About Time You Met: The Female Artists Championing Our BodiesBy Megan Weal
Wouldn’t it be cool if a pair of boobs didn’t spark public outrage? If breastfeeding in public wasn’t still a topic of discussion or if how much leg was on show wasn’t a genuine reason that a court might not take you so seriously in a rape trial?
Somewhere along the long timeline of people being told what their body should be like and how it should look, we started to see our bodies less like temples and more like box rooms with peeling wallpaper and a bit of damp in the corners. The bodies that we were seeing didn’t look anything like ours and Weight Watchers was making a good buck or two off the insecurity that some bodies were more valuable and acceptable that others.
We got to a point where just being ok and not repulsed by our naked bods was more unacceptable than a photo airbrushed to the heavens making us all cry into our Special K.
It’s time that our bodies were just there. Not for scrutiny and criticism or for overly dramatic standing ovations.
So, whether you’d label yourself an advocate for body positivity, would rather be known as a champion for body neutrality, or just think that the normalisation of bodies is just pretty cool, here are the female artists on a mission to show the world that are here to show our bodies to the world:
“Hey you. Are you over the stares? You done with the catcalls? Reclaim your meaning of female nudity, by wearing nakedness on your own terms.” is the opening sentence of Jazz Moodie’s About Me section of her website, Mude Threads, and we’re already in love with her.
Jazz hand embroiders nude designs and commissions onto clothes to reclaim control over how female nudity is portrayed in society. “For me, the body positivity movement is so important in disentangling vanity from self-love,” she says. “Women are demonized at both ends of the self-love spectrum: if we choose to accept and cherish every inch of our body we are labelled as vain, slutty or asking-for-it, yet if we choose to hide our ‘flaws’ with modesty we are labelled as frigid or weak.” With each stitch, Jazz challenges whether we can look at our bodies without criticizing, over analyzing or sexualising ourselves like we’ve been so taught to do.
“For me, the body positivity movement is allowing women to remove the shame associated with self-love. My art, particularly the Nude Commission process, is a powerful tool for women to pick up and use to chip away at years of systematic socialisation telling us that vanity is unattractive.”
A photography project celebrating the beauty of different bodies, The Female Curve started “as a platform to share positive and desexualised images of women’s bodies.” Produced by Shado, a collective, and an online and print publication amplifying the voices of those at the frontline of political, social and cultural change, Hannah and Izzy are helping to cement the narrative that there’s no one way of thinking about body positivity.
“There is currently a lack of representation of ‘real bodies’, and through the medium of black-and-white film photography, we are presenting the body as an art form, celebrating the lines, curves and shapes that exist in all bodies,” they explained. “Our aim is to disrupt current narratives and to empower a community of women to embrace their bodies. There is no one way of thinking about body positivity, and we hope these images will broaden the definition.”
A seeker of all things natural, organic and nude, Emily Ponsonby’s art has a comfort to it that makes you fall in love with the bodies she paints. “The joy of being an artist, in a non-judgemental and respectful mind, is to celebrate every lump and bump that highlights a bodies beautiful individuality,” Emily explained. The painted bodies in her series “Soak” are all created by applying honeyed beeswax, oil and ink in a way that “literally scratches away the surface of privacy. These are techniques of extraction rather than application.” And yet there’s something distinctly comforting about her work. Like it could be your best friend or your Mum you’re looking at, rather than a total stranger.
“The female body, and revelling in being nude, fascinates me. Our bodies are incredible creations of life.” Emily truly brings the joy of being nude.
Do you ever see a photo and just know that the “model” was so comfortable with the photographer? Almost as if they’ve been friends their whole lives? That’s the vibe that you get from Pippa Alice’s shots. Her work is a glorious feminine-focussed portfolio of stretch marks, the bumps of pregnant bellies and insecurities that are nurtured into careful works.
“I don’t take myself too seriously with my work because I just shoot what I see and that’s women ultimately being comfortable and feeling beautiful, whether that be dressed to the nines or wearing those leggings with ketchup on,” says Pippa. “For me it’s just about the person I’m photographing at the time if at the end of the day they’ve felt great then I’m happy. I like creating safety for the subject and if this is portrayed through my images then that’s a huge bonus.”
And that’s what our bodies should be about, right? Safety and comfort and feeling beautiful without having to think about it.
