Women En Large

by Laurie Toby Edison and Debbie Notkin

reviewed by alwaysarousedgirl on Mon 10 Sep 2007

I had the pleasure of meeting Laurie Toby Edison at the BlogHer Conference in Chicago this July. She spoke in a panel focusing on blogging and body image, and I got to talk to her briefly after the session.

Toby Edison and co-author Debbie Notkin became interested in bringing gorgeous images of larger women to the public in the mid 80s. Through images and words, they have explored the ideas of what is beautiful, how people perceive large woman, and how those women tend to become invisible as they move through their lives. Laurie Toby Edison was kind enough to let me take home her personal copy of Women En Large at the end of the conference.

Being the devious sort that I am, I left the book sitting conspicuously on the kitchen counter on a day when my mom was set to visit. My mother, who has struggled with body image and weight for her entire life, immediately picked up the book when she walked in.

I let her peruse it for a moment, watching her face without saying anything as she glanced at an image of a large woman whose breast had been lost to cancer, and another image of a happy looking nude standing on a deck. Her eyes grew wide. “What do you think of the images, Mom?” I asked her.

She was staring at the striking picture of a large woman sitting comfortably in front of a fireplace. The woman had short hair, four visible tattoos, and a startlingly frank expression on her face. “Do you think this is beautiful?” my mom asked incredulously. “I think it’s horrible!

Do you mean the picture itself or the woman?” I asked softly.

“Both!” she said.

Why don’t you like it?” I asked.

She’s so…fat!” All this time my mother hadn’t taken her eyes from the image. “It’s shocking.

I didn’t point out to my mom that her own unclothed body (minus the tattoos) would probably look remarkably similar to the body belonging to the woman in the photograph.

Mom. It’s art. It’s supposed to shock you. It’s supposed to make you question why you find some images attractive and some images horrifying.”

She just shook her head and turned away. But as the day progressed, I twice caught her thumbing through the book when she thought no one was looking.

I think Women En Large had the effect on my mother that the authors intended. After her initial surprise and even revulsion, she returned to the book, perhaps looking for beauty in a place she wouldn’t have thought to look before. Maybe when she’s out in the world, she’ll continue to seek out beauty in individuals who aren’t traditionally thought to be beautiful.

Maybe she’ll find some beauty in herself too.

Women En Large by Laurie Toby Edison and Debbie Notkin
Available at Amazon.com
Published by Books in Focus
10.7 x 8.9 x 0.4 inches, 116 pages
1994 $24.95