This post is written by my friend, Julie, a fabulous, fantastic, amazing woman living in central Ohio. She’s a mild mannered museum curator by day and a popular culture, fashion, music, and movies addict by night. This post was originally published at her blog “Catch Me If You Can!” and is cross-posted here with her permission.
The Gund Gallery is going to host an exhibition titled “Thin” this fall. It is a photography and video installation by Lauren Greenfield. The project started a number of years ago when she documented the lives of women and girls at an eating disorder facility in Florida. There was an HBO documentary film of the same name created and now this exhibition travels around to various venues.
There are 54 large photographs in the exhibition. I know because I had to look at each one yesterday and complete a condition report. (For those of you non museum people a condition report is a document completed when a loaned exhibition or item comes into a museum. The condition of the piece is documented in case there are any issues which need to be reported back to the lending institution) The photographs are emotionally devastating. I was in collections storage by myself looking at picture after picture of emaciated women and girls as young as 14 who have completely destroyed their bodies in order to be “thin.”
On each condition report I would describe the photo. Below that section was the area of the form to note the condition. In the museum world most conditions are scaled using the terms – excellent, good, fair, poor. The photographs and their frames were pristine. Underneath each description, I kept writing the word “excellent.” After a while it felt like a sick commentary on the descriptions of the photos I had created above. “Emily, 15 from Tampa, FL weighting 80 pounds” Condition – “excellent.” It became harder and harder to write that word.
As a museum professional, you come into contact with artifacts and artwork that generate a reaction. It could be joy, anger, or sadness. I have experience this before but after several hours looking at those photographs my soul ached. I wanted to hug each of those women.
I, like every other American woman, thought (or think) I am not at my “ideal” body weight. I remember in high school believing I was so fat. It makes me shake my head now because I was at least 20 pounds lighter then. I never had an eating disorder but the seed that is planted in every young girl that has the potential to grow into that debilitating disorder existed in me.
I think I was especially struck by these images now because I have a daughter. I have this beautiful, perfect person who I have to help navigate all of the bullshit this world creates to tell each person they are not good enough, not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough. It is terrifying. It is overwhelming. It reiterates to me that I have to be my absolute best self around her. I have to lead by example. I have to explain articulately why at each stage of her life she is beautiful inside and out no matter what the TV or her peers say.
The first week she was alive, I had my first heart to heart with her. I told her how happy I was to have her in my life and that I wanted her to know that she was free to create her own destiny. She could love whoever she wants. She could follow any career path. She could express her gender in her own terms. She could live anywhere in the world. I was there to support her, to guide her when necessary, to remain silent as needed. More than anything I want her to grow into her own unique person, to embrace who that is and not be afraid to reveal herself completely to the world. And if anyone has a problem with that to say “fuck you” to them. That last part I know I will have no problem being an example for her.