DoubleTap: Ariella Elovic’s Cheeky Illustrations

DoubleTap is an interview series highlighting artists whose work explores sex, body, and identity.

 

From plucking one’s nipple hairs to having anxiety about pooping while on vacation, Ariella Elovic’s illustrations look like they were ripped from the pages of a teenage diary; it’s no surprise her candid scribbles for her project, Cheeky, are quickly becoming an Instagram favorite.

Elovic draws inspiration from some of her most personal anecdotes, combatting societal shame with clever humor that’s laugh out loud funny. In this way, her illustrations serve as palatable commentary on body insecurities and the ways in which stigma can hold us back from living our collective truth.

In this interview, we speak with the artist about her work and what she hopes viewers will take away from seeing this project.

 

What inspired you to launch this project?

AE: My work on Cheeky is inspired by the women in my life and the conversations we have about our bodies. Through connecting on shared and personal experiences, I began to feel a lot more at home in my skin—upper lip hair, jiggly thighs, period globs and all. I hope my illustrations spark similar conversations and help alleviate some of the shame and isolation so many of us feel in relation to our bodies.

 

How long have you been developing this body of work? How do you hope to grow this series in the future?

I launched Cheeky about five months ago, but I’ve been ruminating on these ideas for a while. Initially, I was working on a series of illustrations about my personal journey with IBS, and found that I kept wanting to go off on tangents. Poop became period poops and period poops became period leaks, long pubes, and nipple hair etc. I’d love to turn this series into a book, that’ll be my next big project. Some cute Cheeky pins would be fun, too.

 

What is your process for creating these illustrations? 

Most of the work I make for Cheeky draws from my personal life, thoughts or insecurities I have—typically if it’s something I’m embarrassed to tell other people, it’s something I push myself to share. I was pretty embarrassed about my nipple hairs a year ago and now it feels (almost) as normal as having eyebrows.

 

Do you draw from real life? Do you make these digitally or by hand?

I paint everything by hand using gouache, and then scan and touch up a bit in Photoshop. All notes are handwritten in pencil. Painting myself also makes it pretty easy in terms of needing reference imagery. I’ve got a pretty incriminating series of selfies/mirror pics.

 

What has surprised you most about doing illustrations around body image and identity?

I’m surprised by how much I’m sharing in public—granted, it’s illustrations and not photos of my bare body—but a lot of what I paint has been on topics I would have never dared share in the past. This work has really helped me process and embrace my own insecurities.

 

How do you use your artwork to champion inclusion, diversity, body and sex positivity?

Sharing personal stories highlights how unique we all are, but also all that we share. We all have self-doubt, we all have felt rejection, we all have felt judged (either by ourselves or by others). When I use Cheeky to communicate a vulnerability, I hope it encourages folks to be kinder to both themselves and those around them. Empathy can be hard to practice, but it’s so incredibly important. Especially now.

 

What do you hope viewers will take away from seeing your illustrations?

I hope viewers relate to the work in some way, laugh, and feel less alone because of our shared experience. Ultimately, I want Cheeky to instill this sense of connecting to your body, yourself, and really owning it. Speaking to my personal experience as a teenage/college-age girl, I spent a lot of time making myself look the way I thought I should look (read: contorting my body to bleach all my dark arm hair and wearing spanx under jeans, both incredibly uncomfortable). Letting go of that pressure and stress is hard—and a process—but I’m getting there and Cheeky is helping.

 

You can follow Ariella Elovic on Instagram here and find more of her work at thecheekyblog.com.

My First Time In A Janitor’s Closet

*The following content is of a sensitive nature and may be triggering to some. 

 

I’m sixteen years old and scrubbing the lingering scent of you off my body in the shower. I am scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing away, trying to get rid of you. I push the loofah down into my skin, harder, and a few drops of blood trickles down into the drain. I don’t feel anything. This is not what I was expecting, not how I was supposed to feel after my first time.

I scrub faster but there is no soap left and I look down to realize I’ve been gripping the sponge so hard my knuckles have turned white. My skin seems pale and I have not eaten all day—to look good for you. I didn’t even realize you wouldn’t be able to see me.

