The Artist Tackling Taboos with Her Gorgeous Illustrations
Ariella Elovic is a New York City-based illustrator who uses her work to talk about and celebrate being a woman. And that means all parts of being a woman, including pooping, bleeding, growing body hair, and every other normal, everyday bodily function that we're not supposed to talk about. Emboldened by her close group of lady friends from childhood camp, Ariella creates highly personal works that dive deep into her own body and mindset around it on her blog, Cheeky. All of her work is incredibly inventive and brutally honest, and much of it will have you chortling "Me too!" in a way that rarely shows up in illustration, art, or public discourse. Below, she shares more about the inspiration behind her work, the ladies who inspire her, and just what it's like to open up the way that she does.
In your own words, how would you describe your work?
My illustrations are painterly and journalistic, often including handwritten anecdotes/commentary. Favorite subjects include personal stories, spunky New Yorkers with their dogs, and my peculiar snacking habits.
How and when did you start illustrating?
I’ve been drawing/painting for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I spent most of my free time immersed in creative projects -- making portraits of friends, collaging, filling sketchbooks etc. I went on to study illustration in college.
What kind of reactions have you gotten to Cheeky?
The reactions to Cheeky have been so inspiring. I’ve teamed up with kickass women-led brands like What’s In Your Box, and some of my work has been featured by platforms I grew up following -- like Teen Vogue. Most importantly, though, I’ve gotten some awesome feedback and support from Cheeky readers. Some of the stories I’m putting out there are sticky points for me -- aspects of myself that I’ve always been self-conscious about. Getting a message that I’ve related to someone and made them feel more at home in their bodies is truly the best part of my day. We’re all working through similar insecurities. I also love to see the comment sections explode with advice. That’s what Cheeky is all about, getting the conversation going.
Credit: Ariella Elovic
Can you share a little more about how your group of female friends from camp inspired you to talk about bodily functions and issues like this?
Growing up together and experiencing our bodies change over the course of 15 years created such a candid closeness. In sharing our personal experiences, we created such a special and safe space that enables each of us to embrace our bodies more wholly -- period globs, jiggly thighs, lip hair and all! Our most horrifically embarrassing period stories are now legends, and I often wake up to text messages surveying the group about some mysterious bodily function I didn’t realize other people had. The goal with Cheeky is to get rid of the shame and isolation so many of us feel in relation to our bodies. Getting to know your own body can sometimes be scary -- that first glance at your vagina can be a bit of a shocker, and leaving a period stain on a white couch is not going to be highlight of anyone’s life. The point is, we have all been there. Or will be there. There is a lot of power in sharing and connecting on those moments.
Your #MightyMenstruation series features portraits of feminist heroes, depicted on the toilet, with a reminder that “she got her period.” What’s the inspiration behind this series?
I wanted some way to celebrate and help lift that shame connected to menstruation. My thought was that depicting kickass folks who menstruate would do one of two things: 1) shed a positive light on periods and 2) demonstrate that menstruating doesn’t make any of us less productive/reliable/respectable.
Is there one topic or illustration that resonates the most with other women? If so, what is it, and why do you think it has such an impact?
From what I can tell, it’s mostly the taboo topics of body hair, period blood, and farting that resonate most. I think because those are the aspects of female life that most of us grow up hiding. We shave, stuff and line ourselves with tampons/pads to block anyone (sometimes ourselves) from catching glimpse of period blood, and fear the day we fart out loud in front of other people. Speaking to my own experience as a woman, there has been a pattern of denying some of my pretty basic human traits. A sense of alienation that my body is on display in some way, open to judgement at all times.
Most of your illustrations and writing on Cheeky are incredibly personal, like when you gave a deep dive into your mindset around blowjobs. How does it feel to make these things public for anyone on the internet to read?
Yes, that one in particular was tough piece put out there (and I cringe a little at the thought of my parents reading it). Sometimes it’s a scary process to share these personal stories, and sometimes it’s thrilling -- seeing others relate is huge for me and is helping me more comfortable with that vulnerability.
What has been the hardest thing to share about yourself through your illustrations?
The blowjob piece was definitely the hardest to share. I’m finding anything related to my sexuality is a bit tough -- something I’m curious to get to the bottom of. I’m giving myself the space to feel shy about it though, only sharing if/when I feel good about it.
Check out all of Ariella's work on her blog, Cheeky.