At University, my dissertation was titled, ‘Sex in Art: The Taboo subject’. I spoke mainly about reclaiming erotic art from the male gaze and therefore normalising female sexuality and sexual pleasure. I noticed societies outrage when a women took control of her body and explored her sexuality on her own terms, and it sparked a fire in me thats been increasing ever since! I find it interesting (and intensely annoying) when women are sexualised for the male gaze in pornography, art history and everyday marketing, but as soon as women take autonomy over their bodies and openly create erotic art or show a nipple or God forbid dare to speak about what they enjoy during sex, some people simply cannot handle it.
Helen Beard is an incredibly talented painter, who puts sex centre stage. At the core of her drawings is female pleasure: orgasms, vulvas and breasts, masturbation, sex-toys and intimacy — the more we normalise it, embrace it, write about it, create about it, fight for it, the more power we give to ourselves and women around the world. Pleasure is another space for us to champion our wants and needs and have our voices be heard. Seeing a vulva in a piece of art can spark people to feel uncomfortable, when instead, we should only either feel completely neutral to it, since it’s literally just a part of our body, and/or we should feel empowered.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that finding artwork and artists that celebrate bodies in all shapes and sizes, colours and conditions, is truly vital in order to keep sane in a world that pretends a plus size is a 12. Alongside this, I’ve learnt that a womens voice should be suppressed when it comes to enjoying and exploring sex and/with their bodies. This tragic lack of representation meant that I struggled to accept my own body throughout all of my teens. I was always a curvier figure, a darker body-haired one, a shorter one, and its quite literally taken me until my early twenties to begin to accept myself and begin enjoying my body.
I truly believe a lot of this unrequited shame was because of the lack of confident larger bodies around me, which all stemmed from, obviously, the media. Only the societal-standard beauties were in my magazines, and if they were to ever look provocative I would slut-shame them, because of my traditional/brain washed beliefs that a women shouldn’t show her body off to men like that. I didn’t know then that she can actually do whatever the hell she wants, and quite frankly it doesn’t matter who it’s for, as long as she’s feeling fantastic and in control.
With this lack of understanding and openness comes a lack of confidence in having control over your body and using it how you want, when you want, and with who you want. And when you do try and use it for the first time, you are left with shame. This is an extremely common and damaging cycle I want to help break! As Florence Given has taught me, whilst we are being objectified and sexualised from the patriarchy, I hope we’re aware that simultaneously men are making women hate each other, so we don’t realise our power and we continue to be victims.
We have been taught to have an automatic negative reaction to other women being geniuses and making money from taking ownership of their bodies. When other people are making money from sexualising us on the front cover of magazines, when we are constantly objectified from the capitalist, patriarchal society, why AN EARTH should we not turn it around and use it to our advantage. I have grown up with a very negative view of sex workers due to the beliefs of those surrounding me, but it’s people like FKA Twigs that have helped me to understand how wrong this naivety is.
I follow singer, pole-dance & previous sex worker and activist FKA Twigs on Instagram, and she highlighted some artists discussing sex workers and aims for us to have the same realisation she did; all bodies are worthy of respect. I am so thankful for the people who tell their stories and speak about their abuse and maltreatment, since without these powerful and strong women, there would be no revelation that we do not have to feel about our bodies the way society wants us too. They are beautiful and worthy of respect, and they are not up for anybodies discussion.
Exotic Cancer is an artist who also celebrates diversity and creates sex positive illustrations. She says on her Instagram, ‘We need to speak up against discrimination and injustice. We need to come together and support one another with empathy and compassion. She creates illustrations based off the discrimination from the men who go to strip shows, always showcases women who do not conform to shaving their bodies and she openly showcases womens sexuality and periods and unapologetically has dildos and pleasure tools surrounding her body. She basically represents queens, and we should all follow suit.
Platforms like Instagram are giving a new generation of women, a space to explore their sexuality on their own terms. Even before the #MeToo movement sparked long overdue discussions about sexual abuse, slut shaming, a woman’s right to choose, and the need for more consensual attitudes when it comes to sex, these erotic artists set about reclaiming and rewriting their own stories — using social media to share them. Overall, i’m super bored of people not being okay with women celebrating themselves however the hell they want. And I think these artists are going to help change the game, and I’m really excited about it.