Harry Sofokleous (He/him)
Social media has become a massive catalyst for social and cultural change in our generation. Budding activists can incite revolutionary change for any cause through these platforms, be it economic, political or cultural. My Roommate, Autumn, is one of those activists, using her platform on Instagram (@cherie_studios) to broadcast the women’s perspective on gender inequality, body image and female empowerment. Making sure not to beat around the bush with her message, she showcases the uglier side of these topics. Something that’s creating a dialogue between us about just how different our perspectives are as a woman and a man.
“The work comes from the standpoint of everything that’s been internalized by women in this generation and all the things that you have to be aware of… Taboo subjects that can’t be discussed without backlash – there’s always a weird objective to shut topics down and dismiss them. Coming out of lockdown you realize how significant opinions are and how much needs to be changed and spoken about.”
“If anything, your work brought awareness to me as a guy to these topics and the things that women deal with but just can’t share openly… I’ve had discussions with others about spiking drinks; more often than not it dissolves to a male lead conversation – men responding with stories of guys who spike each other for fun, and how it’s ‘not just an issue for women’. Sure, both are horrible situations, but it feels like two extremely different conversations – ones that shouldn’t be spoken about with the same severity, or directly compared”.
Inspired by her own experiences and the activist work of other feminists, Autumn’s been able to find her loudest voice through this series of work. Something she wanted to do for years but felt incredibly stigmatised for speaking up.
“There’s another massive wave of feminism with the openness from social media that allows it to be more encouraged. Women are starting to take back the female body to bring awareness and subvert the male gaze after all this time. You just don’t realize how suppressed it is until it’s laid out in front of you… Coming from fine art and having an all-female peer group, it was crazy coming to uni – the change from that upbringing made me silence a lot of my thoughts because of the new social norms and working under terms of ‘equalism’”.
Subversion of the male gaze has become a focal point of Autumn’s message. Actively against the sexist male-centric views of beauty, she’s bringing the essence of the individual to her pieces.
“’The Guerrilla Girls billboard campaign’ is an iconic piece to me. ‘76% of female creators have to be naked to get into a museum’. The female body is always shown through the male gaze – women are working towards the male gaze just to succeed in their creative fields.”
Through her imagery, more conventionally attractive body types are cut to support the theme of finding beauty in your own body – and as a result, representing and celebrating efforts of self-empowerment over conforming to modern beauty standards.
“The gaze feels like a very active negative pressure for women and weirdly just women. With ‘hot girl summer’ and the whole concept of trying to conform to a conventional body type as a fad… It seems insane to me that crazes like that exist. That idea of body positivity is so much more inclusive for men. We get a lot more representation and acceptance from our body types. Just look at the general acceptance of dad bods, gym lads or taller, skinner men in media. Again, women get that representation, but with a key difference: Variety in men feels accepted; variety in women, fetishised. It comes from an incredibly different context.”
“The mentality behind that is an issue. It’s fine to pursue that body type but to portray it as exclusively a ‘hot girl summer’ body is detrimental. Anyone with any body type can fall under that and it’s all just about embracing who you want to be. The idea of hot girl summer was originally that – to love yourself.”
Unfortunately, social media allows for just as much ignorance as activism – it’s embarrassingly easy to overlook these issues as a man. Because I have those luxuries and privileges already, I could effortlessly go about my day without noticing how destructive my behaviour might be to others. Autumn’s message and the conversation it sparked helped me take a more active role in this discussion. It helped equip me with the ability to identify and deal with problems within these topics as they appear. Proof of how important it is to utilise these platforms as a voice for change; proof that it’s creating change.
Words: Harry Sofokleous, Storehouse Content Team, @albumsforears
Illustrations: Autumn Bowler, Year 3 Animation, @cherie_studios