In a world where the media projects unrealistic and unhealthy images of beauty, it is a struggle for many women to be content with their natural selves. In the Western world, by the time a woman is 17, she has already received over 250,000 messages about beauty through mass media.
But who sets the rules of beauty, and what is perfection? Amber Buyting, the fourth-year visual arts major behind the exhibition Consciously Imperfect, shows that beauty isn’t just about supermodels on billboards.
The exhibition comprises female portraits of natural, everyday women and a series of over-produced and identifiable female imagery. It explores beauty, perfection, and the search for self-identity. This collection inspires to draw attention to the damaging effects women are faced with and the illogicality of expectations revolving around unattainable representations of perfection.
A teacher for two years at the Whitby Station Gallery, Buyting says that being around young girls was what came to mind while painting two self-portraits featured in the exhibition.
“When I see young girls, nine-year-olds, throwing out their lunches because they don’t feel beautiful, it kills me,” she says.
“I had to do this. These are two self-portraits of myself, because
I have the same issues as them.”
She describes her loose and raw painting techniques as “muddy” and “ugly”. The models have luscious lips, full wavy hair, defined breasts and waistline, and full thick lashes. While the images are identifiable, the roughness represents the flaw in glorifying them in the media.
Conversely, when painting the self-portraits, the muddiness served a different purpose. She painted the original with fine, proper brush strokes, and the second one, with chaotic streaks.
“Everyone asks me, ‘why did you make it so muddy?’ It was such a pretty picture,’” Buyting recalls. “It’s because that’s how I feel about myself. I don’t feel pretty, and that what I wanted to express.”
For the artist, the word “beauty” has come to signify high expectations, unrealistic ideals, and made-up truths. Her paintings emphasize her struggle with what is known as “perfect” or “correct”.
Placed high up, the large paintings of top supermodels that make up the Victoria’s Secret series are bolted to the wall, mimicking billboards. What really stole my interest, though, were the smaller-scale drawings of average woman struggling for the sake of perfection, some of them titled “Insecure”, “Lost”, “Apprehensive”, “Fat” and “Unstable”— the artist personally knows each of the subjects.
“I want them to think about what’s going on and why we fit into these rules, why we allow ourselves to hate ourselves. Who made this?” exclaims Buyting, gesturing to the Victoria’s Secret series. “Who told us that this is beautiful? We see it everywhere. All of these women that I painted hate themselves or struggle for some reason.”
A collection of drawings called Speechless evokes emotions of
helplessness. These drawings feature various women with their mouths taped over. Many women feel as if they are objects of beauty rather than independent, intelligent speakers and thinkers—or that their voice has little value unless they are beautiful by society’s measures. Buyting’s creative yet simple “covered mouth” approach is what added a sense of imprisonment to these drawings.
Women are not the only ones who experience insecurity and pressure to conform to beauty ideals projected by the media. Buyting hopes to work on a similar collection targeted towards men. Men may not experience it in the same way, however.
“Men, I find, put up these fronts, like they don’t care,” Buyting says. “They mask more.”
The stylistic choice Amber uses reflects her belief in the beauty of the rugged, natural world. German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said “beauty is a manifestation of secret natural laws, which otherwise would have been hidden from us forever.” If beauty as imperfection exists, natural and healthy, then we musn’t waste time and energy searching for unrealistic absolute perfection.
Consciously Imperfect will show in the Gales Gallery in Accolade West until October 21, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
With files from Leslie Armstrong