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THE CENTURY PROJECT: One Hundred Years of Women’s Bodies

By Marty Lipton

We in the size rights movement spend a lot of time working to get what we need as fat people. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that really what we are looking for is to be included with other people when respect and human kindness are being handed out. Last May, I was reminded of that when I attended an photography exhibit at UCSD.

New Hampshire photographer Frank Cordelle was visiting San Diego as part of a West Coast visit promoting his Century Project. The concept is to photograph women of all ages, birth to 100 years (at least), to show the wide variety of ‘normal’ that exists within our differences in much the same way Laura Toby Edison explored the diversity of fat women in her book “Women En Large.” Displayed chronologically, the impact is intense. We are each of us there, undisguised. I saw myself, my friends, my relatives in these pictures of women I had never met.

Cordelle captures the full range of women’s lives: the joy of pregnancy, the unsureness of adolescence, laughter in the face of death, sorrow over what life brings us, whimsy, thoughtfulness, self acceptance and self judgment. But none of these photographs is about sex. Instead, they are about gender. These women are of all weights, all ages, all races, all faiths. They stand before the camera and before us physically naked not to flaunt but to share.

Each photograph is accompanied by a short comment written by the subject, explaining why she agreed to be photographed and what it felt like. These women are not models. Posing without clothing was a challenge for most of them. Some came face to face with old demons during their photo sessions. Some made important life decisions because of these new insights. Others, like one older subject who decided she didn’t really need to lose five pounds before posing, overcame some personal issue like vanity first.

In the movement, we discover that we’re not alone in our fat experiences. Other fat people have been there and that knowledge makes it easier to develop a positive sense of self. The Century Project gives us that knowledge in the greater of context of being a woman.

As Kana, age 52, says, “Look at me. Listen to my life. A Woman. One of the hundred, shoulder to shoulder, soft arms touching, smooth skin with edges blurred, looking out at you.” Kana is a cancer survivor and her skin is not so smooth where the knife cut her. But her face is triumphant and beautiful. Cordelle’s photograph makes you look at her and listen to her and see her as she is instead of through an illusion of fashion, vanity or eroticism.

Women who visit this exhibit cannot help but identify with the women in the photographs. Men who have seen the exhibit say they have learned something about who and what women are and how we experience humanity.

There is a possibility that the exhibit may visit San Diego again soon. Until then, you can see a several dozen of the photos with commentary on the web at http://century.conknet.com. The website also includes information on the progress of the project (it isn’t finished yet) and how you can buy prints of the photos or be included in the collection. Frank wants to include more women above age 60 and more ethnic variety in the completed work and welcomes correspondence at fcord@conknet.com or at Frank Cordelle, Photographer, P.O. Box 4, Bennington, N.H. 03442.

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