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Feeling at home in Oslo's Vigeland Park

By Dawn Marie Cutaia

From Radiance Fall 1994

I must admit that it has always been a little too difficult for me to stand naked in front of the mirror and look at my body.   I attempt to suspend judgment, but sooner of later (often sooner), a judgment pops up in my head and I know that it is time to walk away from the mirror.  For today.

I have always had a hard time believing that a large body could he considered beautiful. I know my skepticism is a response to my culture, where some people ridicule large women. Others look past us or through us, as though we are not real people. And we react to this treatment accordingly. We hide. We look down at our feet. We feel ashamed.

It is a blessing when someone introduces us to a magazine like RADIANCE or a group like NAAFA. We finally meet people who share our pain. And this contact with others like ourselves helps us to realize that we are okay. It is just our society that makes us feel had. Still, because we arc enmeshed in our culture, because we live in it every day of our lives, it is often extremely difficult to remember that we arc not the problem. For me, it was not until I ventured out of the fat phobic United States that I was able to see the sickness of our society and the beauty of our bodies.

I was invited by some close family friends to spend a week in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Never did I expect a visit to another country with a western culture to have such a positive impact on my life as a large woman.

Vigeland4When I arrived in Norway, I found out to my dismay that at age twenty-three, I was too young to rent a car. So I spent eight days walking everywhere. Despite my initial disappointment, I quickly grew to appreciate my freedom’ from the automobile. Walking gave me a chance to really see Oslo. I walked through the parks, down residential streets, through the city. I had the opportunity to get a feel for the people of Norway. It didn’t take me long to notice how physically different Scandinavians are from Americans.

The most noticeable difference is that almost everyone has blond hair, fair skin, and blue eves. One might think from such a description that the people of Norway fit the American ideal of beauty. In many ways they do. But there are differences in the Norwegians that I found refreshing. Many of the women are larger than the average woman from the United States. They are taller. They are broader. Their hips are fuller. Their faces rounder. They have a healthy, ruddy glow. I was fascinated by this entire country of women who have shoulders like mine (throughout my life I have often felt as though I should be playing professional football), hips like mine, faces like mine. Although I am not Norwegian, I felt at home.

Vigeland3My excitement increased when I walked through the gates of Vigeland Park, a major tourist attraction located just outside the city. The park is cherished by the Norwegian people, and after experiencing it, I, too, was thoroughly impressed. Vigeland Park is a sculpture park that contains almost two hundred life-size, nude figures made of bronze or granite. Completed throughout a period of twenty years, these statues are the sole work of the Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland.

Vigeland studied art in Paris, and then he returned to his native Norway in 1922. But once home, he found it difficult to earn a living as an artist. His response was to convince the city of Oslo to finance an outdoor forum that would detail the interdependence of the human race.

It didn’t take me long to agree that Vigeland Park was a great achievement. Everything about the park was breathtaking. From the fifteen-foot wrought-iron gates that enclosed the park to the massive water fountain that flowed in its center and the monolith that rose just beyond the fountain, Vigeland Park was truly a special place. I was especially drawn to the monolith, which, with its collective bodies pushing up toward the sky, symbolized the struggles of the human race and the idea that those struggles cannot be overcome alone. (This fact is one that those of us in the size acceptance movement are well aware of.) From this vantage point, I could see the entire park, with its abundance and variety of human sculptures.

The figures depict the stages of life, from the fetal stage, through childhood, young adulthood, parenthood, old age, and death. What makes these statues especially wonderful is that they seem real.

The figures of Vigeland Park, like the figures of so many flesh-and-blood Norwegians, are broad and round. They are solid, grounded, strong. Vigeland made figures with potbellies, full breasts, thick thighs. He also sculpted older people with sagging skin and wrinkles, figures our agephobic society in the States would simply not have tolerated.

Vigeland2Many of Vigeland's sculptures show active poses (perhaps his inspiration was his own people, whose love of sport inspired us all the the Olympics).  Many women are shown playing with children or dancing, and male figures are shown in nurturing roles, walking with small children or holding them.  I loved the sculpture of a large women bending over a group of about ten children, embracing them with her arms, protecting them with her body.  The children embrace her back.  I could almost feel human warmth emanating from these figures.  Vigeland Park celebrates life, in all its shapes and forms.

After hours of exploring, and many rolls of film, I left the park with a deep respect for the Norwegian people.  The fact that this park is so popular, so talked about, so loved by the people of Norway, shows that they appreciate the figures it holds.  I was reassured to experience a Western culture that the appreciates large women.  It made me feel that there is hope  for the United States.

I have to admit that the beautiful, round, voluptuous figures of Vigeland Park inspired me --- and sent by harsh self-judgement running for cover.  I am okay.  Large people are okay.  It is just our culture that makes us feel trapped by a negative view of our size.  We should all be aware that there are other places, other people, that do not despise or feel threatened by women who are large.  If we search for these places and people---reach out to them and learn about them---we will benefit greatly from the peace and encouragement they will give us.

DAWN MARIE CUTAIA lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, with her two cats.  She is a student at Dickinson School of Law and hopes to work in the field of domestic violence  When she isn't studying, she enjoys hiking, photography, and playing Frisbee.

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Sculpture by Jeong Soo Koh.

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