I am sixteen years old and have just lost my virginity and my sanity, but no one told me that it would be like this. No one told me about the various positions or the pain. No one told me that you’d rip my brand new lace panties, or that I wouldn’t stop bleeding for days. No one told me that there wouldn’t be soft lighting, music, or flowers. No one told me what happens in the movies after the lights go down.

I close my eyes and I am back in that room. I’m underneath the stairs where no one ever checks, overlooked by students and teachers alike: the perfect hiding spot. Aw yeah, you like that? Your voice echoes, never checking for an answer. I guess it was rhetorical. But I didn’t like it.  No one ever told me if I would like it or even if I should have. No one brought it up, as if it were already decided, as if my pleasure was never even considered. To you, I know it wasn’t.

I lean back, into the rainfall of the showerhead above, and I picture myself there, on the ground. I see myself: bruising my knees, without so much as a kiss, touch, or hint of foreplay. You didn’t want a girl, just a doll. I see an all-too-young memory, a silhouette of myself: tossed and turned, propped up and bent over at your discretion. And in that moment, in that shower, for the rest of that night and that year, I never knew that it could be any different. I wasn’t sure that it could get any better.

* * *

As a young woman, I was taught about sex in two ways: either not at all, or implicitly. What about health class? What about sex-ed? Of course, growing up I had both, but I wouldn’t say I learned about sex. I learned about periods and pregnancy in relation to sex, the act, just being the end to the former and the start of the latter. I learned about ways I could catch deadly diseases or become a statistic for rising teen pregnancy. I learned about date-rape drugs, wearing appropriate attire as to not ‘ask for it,’ and how to insert a tampon. Condoms and other contraceptives were brought up, but again, as part of the patronizing don’t-get-pregnant-and-die rhetoric.

Masturbation was a word I never learned from a teacher, parent, or friend, but instead through the internet and TV. I barely knew it existed, and I certainly did not know it could apply to me, that was just something boys did. My first real introduction to sex didn’t come until I googled Kim Kardashian’s sex tape after hearing about it on an episode of E! News—fascinating. Other than that, all the depictions I saw of sex made up for what they lacked in realism with overblown romantics. I thought I would marry my high school sweetheart. I thought he would love me forever. I thought sex involved some kind of massage oil and a George Michael song. Imagine my surprise when it ended up being a bunch of raunchy Facebook messages and a clandestine meeting in the janitor’s closet.

Imagine my shock when I had never seen a penis in real life, and suddenly had one stuffed down my throat with no warning. I’ll always remember how he didn’t kiss me—not once throughout the entire interaction, and not ever in the countless sexual interactions we had over the course of a year.

The worst part? I always thought to myself, maybe this is just how it goes. Maybe this is just what sex is.  Someone else had entered my body before I even got the chance to know it myself; I had never seen my own vagina nor could I even tell you my own sexual anatomy beyond that.  And I stayed in that relationship out of the kind of harmful sexual naiveté that made me believe that my own self-worth and pleasure was secondary to satisfying a male partner. I never brought it up, I never asked. I accepted how I was treated because I knew nothing different, and I was convinced it was better to be wanted (even if that meant being used) than to be alone.

* * *

Now, I’m turning twenty and I can look back and understand the abusive nature of that first relationship, both sexually and emotionally. But I have listened to stories far too similar and much worse. I have hugged too many broken young women, crying about boys they thought they could trust. I have too many friends that are survivors of sexual harassment, assault, and toxic relationships; I know too many women who were never taught to value, prioritize, or assert their own sexuality.

Now, it’s 2018 and it’s not enough to stop teaching kids abstinence-only education. What comes after that? Passing out free condoms and avoiding anything that falls under the umbrella of “promiscuous” does not equal liberal sex education. It is 2018 and girls are still taught that sex is meant to be romantic while boys strive to emulate the “harder, faster, aw yeah you like that?” approach of porn. But other paths exist, ones where women are not educated as mothers-to-be-or-not-to-be but instead as empowered sexual beings, exploring and voicing their own sexual interests. There is a future where men are not taught only to dominate, but to connect and communicate with their partners—whether they are sleeping with someone for a night or for a year.

