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What Studying Art in Florence Taught Me About Body Positivity

Jun 17, 2019 11:58:00 AM / by Brielle Saggese

In this week's post, Brielle explores the relationship between art, body positivity, and studying abroad. She recalls the moment she had to adjust her wellness habits by tracking her stats less and change her mindset. After all in the big picture, seeing the beauty of art for what it is makes it special—just like the human body.

Going abroad, I had a horrible fear of gaining weight. In retrospect for all the things I could have been afraid of (i.e. getting lost, maimed by vespa, conned by a lip-syncing, Italian pop star, etc...) a few extra pounds feels like a really dumb thing to have even made the list. But still, it was something I thought about a lot.

Like any human, my weight fluctuates. We are living beings, which means it’s natural for our bodies to change from time to time. But up until studying abroad, I always had a handy dandy bathroom scale to let me know when it was time to hold off on the pasta. The days when the scale read a good number—go for the gnocchi, girlfriend. Other days—a salad for you.

Tracking these numbers helped me understand my wellness and my physical needs, a tool many use for the same purpose. In the modern world of health, we can track anything from our quality of sleep, to our chromosomes, to our average step count last March.

Inside the MuseumInside an art museum.

I didn’t realize how much I depended on these numbers though until I realized my bathroom scale wasn’t going to fit in my suitcase to Florence. Without knowing the numbers, I suddenly felt my relationship with my body go into jeopardy. Little did I know, that relationship wasn’t going anywhere, it was just going to change.

One of my favorite classes in Florence was an art history course. A little piece of advice: no matter what art class you take in Italy, trust me it’s going to be a good one. But this course in particular happened to be taught by one of Italy’s most esteemed museum fanatics. (You didn’t hear this from me, but she may or may not have given a museum tour to one Miss Beyoncé. No biggie.)

Week after week, she’d take us to the hallowed halls of museums and historical sites around the city. The Uffizi! Palazzo Pitti! The Medici Chapels! Each of their sculptures and paintings were unique in its own way and our professor would wax poetic about their histories, various owners, and styles. But as different as each of them were, many had one thing in common—they seemed to love the ladies. Actually based on how often women were shown in these pieces, they seemed to love the ladies a lot.

A Sculpture of a WomanA sculpture of a woman.

They showed ladies standing up. Ladies lying down. Ladies draped in bed sheets. Some covered with a leaf. Some with their hair. Some with nothing at all. But most were ladies that were there to be studied for one thing—her body.

Now, as I mentioned, we’re all quite used to studying the human body. We record it. We analyze it. We give it numbers and charts. But in the halls of the Uffizi, numbers don’t matter. It’s not like our professor had us memorize these women’s dress sizes or took a tape measurer to their waists. This was a museum, which means these bodies were art. So as we stood in front of works by Titian, Giotto, Michelangelo, and Botticelli, I saw these women as the art they were.

Ceiling ArtworkArt all around.

Sometimes they were shapes, like the soft circles of Venus’ rounded hips. Sometimes they were colors, like the shadows of a woman’s belly. Other times they were rhythms, like the wrinkles of a mother’s exposed thigh. Never were they numbers. Never could they have been summed up by my little bathroom scale.

Every inch of the body—its rolls, its weight, its belly—was a masterpiece. Every inch got to sit in the hallowed halls of the world’s finest museums. Every inch wasn’t even an inch at all—it was a brush stroke, a molded piece of clay, an artist’s vision.

A Closeup of ArtA closer look at humans and cherubs captured in art.

I ended up gaining a few pounds studying in Florence. I lost weight studying in Paris. But I learned as art, my body was still the same shapes and figures as it’s always been. No, I’m not saying I need to be framed in the Uffizi, but I can at least let the numbers take a break and view art for what it is.

Thanks, Brielle!

Brielle Saggese

Brielle Saggese was an official CAPA Instagram TV vlogger for Spring 2019, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Media Advertising Major at Indiana University, she studied abroad in Florenceand has continued to share her post-study abroad reflections on the CAPA Blog.

See more of Brielle's journey.

Learn More about the CAPA Florence Program

Topics: International Education, Florence, Italy