Photo: Art Shay
This last week there was some fuss in France over the publication of an Art Shay photograph of Simone de Beauvoir’s curvalicious backside on the cover of Le Nouvelle Observateur.
I caught wind of it via a brief New Yorker mention (we’re too busy with Britney’s troubles -- and her sister’s! -- to be bothered by the naked bum of one of the 20th Century’s preeminent intellectuals here in the States) and given the weakness of my French I was consigned to follow the story in the English language press. The Times Online provided this recap:
The reaction of de Beauvoir’s admirers to the Nouvel Obs piece and its accompanying photograph was pained. A small demonstration of the feminist group Les Chiennes de Garde assembled outside the magazine’s offices, waving placards calling for Jean Daniel, the proprietor, to publish pictures of his own bare buttocks as well as those of various male philosophers. “My first thought on seeing the magazine,” said Florence Montreynaud, an authority on the relationship between de Beauvoir and her life’s companion, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, “was that they would never have considered putting a picture of Sartre’s bottom on the front of Le Nouvel Observateur.”
This is certainly true. And anyone who has seen a picture of the front elevation of Jean-Paul Sartre, fully clothed, will instantly understand why. The behind of the great rock star of French philosophy, Bernard-Henri Lévy, might be a different matter ...
Aren’t we past this by now? The idea that a woman may be only smart OR sexy -- but not both? And certainly not all at once?
Studying Shay’s lovely composition from the sidelines, in which I see a woman standing bare, except for her heels, before an open doorway in a friend’s house in which she was fully aware roamed another friend who was a photographer (and are any of us safe from those unscrupulous creatures, photographers?), and then reading the story of how when she heard Shay’s shutter close she turned, laughing, and said “Naughty boy!” -- I can only conclude that in this shot the 44 year old de Beauvoir has elected to be the subject -- meaning that she is by no means subjugated.
Because honestly: No woman wears heels for herself alone.
So if she welcomed the camera’s gaze, does that make her any less of a philosopher and intellectual? Does she, for this, become a dirty girl, and are all honors and privileges previously conferred upon her for her accomplishments nullified?
Let’s hope not. I prefer to hope that this is a brief insight into the possibility that de Beauvoir recognized the power inherent in female sexuality -- the turn of well-placed a curve -- a powerful force that historically our institutions and legislations have worked feverishly to control and contain.
I see in this shot a woman wielding her superpower called sexy (one that every woman who bothers to embrace it owns) in which resides the ability to captivate and hold the attention of others and persuade through the beautiful concert of both mind and flesh.
Any woman who has discovered the magical power that a low slung neckline has over some men (& women) knows that with great power comes great responsibility -- women should not use their physical powers to manipulate just as men should not (and of course, women have, as have men, which is where our fear springs from) -- but to revel in it? To share that beauty and, with it, a lust for life?
So why does it seem that we still subscribe to this idea that to embrace the force of flesh means that your brain will wither and die? Or to be recognized and seen for these things means that the rest goes unnoticed?
The sapiosexual knows better.
And, frankly, enjoys life more.
p.s. The title of this post was pulled from a Times' citation of the Nouvelle Obs piece -- it was how one of de Beauvoir's former lovers, Claude Lanzmann, described her.