We have always had diverse bodies and bellies.
This is an interactive map of bellies carved during the Prehistoric Period (circa 2.5 million years to 1,200 B.C).
Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük, Turkey (circa 6,000 BCE)
This beautiful bellied woman was found in modern Turkey. She may represent a Mother Goddess or celebrate women of status for the ancient Neolithic civilization.
Marble female figure – Athens, Greece (circa 4,000 BCE)
Made of marble, she was found in Greece and was created most likely 4,500 to 4,000 BCE.
Jomon Venus – Nagono, Japan (circa 3,000 BCE)
Named the Jomon Venus, she may represent fertility during the Middle Bronze Age in Japan. She may also just be a female interpretation.
Venus of Willendorf – Willendorf, Austria (circa 28,000 BCE)
The Venus of Willendorf is cited in numerous fat-liberation and fat-acceptance texts like Christy Harrison’s Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Life, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness through Intuitive Eating. Researchers are unsure of the purpose of the statue. She has been censored on Facebook due to her nipples and vulva.
Seated Figure – Veracruz, Mexico (circa 2,400 BCE)
Most likely a baby, this Olmec statue may be a royal or a supernatural human. The bulbous belly suggests youth and prosperity.
Venus of Dolní Věstonice – Brno, Moravia (circa 29,000 BCE)
Venus of Dolní Věstonice was found in then Czechoslovakia – now Czech Republic or Czechia – in 1925. In 2004, a scan showed a fingerprint of a 7 to 15-year-old human (although, she/he was not believed to have made the work).
Venus of Gagarino – Gagarino, Russia (circa 20,000 BCE)
The Venus of Gagarino is one of six figures found by farmers in Gagarino, Russia. The other figures are the “Praying Venus,” “Tall-Thin Venus,” “Very Tall-Thin Venus,” and “Gargarino Double Venus.” You can find out more about them all here at Visual Art Cork.
The Venus of Hohle Fels – Schelklingen, Germany (circa 40,000 BCE)
Hotly debated, this babe is named Venus of Hohle Fels. She has reignited arguments of her purpose and Prehistoric views of body fat, especially in the breast, thigh, and belly area.
Venus of Savignano – Modena, Italy (24,000 BCE)
Venus of Savignano was found in 1925. She is one of fifteen Venus figurines found in Italy.
Venus of Berekhat Ram – Golan Heights, Israel (circa 230,000 BCE)
Found between Israel and Syria, she is one of the oldest known mobile art pieces (and bellies).
The Venus of Tan-Tan – Tan-Tan, Morrocco (circa 20000,000 BCE)
One of the oldest pre-historic art pieces, she has met much controversy due to scholars believing that perhaps this is a natural phenomenon and not a sculpture. Yet, other artwork in the area suggests that Tan-Tan was art, and not just lucky rock formation.
Before written language, human hands chiseled their world into moist cave walls and hunks of stone. What they created, we assume, was their collective view of their world. .
Prehistoric artists focused on animals – not humans. Humans were mere stick figures, feathery lines and dark circles, while the animals surrounding the human figures appear more deliberate and realistic. In Lascaux, France, a prehistoric artist carefully shaded the underside of a bull, speckled his eyes, and curved his dark horns. She spent time sketching languid lines of the bull’s shape, eclipsing the bull’s hooves with dark smudges.
In a 2012 study featured in The Smithsonian Magazine, researchers explain that the bull and other prehistoric cave art, tenderly etched into dark corners of Spanish, Indonesian, and Turkish caves, capture animals’ gaits better than modern artists today. Animals were important, central to the prehistoric view of the world. “These people – they saw animals intimately,” researchers say, “It was important to them.” Again, simple – direct meaning.
Yet, when archeologists unearthed Venus figurines, voluptuous female figures, large-bellied and big-breasted, that fit in a human palm to be easily carried, cradled, and definitely displayed, they wondered why she was created. Even the statues’ name, Venus, creates controversy since it harkens the Roman goddess of love, sex, and beauty. Rather than suggest beauty, many scholars oscillate between the small figures representing fertility/maternity and sexualization/pornography (FYI: Venus of Willendorf was censored on Facebook). Sadly, most researchers do not assume these figurines are symbols of beauty. Perhaps, this is due to the 21st century’s anti-fat bias that assumes that fat is not beautiful. Since most figurines are fat, they “cannot” be an idealized (or quite literally idolized) beauty. Yet, we cannot assume that prehistoric humans hated fat as we do today.
So if fat is so “ugly”, why the hell was it memorialized in the Prehistoric Age?
1. It was science and survival.
So terrified of the celebration of large female bodies without “good” reasoning, a group of researchers published in Obesity Journal that “Figurines are less obese as distance from the glaciers increases… [and] especially during pregnancy, obesity helped assure survival during episodes of severe food shortage.” Some even say that the fat figures were worn to help with weight gain. But, essentially, the goal of the study is to insist that the more bitter elements, the bigger bellies.
2. It was pregnancy and fertility.
Another group of scholars suggest that female artists created the buttery bodies to show the female form during pregnancy. Check out this article to see more images that draw a connection between the Venuses and the pregnant body by comparing pregnant modern women photos with the Venus statue.
3. It was culturally important to revere the female.
The Venus statues (a term scholars use to describe these prehistoric female statues) vary in body size and shape. Some Venus statues are tall and slender. Some wear clothing. Some sit. Some stand. As researchers wonder about the Venus statues, they ponder if these female appearing statues – the most prevalent human shape in prehistoric sculpture art – merely suggest fertility or sexuality. Perhaps females were the leaders of the prehistoric tribe.
Were we prehistoric and pre-patriarchy?
The question remains: why would prehistoric humans spend time carving and carrying female statues?
No matter what, it is important to note that we cannot see these female appearing statues through the lens of 21st century or even the 18th century (when Venus art was pervading the Renaissance). Can we, in 2021, interpret prehistoric art without inserting our own anti-fat bias and patriarchal understanding?
In reality, we will never know the impetus for creating the Venus figurines, but we do know that big bellies were important and present in prehistoric times. They were not punished or hidden by Spanx-wear. They were important, crafted, and carried as prehistoric humans moved around our earth.