It’s definitely not news that we’re confronted with unrealistic, narrow and harmful beauty standards literally every day. Looking in the mirror and over-analysing all the things you wish you could change is a universal experience, and it’s all too easy to let your inner critic win. After all, we’ve been fed reasons to dislike our bodies since capitalising on our insecurities was a thing (ie. forever), and real body acceptance—showing kindness to ourselves—takes work.
Nakeducation, the online workshop created by The Female Company and Floox with artist Eva-Maria Janson, invites participants to take a critical look at the standards we often hold ourselves to, with a focus on normalising and celebrating all bodies. Each artist created their own individual artworks using techniques learned during the workshop, and approached the process from a uniquely personal perspective. We caught up with four of the artists to learn more about the challenges and highlights of their experience, and what body positivity means to them.
The artwork was a confrontation with my ego. The workshop spoke to me personally because I have been very critical of my own femininity in the past. It felt very liberating to draw a woman without focusing on perfection, and to depict the body in such a way that perceived flaws were valued.
I'm proud that these "flaws" are what make the image a work of art. Abolishing unrealistic and discriminatory beauty ideals is an important step for our own mental health. We are more than just a body, but we should absolutely love it for carrying us through health and illness and reflecting our lives. After all, life is not without its flaws, so why shouldn't our bodies reflect that?
I'm currently working on my master's thesis on the sexual objectification of women, so this is a topic that has been occupying my thoughts consistently. How do I deal with my own experiences of objectification? How do I unlearn self-objectification? What images are used to reinforce the reduction of women to their bodies? How can I succeed in painting women without objectifying them?
Creatively, I like to challenge myself, so I painted six women, paying particular attention to the diversity of the breasts. I added the word "nude" as a reference to John Berger's Ways of Seeing (1972). Regarding the female nude image, he distinguishes between 'nude' and 'naked': "To be naked is to be oneself; to be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself". Despite the fact that I have depicted the women with their heads, they remain anonymous bodies—the impression is reinforced by the absence of faces. The image is contradictory because I stage the women's bodies decoratively like objects, while simultaneously criticizing the act of doing so.
As I sat in my garden and began to consider the female body, I realised that, like every body, every flower created by nature is unique. When it comes to flowers, we don't judge their appearance, we just enjoy their beauty. Why can't we do the same with our bodies? We should celebrate the human form and our bodies that make life possible, without judging each other on how we look—on what scars, wrinkles or flaws we have.
When I began to paint, I imagined a happy, proud woman who loves her body as it is. The shapes and curves flow in the picture and embody this feeling. Supporting this, the colours were chosen according to the colours of my surroundings: the sunny yellow, the bright red, the fiery orange, and the soft blue. All these colours and shapes illustrate how beautiful, diverse and colourful life is, how different the female body can be, and what wonders it performs month after month. This experience was therapeutic and beautiful at the same time! I felt at peace with myself and my surroundings. It was good to let the shapes and colours speak, and not to focus too much on every detail. Because just as all bodies are perfect in their own way, so too is art.
Julia M @_banun._
Because I decided to depict my own body, it was quite a confronting challenge. However, combined with the painting, the process had a therapeutic and empowering effect on me. Before starting, I looked at myself in the mirror for a long time. It felt strange at the beginning and then I just started smiling: I hadn't looked at myself in the mirror for so long or so intensively before - not so bad! :)
After a short time, I felt more and more comfortable and started to actively perceive every scar, every little roll, every bit of asymmetry, every stretch mark; to look at them more closely, and also to accept them. These are the details that were highlighted and emphasised in the designs, making each artwork so authentic and special. Nothing was concealed, hidden or processed, but represented as realistically as possible.
If you’re feeling inspired to get creative—or get naked—you can find out more about the workshop here. Unfortunately, it’s currently only available in German, but don’t let that stop you from stripping off and whipping out the paints, or finding new ways to appreciate and get comfortable with your body (naked yoga?). In the meantime, let’s all give ourselves a break, spread a bit of love and kindness, and appreciate our bodies for the wonderfully imperfect, evolving, and resilient works of art that they are.
Text: Caitlin Hughes