There’s another side to the story, though. In 1968, de Saint Phalle wrote on a drawing, “I had to take my diet pills … gained five pounds around the hips.” On another drawing of a Nana she asks, “will you still love me when I look like this?” The artist was a slim woman who modeled for Life magazine when she was 19, Vogue when she was 22. Following a conventional trajectory, she married at 19, had her first child at 21, and her second at 25. At 23 she had a nervous breakdown and was treated with electroshock therapy and insulin for what was diagnosed as schizophrenia.
When she was 62 de Saint Phalle published Mon Secret. She revealed that her father sexually abused her for several years beginning when she was 11 years old. Knowing this, all her works take on new meanings and what seemed like contradictory urges — the guns, the sad and sullen wives and mothers, the enormous, rollicking Nanas — take their places in a cohesive narrative. The raging critiques of the early works transform into the reveling forms of the fat Nanas, and later into de Saint Phalle’s jubilant, sometimes macabre parks all over the world. Their size and colors resemble a kind of voodoo against malevolent spirits.