences of larger women, then we need to go beyond questions of beauty to depict women in all their complexity, not just as objects to be judged and looked at in fascination.
This article first appeared on Daily Life.