Proud2Bme | Meet The Artist: Vanessa Papastavros

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Meet The Artist: Vanessa Papastavros

We LOVE art that uplifts and empowers us, art with a message. That's why we couldn't help but stop in our Tumblr-cruising tracks when we saw the artwork of Vanessa Papastavros, or Van Scribbles. Vanessa is all about body positivity and we were so lucky to connect her with one of our teen writers, fellow body positive artist Mikhaila Nodel, for an exclusive interview!

Mikhaila Nodel: When did you start making art? Could you describe your art?

Vanessa Papastavros: I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I started taking my art a little more seriously in my final year of high school. My art is varied in style and form, but drawing is the medium I am most expressive in.  

MN: Why is body acceptance and feminism important to you? If you don't mind, could you share a bit about your own experiences with body acceptance?

VP: I have struggled with poor body image, low self-esteem and disordered eating from the onset of puberty. These factors really limited my potential to feel happiness through my teenage years. I often look back with regret when I remember how much damage I did to myself physically and psychologically in order to hold myself to a standard of perfection.

Sadly, most of the girls my age had the same insecurities and struggled with body comparisons. There were few body-positive role models in the mainstream media at that time. Body acceptance is important to me because it is not a message that people hear enough, especially for women. I want this culture to change. The negativity surrounding women’s appearances robs us of our joy, and it is not the way human beings were designed to live and thrive.

Feminism is important to me because I am a woman, and I want to see all women treated with the dignity, opportunities and respect that all human beings deserve. When it comes to body image, it has hugely empowered me. Feminism destroys the misogynistic narratives that say a woman’s value is found in her appearance and her attractiveness. It expresses the simple truth that a woman is significant because she is a human with skills and insights. Feminism helped me to accept my own body, and to appreciate it as something wonderful and worthy of celebration. It’s helped me to care less about how I look, and that is a liberating feeling.

MN: Why do you choose to express these values through art? What inspires your pieces?

VP: My art is a place for me to blow off steam, to vent and to express myself. In many ways, the body positive pieces I make are just as much an encouragement for myself as they are for others. A series I recently started, called “Back Handed Compliments” was really just a way for me to get a lot of anger off my chest. The body shaming culture perpetuated by both men and women is often passive aggressive and hard to overcome.

Usually when someone gives you a backhanded compliment, you feel offended but also powerless to protest. The drawings I made were a way for me to feel I was rejecting the insults I never responded to at the time. What surprised me was how much traction it gained, and so quickly. I hadn’t expected so many people to resonate with that post.

I’m largely inspired by the women around me who want to see realistic and empowering representations of women in society. I find all of these women beautiful, because they live fearlessly. Our media is so saturated with negative body messages that aim to put women down. I hope my art can portray a message that counters this discourse through positivity, self-acceptance and a broader idea of what beauty is and where it can be found.

MN: What is your definition of body positivity?

VP: Embracing and accepting all bodies no matter what condition they are in. Aiming for good mental and psychical health and encouraging that in others. Acknowledging that our bodies are not ornaments to be admired, but awesome machines that allow us to be live creatively.

MN: What do you hope people will feel or think when they see your art?

VP: I hope that for those with poor self-esteem, it reshapes the way they view themselves. I hope it makes them feel heard and significant. For those who body shame, even unintentionally, I hope it makes them stop and think why they are negative about other people’s appearances. At the very least, I hope it makes them question their values.

MN: If you could transform the media, what would you change?

VP: I would want to take the cattiness out of it. All of the scandal and gossip and attention-seeking articles. I would want it to be a place where less attention is paid to a person’s appearance and more focus is placed on a person’s accomplishments, ideas and opinions.

I would want the media to stop hypersexualising girls and women, and start portraying them as sentient subjects instead of erotic objects.

I would also want it to show a diverse range of people—people from all classes of life, from all cultural and racial backgrounds. I would hope that it showcases more ‘average’ people.

MN: What’s one piece of advice you would give to young body positive activists?

VP: I would be careful with what you value and how that message is expressed. The body-positive movement is great in broadening the definition of beauty to include more people — eg.“All Bodies Are Beautiful.” And this is true, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, we need to be careful that we are not putting physical beauty too high on our ‘values’ pedestal. We spend too much energy in the body-positive community trying to convince everyone that they’re beautiful, rather than deconstructing the idea that we should be valuing beauty in the first place. There are more important things than beauty and let’s not forget that. Good mental and physical health should be the top priorities.

MN: What do you hope to do with your art in the future?

VP: I am currently studying Media, Arts and Production at university so I hope to use my artistic skills to impact the media in some way. I am considering doing animation in the future.

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