I create figurative art through a gendered food lens. I use a surrealist approach, juxtaposing food and bodies in unconventional ways to explore food, gender norms, and cultural ideals about body size. Those ideals shift over time, but I am amazed by how often their underlying meanings remain unchanged, regardless of any gains women have made. I’m especially interested in through lines from the mid–twentieth century and the persistent valorization of women’s thinness in Western culture. In the mid–twentieth century, many women—especially white, middle-class women—were raised to perform gendered roles centered on what were considered traditionally feminine ideals about behaviors and appearances. Having “the right” body size seemed crucial for achieving the heterosexual goal of marriage and, in turn, to securing wealth and social status.

The piece entitled “Does This Make Me Look Fat?” (oil on linen canvas, 18” x 24”) gets its title from a well-worn phrase. It illustrates the intense bodily awareness that many women internalize, regardless of their size. The ridiculously large vegetables (typical ingredients of a diet regimen) sit on top of the women’s heads, overshadowing their exposed bodies, which exist in an arresting, dreamlike state. The scene emphasizes that these women are what they eat (or at least that they believe that to be true), and that concerns about having “the right size” body concerns are disturbingly tenacious.

Does This Make Me Look Fat? Oil on linen canvas, 18 × 24 in.

© 2020 Nancy Gagliardi

Does This Make Me Look Fat? Oil on linen canvas, 18 × 24 in.

© 2020 Nancy Gagliardi

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