Recently Amber and I went and ate at a nearby Italian restaurant. I’m not going to name it because I know that the theme is supposed to be kitsch – as if you walked into your Italian grandmother’s house for an old fashioned family meal – and what I observed may or may not have been intended as I discuss it below, but as I looked around the room I couldn’t help but notice that many of the pictures hanging on the wall seemed geared to a very specific demographic’s visual tastes.

Of the large black-and-white vintage photos hanging on the walls I could see from my vantage point the following, from left to right; topless woman holding two watermelon halves over her chest; woman in a vintage bikini walking; woman in a vintage one-piece under a waterfall; five women bent over in sundresses trying to eat spaghetti without their hands; nude Rubenesque woman standing at wall; and finally Big Joe, the world’s fattest man.

I’m not Italian, so I have no idea if it’s normal for someone to walk into their Italian grandmother’s house and see big pictures of women in classically submissive and/or feminine poses hung up all over the walls. Amber is Italian and I’ve never seen such displays when we visit her family, but that is just one example and a possible exception; this restaurant claims to represent an entire culture, which leaves me wondering about the reason for some of the selections the restaurant has made

On the one hand it could all just be an innocent reflection of a culture about which I have very little direct knowledge. On the other hand, the part of me that gets called a feminist on occasions (yeah, I’ve been called a feminist – go look at the rest of this website and come back to that sentence) wonders if all the undressed and submissively posed women all over the walls is secretly intended to get fathers excited for the chance to at least see some vintage T&A while they order and pay for a pretty expensive (but very good) meal. Certainly a slightly less altruistic reason.

At least all of the women on the walls have healthy and realistic figures, while Big Joe stared down at me from his stool during all of dinner as if waiting for me to leave without asking for a to-go box. So in that way the restaurant is reinforcing the concept of a healthy-figured woman as attractive (which is probably good for business), while displaying an unrealistically and unhealthily  proportioned male.

So, kudos for flipping that norm.

Many of the photos were taken during an unarguably sexist time period, and many were from a country not currently known for its progressive portrayal of women in visual mediums, so I’m willing to accept that the restaurant’s selection comes from both hands; these may indeed be the portraits displayed on the family walls because that’s the way things were back then – and perhaps grandmother wasn’t even the one who had control over what got hung where and why. The acceptance of such pictures today as kitsch is an echo of how things, unfortunately, were indeed geared towards the visual tastes and influence of men. Maybe, given the setting as I heard male cooks in the kitchen yell back and forth about the meals they are making as the female manager chastised one of the male waiters, it’s best to see it as an ironic reflection of where we’ve come as a society.

Meanwhile I will happily go back and ponder over dinner just how one manages to get THAT much spaghetti in one’s mouth without getting sauce on one’s nose…or anywhere else.

Does anyone have any insights for me?