This self portrait by the late painter Alice Neel so inspires me. Remnants of the "beauty myth" females are fed all our lives – i.e. we must be conventionally beautiful to be accepted and loved – still cling to most of us, even in our elder years. As our bodies inevitably sag, thanks to the wonderful power of gravity which holds us firmly to earth, it becomes harder to look firmly in the mirror without turning away.
Alice Neel was bold enough to not turn away, but instead immortalize her own aging flesh. A woman who painted others nude her entire adult life, at last she turned the artistic gaze on herself.
It was not easy. Neel explained later that the reason her cheeks are so red in this portrait is because she had such extreme difficulty painting it. The portrait took five years to complete. But she persisted and gave this gift of her unadorned self to the world.
All her paintings reflect her tender regard for other humans, from her neighbors in the East Harlem community where she lived for with her biracial family, to her later years on NYC's Upper West Side. A social justice activist all her life, Alice Neel left an extraordinary body of respectful, loving portraits of everyday people. This one may be her most magnificent of all.
I am grateful for women like Alice Neel who inch us all forward toward self-loving respect...thereby helping us not only have more satisfying lives, but enable us to extend more love to others. Seeing this portrait and standing proudly by it powered me up about 20% more than I already was.
Thank you, dear ancestor Alice Neel!