You are not perfect, Andy Warhol

By Elaine Cary

The Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh featured the exhibit “Andy Warhol: My Perfect Body” from October 2016 until January 2017. The exhibit demonstrated Warhol’s obsession with self-image through a series of his works including photography, drawings, and paintings.

To celebrate the success of the exhibit, James Elkins of the Art Institute of Chicago spoke at the museum during the last weekend of the display. Elkins put together a presentation on the perception of skin with the motivations Warhol had for his art.

Elkins offered his knowledge of Warhol’s past to justify some of the art he created. For example, Warhol’s self-esteem issues began when he was young with the development of skin conditions. Warhol had acne, and he also claimed to have been diagnosed with a condition that altered the pigmentation of his skin on various parts of his face. He was also insecure about the shape of his nose.

Warhol’s insecurities seem average considering the hormonal changes faced by teenagers; however, he took his flaws as a personal affront. This, Elkins remarked, explains Warhol’s trademark pop-art. Disgusted with imperfections, he wanted to make all facial nuances invisible. Wrinkles, scars, pimples, and pores were all hidden by the white glare that shined on the faces of models and celebrities in the garish portraits he created. The contrasts in features that were shown, such as eyes and lips, conveyed the illusion of perfection.

Though Warhol used his art to cope, “perfect” images, whether from the media or from an artist, perpetuate negative messages to people about their own appearance. The touch-ups seen on celebrities today have the same effect as Andy Warhol’s pop-art: they eradicate imperfections and create unrealistic expectations.

Exemplified in his works was the anxiety Warhol harbored over his appearance. The same can be said today about the selfies posted on Instagram. Filters have become modern-day pop-art, made to hide our blemishes and unique features. Are we insecure? In seeking perfection have we homogenized our perception of beauty? Finally, we must ask ourselves: does perfection mean “beauty,” or does it mean “the same?”

Cheyanne Swaney, a junior at Carlow University, recently wrote an essay on body positivity for Carlow’s website. In the essay, she related the concept of self-image to college students who struggle to maintain a specific weight or image. She offered three challenges to those seeking a more positive self-image:

  1. Eliminate the stigma of the “freshman fifteen.” One way to do this, Swaney suggests, is to stop talking about it altogether.
  2. Don’t obsess over arbitrary numbers such as your weight on a scale or the calories you consume each day. Focus on how you feel, not what a number is supposed to determine about you. Your body knows what you need; take time to listen to it.
  3. Exercise because it feels good, not because you feel obligated to. This is another challenge to what we’ve been taught, but it creates a positive impact on both our mental and physical health.
Cheyanne Swaney
Cheyanne Swaney – photograph by Molly Mitchell

We cheat ourselves of our individuality when we strive to become “perfect.” By accepting these challenges and gaining confidence through them, we show ourselves and others the importance of respecting our bodies. To Andy Warhol and perfectionists everywhere, I say this: you are not perfect, and that is something to celebrate.

Featured image courtesy of http://www.arthistoryarchive.com.

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