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
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.
When 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.
My 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
Many 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
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