Meet "Hilda," America's forgotten pin-up girl. What makes Hilda so special? Well, for starters, she's chubby. (Yes, I know "chubby" isn't exactly a scientific term, and that Hilda might be "thin" or "fat" to other people, but let's just go with it for now...) Chubby and fat women are unusual in the pin-up world .... and even more unusual in contemporary media images. It's always nice to see more than one (extremely rare) body type represented in our cultural products.
But what I like best about these illustrations of Hilda is the zest for life, the quirky personality, and the numerous hobbies and passions that have been built into her character. The first Hilda illustration I saw was remarkable to me because of her fleshy body, but with every image I saw after that, her body size became only one characteristic of many.
In contemporary society, larger women are often viewed as "fat" before anything else, save for gender and race/ethnicity. Fatness and thinness are so morally loaded that being very fat tends to overshadow - and, as a result, make invisible - all of the other characteristics and quirks that make up a whole person. I see this with my students all the time: they tell me that it doesn't matter how successful they are at school, how smart they are, how interesting they are, or how loved they are by their partners... if they aren't thin, the rest matters little.
"A man can be successful and fat," one student wrote, "but a woman with the same achievements is successful but fat." It broke my heart to read this, because it's true.
|Hilda thinks this is B.S.|
So let's get back to Hilda. As an illustrated character, Hilda is a cultural product rather, not a real human being. Yet she was clearly designed to be more human than most. She's an avid reader, a guilt-free food lover who eats cheese and crackers in bed, a painter, a musician, an animal lover, a chore avoider (after my own heart!), a bicyclist, and a dancer-when-nobody's-looking... and chubby. She is active, adventurous, funny, independent, confident, sensual, clumsy, and - yes - sexy... and chubby.
One of the biggest and most harmful myths in our culture is the idea that only thin women can be happy, loved, and successful. In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf famously explained,
"A girl learns that stories happen to 'beautiful' women, whether they are interesting or not. And, interesting or not, stories do not happen to women who are not 'beautiful.'"
But it's not. true. at. all. That's why we call it a myth. The truth is something we don't see, or allow ourselves to see, often enough:
Interesting women lead interesting lives, period,
no matter what they look like.
Take a look around you and you'll find Hilda's everywhere, among your family, friends and acquaintances. You might even find one in the mirror.
You can find a larger collection of Dwayne Bryers' Hilda illustrations HERE, and some of my favorites are below, for your enjoyment.