Surely The Buddha appeared quite emaciated when he realized full enlightenment. Why is an emaciated Buddha rarely represented in art?
From the book Buddhist Art and Architecture by Robert E. Fisher, a brief mention of this style of portraying the Buddha is found on page 47 when discussing contrast between Roman and Indian styles of portraying the Buddha in art in the Gandhara region where Alexander the Great had just ended his campaign.
The Roman love of portraiture and dramatic realism appeared in the form of images of the emaciated Buddha, a favorite subject of the region but one seldom found in Indian art.
So while the Romans liked this style, it certainly wasn't as popular then (or now) as depictions of the Buddha while not in an emaciated state. As mentioned, the Buddha taught the middle way, so neither his period of luxury nor his period of austerity seem as important or as inspiring as the period of his enlightenment, most popularly depicted with the Buddha looking healthy and serene.
Beautiful answer by Robin111.
But I believe the question is why isn't Buddha represented as emaciated? Specifically why do people have the fat Laughing Buddha statue everywhere especially at the front of business buildings? Mainly this is because it represents wealth, commerce, and overspending, something businesses like. Most when asked say "it's luck." These people feel it attracts abundance.
Other reasons this trend has remained so is because:
- the Buddha did not attain Awakening until he "fattened up" a little, taking the milk curds from the woman, and taking care of his physical form
- the obesity/fat belly represents happiness and physical health [ironic because I feel much happier on successful fasts than I do overeating!]. Remember that happiness (a result of the 2nd training) is a foundation for Awakening (the 3rd training).
- obesity is representative of wealth in earlier times (actually all times, except this past century) which in reference to Buddha perhaps represents spiritual wealth.