Ashna is one of the first Amsterdammers that agreed to have their portrait illustrated by me. This was way back in 2019 and back then I did not really have a name for this little project of mine. I simply started by inviting people to have a cup of coffee because I was interested in hearing out their their story. I would then ask for their permission to illustrate it. Things kind of just took off from there.
What stood out in Ashna’s story for me was how relatable and overall relevant her experience was: She has had trouble feeling comfortable in her skin for as long as she could remember. As far as I remember from our talk, it wasn’t anything in particular that sort of triggered this insecurity of hers. It was a little bit of everything, so to speak. But long story short, for a long while, she simply did not feel comfortable in her skin.
I’m not gonna start rambling on here about how important it is to feel at ease in your own skin. It surely is. And internet is already full of that steaming pile of synthetic encouragement. What baffles me though, is the dominant discourse used when these types of issues are being talked about these days. You must have seen one or two social media post on “body positivity”.
“Yes, it’s amazing that we finally talk about self image issues. But how genuine are we in discussing them? How do we frame them? Do we really talk about the issues or are we trying to outsmart the algorithm to get viral?”
I think the latter. Algorithms dictate social media and they only favor one thing: interaction. As people are much more inclined to interact with content that is triggering in nature, body positivity stories that we see today rarely reflect the real feel of being trapped in your own body. I know firsthand that coming to terms with anything to do with your psyche is possible through letting yourself feel the good and the BAD. You know, letting yourself be completely. Framing a sad story through a positive lense only will not help at all. While drawing Ashna’s story, I wanted to prove that.
I illustrated Ashna the way she told me she felt. I wanted this piece to be as real as it gets. It’s got depression in it, but also color, it’s got hope in it and but also suffocation. Because these are the feelings one apparently goes through experiencing self image issues. I tried to capture each of these feelings with a metaphor: The halo made up of tigers, the tight dress that looks like it’s suffocating her from the waist, her half-closed eyes and the bright color palette, they all work toward the same goal.
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