[The following was written while ruminating on our work for Chronicle Books, for a project regarding the Suicide Girls, of suicidegirls.com, who purport to be the contemporary version of the pinups of old.]
I recently left the home of a friend, where I joined her, her husband and family for dinner, after several hours on conversation. One of those conversations was around the fact that her newest CD (Sarah Hickman, Motherlode) features a modern-day painting in the style of the ancient hindu kama sutra poses from India. A husband and wife (it is a domestic scene) get it on in the sitting position, while an iron on the ironing board sends the clothes up in flames.
Which serves as apt metaphor for what one hopes is domestic bliss. Unfortunately the CD's distributor felt that the woman's nipple should be covered, so the title lettering was altered to cover the offensive anatomy. Seems they didn't have a problem with the couple's implied sexual position.
Which leads to the idea that bare bodies are somehow shameful. But we all know shame is in the head. Which is where ideas come from.
Ideas lead to ideals. And ideas of beauty - of what we find moving, - lead to ideals of beauty. Throughout recorded history there have been those that have attempted to leave for posterity their notions of ideal beauty.
When I see many of the images on the Suicide Girls site, I try to look past the superficial artifacts of the paint and piercings and see what lies beneath. Often times it is just an average girl, or more-attractive-than-average girl, posing or playing, and at those times the ideal or idea is more one of the beauty of the day-to-day.
But there are those times when by shear good fortune of the gene pool, the talent of a photographer with vision enough to look beyond the typical pin-up poses, that Ideal Woman is not only implied, but right there. And more often than not, in that situation, it is not the pouty pout or come-hither gaze, but instead the even gaze and trace of, or actual smile, that allows a bit of the inner person to shine out.
It doesn't happen often, but when it does, the notion of Woman - yes, as ideal and thereby objectified - becomes not crass or base, but like Botticelli's Birth of Venus, something quite marvelous and worthy of worship, a sacred figure.
Researcher Helen Fischer, together with her colleagues at Rutgers University, speculates that the visual response in men may cause them to fall in love "at first sight" more easily than women.
In the early stages of falling in love, MRI scans of women's brains show more activity in regions associated with memory, mental images, emotion, and attention, as well as the septum, or "pleasure center."
Scans of men's brains show more activity in the visual cortex and visual processing areas, including one area responsible for sexual arousal.
40,000 years ago man was leaving ideal images on cave walls, some of which were women. Ideals in the dark. In one aspect not that much different from the projections of women on the Suicide Girls website. If the key root of inspiration is spirit, then at its best the spirit of the ladies should inspire one and appreciate all aspects of womanhood. If not, they are just pictures of nekkid chicks.