Fed up with pressure to marry, Denver woman chooses mannequin family

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DENVER — We first heard of a Denver woman through an ad for “Ripley`s Believe It Or Not.” The famous series of books actually believed she lived with mannequins.

But the University of Colorado graduate is an artist whose work has spanned the globe and satirizes conformity. Her medium is photography. Her subjects are mannequins. But her message is no dummy.

Suzanne Heintz has cooked up the recipe for a life that today she’s grateful for.

“People are like, ‘You are so nice, so cute. I don’t understand why  you can’t hook a man,'” Heintz said.

She said she constantly heard from family and friends when she was in her 30s. Those questions about her single status left a bad taste in her mouth.

“This is universal pressure and we all feel it,” she said. “I kind of thought, there must be something wrong, when in fact, I was living the life I was meant to live. I can see that now, but 15 years ago, it hit me the wrong way.”

So she wanted to make a point of it through her art.

“I am going to stage the perfect life. I am going to buy the perfect family. And I am going to take perfect family photos. And sort of rub it in,” she said.

She bought two store mannequins.

"I have an imitation family of a husband and one child," she said.

Chauncey and Mary Margaret help spread her message.

"Most people think I am doing it because I am crazy. I am anything but crazy. I have a day job. I have a mortgage. I pay my taxes," Heintz said.

Her message is to live a life that makes you happy -- not one that is perceived as happy.

"I have the perfect husband. Check. I have the perfect children. Check. I have the perfect home. We go on the perfect vacations. Check.' The checkmarks can be very misleading," Heintz said.

So she photographs what are perfect, stereotypical family events. Her latest image is her fake family at an equestrian competition in Aurora.

"It's supposed to be about the image of perfection. So everything has to be perfect. It's a royal pain," she said about the physical demands of working with very heavy and inflexible mannequins. "I thought working with mannequins would be easier than humans. They don't complain. But they also don't hold it together."

But she has taken her message -- and her mannequins -- all over the world, quietly showing what's wrong with this picture.

"I did it like everybody else. I had a picture in my head that reality never came to reflect. But those are images I take. That is what I imagined," Heintz said.

She hopes to help others not to buckle to societal pressure of what a life should look like -- marriage, kids, the white picket fence -- that you don't have to fill quotas in your life.

"I do not want to carry mannequins for the rest of my life. It really is a pain in the neck and sometimes I hate it," she said.

But Heintz carries on despite the physical difficulty, the extraordinary time it takes and lingering questions.

"Am I having an impact? Why am I doing this? I just want to live a life that meant something” she said. “Your life is not proved worthy by the validation of others. I am desperately concerned for girls today. Don’t look to others to tell you who you are.”

She said it’s ultimately about reaching the next generation.

"I think that’s what it takes to be noticed and we need someone to smack us every once in a while to wake us up," she said.

An independent film company in Washington, Fur Face Film, is making a documentary of her life called "Imitating Life: The Audacity of Suzanne Heintz." Shooting will be complete next year and the production is in association with producer Katherine Wilkins De Francis.

Heintz also is working on her third film that focuses on the next generation, kids 8-18, and the pressures placed on them by society to follow a traditional path of marriage and family.

Her work is online at suzanneheintz.com.

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