The Power of A Provocative Image

Image courtesy of Joyce Polance, the artist

Image courtesy of Joyce Polance, the artist

Yes, I have seen the cover of Time Magazine. I have lots of opinions about it, and some of them might surprise you. One thing’s for sure: talking about breastfeeding or mothering sure beats the bacon out of talking about the Kardashian dynasty.  Am I right?

As the blogosphere rallied to respond to the cover, I found myself respecting the power of a provocative image: it certainly sparked dozens of Facebook entries, spoofs, and blog posts.  Regardless of how you feel about the image or extended breastfeeding or the impossible pertness of Jamie Lynne Grumet’s breasts, the odds are you saw the image and had a reaction.

And hopefully, our image of “mainstream” has been irrevocably altered and expanded, not because we are all going to run out and buy some skinny jeans and change how we feed our toddlers, but because everyone has seen this image.  It’s now part of our public discourse. I felt uncomfortable looking at the picture– I immediately wanted to know how old her son was.  So far, I have had no less than eight conversations about this so far.

But no matter what, I believe that society is better off with a wider range of images of women, and we need so many more.  How about more women with stretch marks? How about more women who look like me and my friends? How about more images of women in power who are not hated or critiqued for their cankles? How about some images of women who build up other women in flagrant defiance of the so-called Mommy Wars?

When it comes to images, I think more diversity is better, even if it makes me uncomfortable.  I will take the discomfort of new ideas and new images over complacency, rigidity and limitation.

I have long been a fan of the work of figurative painter, Joyce Polance. The subject of her work is women– their bodies, their relationships, their emotional lives, their histories, and their complexities.  Polance’s images are every bit as provocative as the one in Time Magazine.  Some of them make me uncomfortable– the nudity, the flabbiness, the rawness.  Frankly, sometimes it’s easier to look at a photo-shopped snap of Tori Spelling’s baby bump than to look at the bodies in Polance’s paintings.

But, oh good Lord, what does it mean that images of “imperfect but real” bodies make me feel uncomfortable when fake, touched-up bodies make me feel safe? You know what that means?  It means I am taking a ride on this society’s crazy train.  And I want to get off.

So, bring on the covers of magazines devoted to “women’s issues.” Show me images that make me squirm or want to avert my eyes.  I am a big girl; I can take it.  It’s actually important that I do take it, because my imagination is limited and I want it to expand.

Good news! Joyce Polance’s upcoming exhibition at the University of Wisconsin in Madison opens Friday, July 27, 7-9pm, and runs through Sept. 4. More information may be found at


8 thoughts on “The Power of A Provocative Image

  1. Nice post. I think this issue might even be a microcosm of what our country is facing right now. We’ve lost the art of polite discourse. I either have to be for something or against something. There’s no middle ground or live and let live.
    The reality is that what works for me may not work for you, but we can still accept and celebrate our differences and support each other.

  2. Pingback: Attached Free-Range Kids? Or, How TIME Missed the Issue Completely. « moments of exhilaration

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