I Will Tell Her

JAMIEWHITTENART-I WILL TELL HER
I Will Tell Her, Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 2017

I recently collaborated with a girl I knew in high school who wrote a beautiful poem titled “Things I Will Tell My Daughter”, which has been integrated into the piece. “I Will Tell Her” is a response to her poem, and is titled after one of the lines in it.

The words in the painting read as:

they said to be like snow-
beautiful, but cold.
but what if I want to be red hot, hmm?
Burning the boxes they try and try to fit me into.
Because circles don’t fit through square holes and I’m done
feeling sorry for my sometimes inconvenient curves
We’ve got preconceptions for days about ladies with legs for miles
and I just aint got the time
My hips wont squeeze into their molds
and I will not liquefy myself
I am solid
And so what if I’m solid?
Sick of looking at my body like I need to carve pieces off of me to be whole-
Focusing on chiseled abs as unrealistic expectations chisel away at our souls-
And goddamn it isn’t it enough to just be human?
To be alive;
Heart-beating, lip-loving, hand-holding, toe-curling
H U M A N S ?
We want women who are
Hairless
Powerless
Thought-less
But I will not lessen myself
Sick of having a voice
But not being granted permission to speak:
Queen esther before the king-
Sweaty palmed, shaking fingered anticipation of approval.
Sometimes it seems as though my childhood soundtrack was a melody of
“push that up, pull that down, and tuck that in”’s
I’m all grown up now, but that same tune is stuck on repeat
Leave more to the imagination
My mother used to tell me.
But I will tell my daughter there is no need to hide herself
so that others can “imagine” her flaws away-
That there is beauty in stretch marks and freckles,
In tummies that refuse to be confined by elastic waistbands,
In the curve of her collar bones:
This is your humanity,
I will tell her-
And to be human is a stunning thing indeed.
I will tell my daughter
that hypocrisy is an accessory that fails to compliment any outfit
And no makeup can cover a nose tipped up in judgment.
You cannot allow them to shape you into a concept,
I will tell her.
You are not an idea
You are a woman
And that is enough.

So I just finished this painting today, which is perfect because it’s International Women’s Day!

Throughout history, women have been painted in the nude by male artists – to be criticized and looked at. In this piece I wanted it to hint at the idea of the historic nude, but I want the viewer to continue to look and see that there is so much more to the painting than just a naked woman – in the same way that women are so much more than something to be looked at.

As an artist, I feel like I am fairly comfortable with the human body, especially after taking a figure drawing class, so I was at ease with painting the female form; however, a real struggle that I ran into while nearing the end of the painting process was painting her body hair. Body hair is a natural occurrence for all humans, but it is not seen as beautiful on the female body unless it is on the top of one’s head. I was terrified that it would “ruin” the painting, and I was so scared that it would destroy all of the work that I’d put into it. Then it hit me that if I am creating a piece of art that celebrates the female body, then I should not shy away from a natural part of the human body out of fear of it making it “less beautiful” according to society’s standard of what a woman’s body should and shouldn’t look like.

Young girls and grown women are equally affected by this “ideal” female body that has been engrained in our minds as what we need to look like. There is no one perfect body, and what the media portrays as “beautiful” is not the only definition of the word.

Happy International Women’s Day! Let the women in your life know that they’re beautiful and that you love them.

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