Type “stretch marks” into Google and the top three hits that pop up are: “Stretch marks: Causes and treatments – Medical News Today”, “Stretch mark removal: Treatments and home remedies” and “How to get rid of stretch marks – the causes, best products and how to hide or reduce”.
You know what doesn’t come up but probably should? “Your stretch marks are totally normal and you need to stop trying to hide them as a by-product of shame”. Weird.
Taking inspiration from the mighty women in her life, founder of Strength Marks, Zel, is an education in “how important it is to care for ourselves – and one another.” A glimmering attempt at re-writing the narrative around “body shame”.
Each image is beautifully captured with scars and stretch marks taking centre stage. But even better is that we get to read about the women behind the scars – the things that matter so much more than some damn lines.
Alex has been in the photography game for 10 years now, and oh is she good. Reflecting on when she first began her career, she reminisces: “I would try and shoot as many models as possible, I thought it was the only type of person I should be taking photos of to get into the industry, I was wrong. Not only did it make my self-esteem plummet, but it also made me aware of how disproportionate the representation was.”
So she did something about it. She started taking photos of people: “I don’t want to shoot specific people who are a particular size, I don’t want to shoot plus size women to just call myself diverse, I just want to photograph people, people I think are interesting or empowering or inspiring…they could be any weight, their size doesn’t matter to me, their spirit does.”
Alex’s portfolio boasts gorgeous portraits, brand work and lookbooks, but her Confidence Shoots were what really got me hooked on her work: A few years ago, I took some naked photos for a friend who wanted to celebrate how hard she’d been working training for a marathon…After that my Confidence shoots were born and I’ve been doing them ever since. I learned two main things, one, nearly every woman struggles badly with her own self-image, usually from societal pressures to fit a norm, and two, Confidence is fucking sexy.”
Visual artist Phoebe Boswell tickles all the senses with her art that explores the body and identity through the lens of a diasporic conscious. With this in mind, her art is much more than a championing of the body and the nude form, but everything that it holds and how it weaves people’s experiences together.
Evolving personal accounts through her work is something that Boswell does consciously: “the most personal things are usually the most universal”, she states. Her interactive installation, Mutamia, is emblematic of the strength and power housed in a woman’s body. Her drawings of the Black and female body are confronting but intimate, demand attention and the acceptance of female power.
Just when you thought embroidery hoops were purely for “ironic” cross-stitching, Sally Hewett takes the medium and elevates it to new levels. We’re talking protruding lips, Despite the stitching and embroidery of her pieces, I think it would be safe to label Sally a sculptor.
“I’m interested in how we see things and how we interpret what we see. Why are some bodies or bodily characteristics seen as beautiful and others as ugly?”, Sally mused in an interview for Allure magazine. “For some artists, their love might be landscapes, nature, faces, buildings, etc., but for me it’s always been bodies”
From psoriasis to mastectomies, scars to bruises, her work is a gorgeous championing of every body.
In a Q&A with Caitlin Moran for The Times’ Feminist Five, Laura Dodsworth said that her work Bare Reality was “all about revealing the truth of how our bodies look and the stories they can tell, separating fantasy and reality, comparing the public and personal.”
Her work is up close and personal. Her newest title, Womanhood is the third in the Bare Reality series and it’s an un-airbrushed look into the truth of what vaginas look like. No porn pussies here. The book is a rally-cry for women to reclaim their womanhood. An expose of 100 women revealing their stories and bodies: “For me, personally, it has been my most potent and transformative work to date. The process of creating these embodied stories of pleasure, sex, pain, trauma, birth, motherhood, menstruation, menopause, gender and sexuality has changed me – I feel freer, more in my prime, sexier and more powerful than ever. I’d love Womanhood to do that for other women.”
Because if 100 photos of totally unique and different vaginas can’t make us start to shake the stigma, we don’t know what will.
The female form has been drawn and sculpted and painted and sexualised for centuries. Brixton based artist, Ventia Berry, is taking her brush and pen and makes a point of “challenging the archetypical sexualised female nude” with lines and colour that are distinctly female. Vibrant, abstract and labours of love, the forms in Venetia’s art are often void of faces or arms or feet – but you always know they’re female.
It’s an abstract empowerment that I would very much like hanging in my room. These nudes are painted by a woman for women, not by a man for men – as they so often are (or were) – and we are here for it.