Reprinted from the Fall 1997 issue of Radiance
Whether it is genetic or a socialized trait, nature or nurture, one thing is clear: some of us are inexplicably drawn to the roundness and softness of the large human body. In my case, I am drawn to the body of the large female.
In retrospect, this first entered my consciousness when, at the age of five, I was attending kindergarten in Laramie, Wyoming, where I was born. It was my custom, during the half-day when I wasn't concentrating on coloring inside the lines, sorting shapes, or memorizing the names of colors, to visit neighbors on the block where we lived. Times were different then, so it was safe for me to be wandering around outside alone. All the same, in each home I visited, someone would ring up my mom to let her know where I was.
One of those neighbor women, in particular, remains in my memory. She was larger than anyone else I had ever seen, and I remember feeling something positive and special in her presence.
It happened again when I was ten or eleven years old and in elementary school. The older sister of a childhood friend looms large (and she was) in my mind as I recall those young, prepubescent days. For some reason, my clearest memory of this "older woman" is one in which she is wearing a blue-and-white, horizontal-striped T-shirt.
Not long after that, I joined the junior�senior high school band and was assigned to the last chair of the trombone section. I enjoyed every rehearsal because there was a fat senior girl who sat in the first chair. On some level I knew that I loved band practice because of the presence of that big, pretty girl at the other end of the row.
When I started dating, my choice for the first junior high dance was a plump girl in my class. Soon after that I knew I was on a roll, and my preference for a fat partner has never wavered.
So what's the verdict? Am I drawn to the large female because I was born with a genetic predisposition, or did early experience create this desire? I don't know for sure, but I do know that the feeling of joy that sweeps over me in the presence of big, beautiful women has been with me for a very long time. It has remained at the same intensity level for as long as I can remember, and always brings a smile to my face. I realize, too, that regardless of the reason, the beauty I find in the large female is a part of me for which I do not apologize and, indeed, embrace as one of life's exquisite pleasures.
We had always taken photographs in my home when I was growing up, but it wasn't until I went to college that I took up the craft in earnest. My interest was inspired by one of my mother's older sisters, who amazed me with her accounts of developing and printing pictures in the kitchen of her family's Nebraska farmhouse when she was twelve.
At first, I photographed friends and relatives, travel adventures, nature, and animals. Most of these photos were slides, which I would project onto a roll-up screen at every opportunity. I still have the hundreds of slides I took during my college career and during my tour in Germany with the Army.
In the early 1990s, my love for the large female figure and my interest in photography came together to produce my first artistic impressions of these beautiful creatures. I was inspired by the large woman who is my partner, my friend, my lover, and my confidante. An accomplished woman in her own right, she is one of the several women who volunteered to be a part of the Big Beauty collection.
This group of photos started with ten color images, and within a year had grown to a total of twenty-two. There were two things I wanted to accomplish with this collection: I wanted to raise the consciousness of fat women regarding the beauty that is inherent in the round, full lushness of their bodies. And I wanted to show all other viewers that regardless of what is espoused by the diet industry, there is beauty in all types of bodies.
With some trepidation, I ventured out with my photos, going initially to gatherings of large people and their admirers. I fully expected the men there to respond positively to the photos, but, much to my surprise, not only the men, but heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian women also expressed positive reactions to what they saw. My fear was that women would consider my pictures to be objectifying. I also feared that the audience I wanted most to reach (that is, women of all sizes) would be suspicious because these images were created by a male artist. I was pleased to discover that my fears were groundless on both counts. Most of those who saw the collection were very supportive. It is particularly gratifying to hear women say that they see their bodies in the images and feel that they should "own" that beauty.
Putting one's work out for public consumption is frightening for any artist. However, once I was armed with positive responses from events sponsored specifically for large people, the obvious next step was to seek mainstream places to exhibit these not-so-mainstream images. With a little luck and support from acquaintances who believe in these images as I do, many of my photographs have been exhibited in galleries in different parts of the country. Again, the response has been positive, and more exhibits are planned to raise the consciousness of middle America.
Most recently, my focus has turned to producing images of large women as they can be portrayed in the moods and shadows of black-and-white photography. In some ways, this is a more satisfying endeavor, because the entire process of creating the desired piece can be accomplished in the darkroom.
Fat women embody all that is lovely, sensuous, and nurturing in the female of our species, and they hardly deserve the bad rap handed them by the visual, audio, and print media. All one has to do is look at the pictures in RADIANCE, or in the catalogs of the large-size clothing vendors, or in publications that report the large-size social scene to know, without a doubt, that large women have a beauty all their own. Seldom do we have the opportunity to see positive images of the large female body and to reevaluate our own perceptions of what is beautiful.
The more that large women are portrayed, the more the world will come to embrace the beauty in their big, soft bodies and the gentle, loving people who inhabit them. I plan to contribute all I can with my camera, my eye, and my love for the goddesses who, in our society, are known as fat women. �
NEIL OSBOURN is a self-taught photographer who has been making photos much of his life. He is an activist in the size-acceptance movement, and uses his photography to increase awareness and to raise consciousness regarding body image. Neil's current project is a photo essay tentatively entitled Real Women/Real Lives, which will depict women sizes 18 to 70+ at home, at work, and at play. Anyone interested in volunteering to be a part of this project, especially those living in the Northeast, should contact Neil at 860-693-2816. Neil lives in the town of Collinsville, located in the northwestern Litchfield Hills of Connecticut.
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