Larry Kirkwood | The Body Image Project

Artist Larry Kirkwood doesn’t agree with British psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos that adults are more immune from the personal self-doubts raised by the body/beauty industry. Big people aren’t half as sensible as we should be in evaluating the standardized physical mythology around us.

Happy with yourself for getting a buff, athletic body like an 80s supermodel, you wake up one morning to discover that having muscles is a poor showing in the beauty department. Damseldom is ‘in’ and you don’t fit the beauty standard any longer.

‘Off with your head!’ say the fashionistas. ‘Better yet, burlap bag it.’

I confess to liking the photos of Eniko Mihalik by David Vasiljevic for Bon International.

Not knowing if the ‘digital improver’ (very Kafkaesque) added flesh or subtracted it, rounded out her edges or streamlined them, I find Mihalik’s photos appealing — almost as a nutrition ad for sensible, self-loving, 1960s living.

Eniko Mihalik seems to say: ‘Take me as I am. PS. I know I’m beautiful.’

Taking people as they are is Larry Kirkwood’s specialty, having made plaster body casts of 500 people in the last 17 years.

We share a point of view about advertising and human minds:

“When all this advertising and everything gets into our subconscious, we don’t even realize that we have certain prejudices against things,” he said. “The reality is we all have six pack abs, it’s just under a little fat on some of us.” via

Artist Kirwood’s observations aren’t only about women. In fact, the new pressure is on men.

“Guys are freaked about their penis,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many guys have asked me to put a little more plaster down there. They’re just as tripped out on this stuff as women, and that’s why it needs to be looked at as a human thing, not a gender thing.” via

Susie Roman of the National Eating Disorders Association said current research estimates the average person is exposed to around 3,000 advertisements a day.

Roman shares Dr Linda Papadopoulos point-of-view that not every single person is vulnerable to the impact of advertising, fashion, media imagery about the body. Perhaps I’ve lived in New York for too long.

On the subject of men’s penises, imagine that cocks were front and center in mainstream media every day, as are women’s breasts and bodies. You think women are neurotic? Just sit back and watch, my dears.

According to the Academy for Eating Disorders, men are still less likely to develop anorexia and bulimia, but are just as prone to binge eating disorders as women. More men are using steroids, trying to sculpt the ‘perfect body’ while women are getting rid of hips and breasts, because Lara Stone aside — breasts are bad for you — at least if you’re a Ralph Lauren model.

Designers prefer boys.

I learned a new word today: ‘Bigorexia’, a disorder that leads an individual to believe his or her muscles are never quite big enough. Indeed, never measuring up is the goal of fashion, marketing and advertising.

The claims are packaged differently: for thousands of years people have aspired to be beautiful. Fashion and ad imagery is only a reflection of people’s desires.

In fact, I believe there is validity to the claim that people seek beauty in our lives, embracing unconscious standards of beauty worldwide. I want to believe that our unconscious standards of beauty are all manufactured by outside influence, but research consistently claims otherwise.

Anthropologically-speaking, our unconscious minds are focused on fertility and reproducing our species, not looking body-right for modeling on a runway show. From a psychological standpoint, the current hipless, breastless body body that is desireable as our standard of womanly beauty is totally opposed to our evolutionary idea of womanhood and fertility.

Talk about schizoid.

Even so, where does the desire to look our best collide with unfettered manipulation of our psyches into a perpetuation state of dissatisfaction and self-loathing? I’m a firm believer that our visions become seriously distorted, that our very vision is ‘reality’ is redefined to such an extent that we no longer understand what a healthy body looks like.

All we see is fat, fat, fat — even when we’re a healthy body weight.Photoshop goes beyond airbrushing, to ongoing resizing of proportion and human bone structure. Elongated in ‘in’. Pay attention to the angles in photography — they are getting longer and longer.

On his website Kirkwood Studios, the artist reminds us:

Certain corporations are spending billions of dollars a year to redefine the concepts of “beauty” and “self-worth” and subsequently, what is “real.” The goal is to encourage dissatisfaction and even “self-hatred,” which can only be remedied by purchasing products that, “make you better.”

I agree totally with Kirkwood that making us hate ourselves is the goal of many marketing campaigns. Wanting to be our best, we invest in the commercial remedies and all their promises. The ‘fault’ lies perhaps in the cumulative total of the advertising, media messages.

At the end of the 3,000 messages a day telling us how to improve ourselves, it’s very difficult to look in the mirror and see innate beauty. It’s easy to be so overwhelmed with flaw-fixing, that one grabs the martini bottle or container of Ben & Jerry ice cream.

At least those ads love us. No fixing is required — just unadulterated enjoyment for a moment.

Yes, the food moments are too numerous in America, but there, too, advertisers wait for us with comforting arms. They, too, know our weaknesses and desire for escape. Most days, the majority of us are hamsters in the cage.

Larry Kirkwood sums up the purpose of his Body Image Project:

“Making you hate yourself is a real lucrative field,” he said. “These companies insult the shit out of us, and we still run up and throw them our money. Somehow, folks today just haven’t figured that out.” via

My goodness. People say that New Yorkers are outspoken. I must give Larry Kirkwood a ring. We sound like kindred spirits, even if I have been to ‘diplomacy school’, learning to refine my tongue. When you’re a consultant, one must coach clients into seeing reality from your counter-revolutonary point of view.  Anne

Photos of Aniko Mihalik by David Vasiljevic ru glamour. Statue in Metropolitan Museum of Art by wallyg.