Primordial Goddess worship viewed the female body as the physical explanation of natural phenomena. Menstruation, pregnancy, birth and lactation reflected the cycles of nature. Ancient artwork portrays women in terms of body parts:
“Stylized images of the female body have been found on cave floors, most of them emphasizing only one body part, such as the breasts, genitals, or buttocks; this anatomical emphasis may have linked the feature’s biological function with other observable processes in nature, such as animal reproduction, the growth and flowering of plants, or the cycles of the moon.”
Earthly vessels of the Mother Goddess, ancient women were both defined by and valued for their physicality. This trend would continue as polytheistic civilization evolved. For the ancient Egyptians, physical beauty was intrinsically tied to the afterlife and often defined through images of their goddesses. Cosmetics were thought to carry supernatural powers, jewelry was worn for spiritual protection, and the female form was graphically represented in hypersexualized terms. While Egyptian men were given up to 40 costumes to choose from in their daily wardrobe, Egyptian women were continuously clad in tight-fitting dresses that “display[ed] every curve of the body, including the erogenous zones of stomach, buttocks, tights, pubic triangle and breasts, thus putting emphasis on the sexuality of the figure.” It isn’t hard to draw a clear connection between the ancient Egyptian goddess mentality and today’s celebrity culture:
“In ancient Egypt, people were never depicted as individuals, but were made to conform to certain ideals. Every women is painted or sculptured as beautiful, and “even female workers are portrayed with grace and dignity”. Quite similar is the idealization of images in Western societies. Models on television and in magazines are often airbrushed through computer manipulation, which creates representations that most women in society cannot achieve.”
Mass demand for the perfect body was the state’s prerogative in Greece. Ancient Greeks viewed the bodies of their citizens as “public property …to be watched and commented on.” Socrates, one of the famed fathers of Greek thought, was not opposed to doing some fat-shaming of his own, for the good of the state: “Socrates gets involved because the flabby citizen is a public matter, a matter of public concern. Fat is a political issue.”
Stereotypical stylized images of women put forth in a culture in which body fat is becoming increasingly political; it would seem that the critical discussion of Girls is as old as Antony and Cleopatra. But does the critical attention paid to Dunham’s body reject the physicality of goddess mentality, or merely illustrate how acculturated we are to ancient Egyptian and Greek concepts of body image?