There’s a lot of naked women in art museums. From proud Greek goddesses to anonymous lounging muses, female nudes line the walls of hallowed institutions across the world. Most of the paintbrushes behind these world-famous works were held by men, but online – thanks to the rise of social media – young women are taking back control. Blanca Schofield Legorburo is a Modern Languages student and artist based between London, Dublin and Cambridge. She runs the @evetakinganude Instagram account, sharing vibrant floral paintings of real nudes submitted by members of the public. Blanca’s artwork merges portraiture and self-portraiture, empowering her subjects in their own depiction: “Women contact me, usually on Instagram, and I tell them how to send me their photos securely. I then ask them what their favourite colours and flowers are and try to paint them in the style that they want because I think it should be a collaborative project. They tell me what they want me to put in the caption and I then post the painting.”
Through her work, Blanca is reclaiming and redefining the female nude, breaking down power imbalances between artist and subject: “Nudes are so present in art, but how often in the past were models given a voice or the opportunity to pose how they want?” Blanca has “always loved art and painting”, though she stopped for a few years while at school “because of all the pressures and expectations.” She fully reembraced artwork, however, while on her year abroad: “I had quite a lot going on in my personal life in 2019, and then, of course, the pandemic struck in 2020, and activities like painting really helped me not get too overwhelmed. I was painting a lot of flowers and then started trying to capture my body in the bath so as to start looking at it more lovingly, especially at my body hair!” The Eve Taking a Nude project was born early in the pandemic: “During lockdown in London, I continued painting myself nude and one of the pieces happened to be under some flowers. It looked like a contemporary manifestation of Eve in the Garden of Eden so I joked to myself, and then to my friends over text – lol it’s Eve taking a nude. And I just loved that idea! I realised really quickly that I wanted to share that concept online so the next day I made the Instagram account and people started asking me to paint them.”
Asked about her specific focus on the body, Blanca tells me: “I was at school before the MeToo movement, and the sexism and slut-shaming we experienced was absolutely horrendous… Because of this sexist environment, I never embraced my sexuality for myself when I was growing up. I never took photos of myself or painted myself and I always felt quite shy and ashamed of my body.” Painting her own naked body, then, was “really exciting”. “It definitely de-mystified being naked”, she tells me, adding: “This isn’t to say I’ve arrived at a perfect relationship with being naked and my body, but I definitely do feel better. I wanted to encourage other people to look at themselves for themselves, trying to rid our minds of the incessant male, capitalist, pressurising gaze.”
“I hope my art provides solace and power for women to love and heal their bodies and reject any sexualisation that they don’t want, but there is still so much more to be done! Gender non-conforming people need to be welcomed and embraced more in general body positivity movements… I would love to diversify my page even more, painting people with different body types and from different cultures and backgrounds, in clothes and without.”
Illustrator Mayara Moraes describes herself as “a mother, an artist, a feminist, and a Brazilian”. In her own words, her work “illustrates female magic”. She’s been drawing ever since childhood, and tells me she’s always focused on female figures. “After I became a mother”, she says, “I saw in maternity the strength and power of our bodies. I started to draw on my phone as a hobby and after seeing the interest of other people, mainly other women, I decided to share my work on the Internet.” Thus, @lalunailustra was born, spotlighting powerful bodies of all different forms, shapes and sizes. From pregnancy and periods to the physical signs of old age, Mayara doesn’t shy away from reality, instead seeking to uncover the beauty of our vitality – the marks that prove we’re alive.
“The female nude has always existed in art, but I could tell that there were certain patterns, generally white and European, and that many women couldn’t recognize themselves in that pattern. I like to draw different women and bodies, portraying all types of beauty and highlighting the plurality that exists in all of us.” Explaining the vision behind her artwork, Mayara tells me: “I think it’s important to highlight all types of bodies and shapes, especially given that we live in a patriarchal society, where beauty standards hurt and injure many women.”
Charlotte Wilcox is a full-time freelance illustrator based in Oxford. She’s been drawing “since I could hold a pencil”, but discovered her passion for depicting the human body while at college, having taken some life drawing classes in the hope of building her artistic skills. “Something that really surprised me [about life drawing] was that it made me realise how different women’s bodies were. It helped me a lot with my self-esteem and learning to love my own body.”
Charlotte’s vivid illustrations spotlight the beauty of reality, complete with stretch marks, body hair, and tampon strings. In the past, as she points out, female nudes have often catered explicitly to the male gaze. “The bodies were always smooth and showed no hair, no cellulite or stretch marks… In today’s world, the new generation of body positive and nude artists on Instagram aren’t afraid to show those details, but embrace and celebrate them.”
Charlotte had already been sharing illustrations online for many years before branching out into explicitly body positive artwork. “It was really terrifying to start posting body positive art for me… I started posting nude illustrations in 2019 and at the time I was still very vulnerable, insecure, and had a lot of issues with my own body.” The response, however, has been “really amazing and completely overwhelming, I get so many comments from women saying they can relate to my art and feel like the bodies shown in my illustrations are similar to their own, which makes me so happy.”
“Although social media has been a huge part of creating harmful beauty standards”, she says, “it is also being used to change them”, making diverse and body positive art “accessible to everyone”.
Speaking of the importance of body positivity in art, Charlotte says simply: “We deserve to love our bodies.” Mayara adds, “I think it’s important for us to recognize ourselves in art, because body positivity increases our self-esteem and our power.”
Blanca echoes this:“Everyone should feel comfortable in their skin – why hasn’t this cliché been actualised yet?”