Credit: Courtesy Shona McAndrew/Michelle Harris
Plus-size sculptures celebrate marginalized bodies and challenge taboos
With her life-sized paper papier-mâché sculptures, Philadelphia-based artist Shona McAndrew is presenting plus-size women in a way the mainstream rarely does: as sexual beings at ease in their bodies.
There's seated "Norah" (2016), her hand gripping the band of her underwear; "Elizabeth" (2018), soaking in a bathtub with her eyes closed; and "Stu and Me (Netflix and Chill)" (2018), an a couple watching TV in bed while engaging in another more intimate activity. Each conveys a comfort in one's body, flouting common portrayals of large bodies as self-conscious and inhibited.
McAndrew likens these depictions of plus-size bodies as "before pictures," miserable, unattractive versions of their future, skinnier selves.
"Plus-size bodies are never shown in the present, they're always about to shift, and I was very intrigued in taking that over and making bodies that only exist in the moment," she said in a phone interview.
"So yes, my women are plus-size, and yes, my women have hairy legs or hairy vaginas, but it's about her experience as a body, and about her in the moment that she's in."
McAndrew, who identifies as plus-size, chose to focus on larger women because she's most familiar with larger body types. But she also believes it is important to celebrate unrepresented bodies and challenge the taboos that surround them.
"A lot of plus-size women really respond to my sculptures. They talk about how they feel beautiful seeing a body like this represented in such a way that they don't experience or ever see," McAndrew said.
But it's not just curvy women who relate to McAndrew's work. The sculptures' intimate actions and poses, capturing private and sensual moments without hypersexualizing the naked body, seem to resonate across demographics.
At least that's how it's played out on social media. On Instagram, for example, McAndrew's "Norah," the woman lazily twirling her public hair has been shared by men and women of all sizes, accompanied by captions and comments like "me when I get home" or "#mood."
"A lot of people will forget my sculptures are plus-size for a moment. They just see a woman in action," McAndrew said.
While McAndrew cedes that, in a perfect world, external validation wouldn't be necessary for women to love their bodies ("Wouldn't it just be great if you just had you to tell yourself that you're beautiful?") she does hope that, after seeing her work, women will give themselves permission to feel beautiful and comfortable in their bodies as they are.
"When I see breasts as floppy or large as hers, it really makes mine feel beautiful," McAndrew said about the bathing "Elizabeth."
"And I really think that's what happens (when women see my sculptures): You see a representation of yourself and it allows you to let out the breath you have been holding."
Top image: Detail of "Stu and Me (Netflix and Chill)" (2018) by Shona McAndrew