When I had sex for the first time, I did not have sex. Really, sex was had with me. A boy got off from the use of my body, and I gave it to him under the false pretense of love, or at least, validation. It wasn’t assault, it wasn’t rape, but it wasn’t right. If that’s sex, it’s not the kind I want myself, or any woman, to be having. It’s time to move away from the tired binary of love for girls and lust for guys. It’s time to push for inclusive and complex discussion, starting in schools, in sex-ed, in health classes, of what sex is and can be: beautiful, natural, and hot for everyone involved.

 

For Future Fat Femmes

From makeup to hair to fashion, since finishing high school I’ve gravitated towards all things femme. I obsessed over the empathy that femme people possessed, as well as with their innate sense for caring, loving, and nurturing. I remember growing up and always thinking to myself that those were the traits I wanted to convey… that no matter what, I’d be in touch with my feminine side.

It wasn’t until the age of 17 that I discovered I was non-binary. This was interesting because while it distanced me from masculinity, it also distanced me from my femininity. Originally, I identified as genderfluid (under the non-binary spectrum) for about three years, trying to maintain the switch between masc and femme. However, since I’ve started dressing more femme, I’ve found myself spending hundreds of dollars on makeup, and buying “women’s” clothing for the first time in my life. It’s the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in my skin, making me wonder why it took me so long to get to this point? Eventually, though, it became clear: I’ve actually always loved femininity, just not on my body.

When I first moved to the states from Liberia, my mother clung onto the health culture here for dear life. I have this memory of her telling me not to use any of my sisters’ body wash, and to stay far away from anything containing lavender. It would “make me grow tehteh,” meaning it would make me develop breasts (of course, now I’ve come to discover that studies at the time, later debunked, suggested lavender was estrogenic). My mother’s generation would often say things like this; things that brought down the power that femininity had to offer.

My mother would want my sisters to recognize their inner femme beings, but never relish in it. However, when it came to any other aspects of womanliness, my culture would demonize it if a cisgender woman wasn’t directly attached. The lavender memory never reigned significant in my young mind because I was gaining weight at the time, so I just assumed it was about my mom not wanting me to get fat. Sure enough, it was both. She’d say things like, “None of my brothers are fat!” followed with, “You’re meant to be tall and slim!” all coupled with, “Boy childs don’t have tehteh.” Once again, I let it all go believing it was simply part of the West African mother schtick—or their pièce de résistance, if you will.

Jumping into my freshman year of high school, after years of fluctuating weight, I had successfully grown visible breasts. My body was pretty thick overall, but my chest was noticeably prominent for some damn reason. It bothered me, however, I always felt fine in my body—never at home—but fine.

I remember sitting in class one time talking over a substitute teacher when someone cracked a joke about how I should wear a bra because my chest was so big. Like a switch, I started crying immediately in front of all of my peers. They began to apologize, saying:

“I was only kidding!”

“It was just a joke!” 

“They’re not even that big!”

Afterwards, I realized I didn’t know why I started crying or why I was upset, all I knew was that I would hide them at all costs. Even when I came out as genderfluid, I tried to hide them. Then it dawned on me: I resented my breasts on my “male” body, a body that I didn’t even want. 

For about a year now, I’ve started accepting my breasts along with all the femme changes happening in my life. I realized that the transphobia combined with the fatphobia in my early life kept me from living my truth for so long—and that is so scary. These two bigoted belief systems are prominent in almost everyone’s life from a young age, and they’re molding minds to believe such features are unwelcome in our bodies. There are misogynistic undertones behind them, too.

It is crucial that we all know that femininity is beautiful. Your back rolls are beautiful. Your cellulite is beautiful. Your stretch marks are beautiful. Fat is more than what people make of it for you… after all, it’s a part of you. You can’t let societal boundaries reign you in, it’s your truth you’re living at the end of the day. Femme is fierce. Femme is kind. Femme is diverse. Femme is love.