Using illustration to combat taboos around the female body

This 23-year-old illustrator is championing body positivity in the hopes of finding solidarity with women around her

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Frances Cannon
"Hello Body"Illustration by Frances Cannon

Surfing her own crimson wave, illustrator Frances Cannon wants to change the way we talk about menstruation. From her “Monsoon Season” piece, which sees a woman showering Mother Nature’s monthly gift down on a small village, to the bleeding woman in “I am powerful”, the 23-year-old challenges conventional beauty ideologies.

The depiction of menstruation throughout art history has been a portrayal of women weak in form, as they were labelled ‘monstrous less-than-women creatures’ and forced to hide in shame for bleeding. But as Frances confronts these genderised degradations, her artwork creates a celebration for women everywhere. Here, she talks to us about challenging the taboo surrounding the naked female body and how illustration has helped her to do just that.

We’ve seen a lot of artists photographing and depicting periods – how do your illustrations enable you to break down the boundaries that photography perhaps can’t do? 

Frances Cannon: I feel that because my drawings have a certain element of innocence and playfulness, they are able to tackle more controversial subjects (like periods) more smoothly and with less of the “that’s so gross” comments (though those still happen too). When I started drawing illustrations focused on body positivity about two years ago, I wanted to challenge the taboo surrounding the naked female body. Since then I started to illustrate topics like sex, masturbation and periods, to provoke thought and also to normalise women’s bodies and bodily functions. The female body isn’t a mysterious, magical thing that should be hidden away and never talked about! It should be celebrated and understood and studied and loved.

Why do you think it’s important to share experiences like this, and do you think your artwork has broken down the barriers for women to do so? 

Frances Cannon: I think that all art needs to come from a place of honesty and vulnerability. My artwork is very personal and each drawing is like a diary entry. I feel that it is important for me to illustrate experiences that I go through every day – whether physical experiences or emotional experiences. Sharing these experiences is a way of finding solidarity with other women.

“All my drawings are daily reminders (to myself and to others) that it’s ok to have bodily functions, it’s ok to have emotions, it’s ok to have bodies that are different or that society doesn’t consider beautiful. It’s ok to be human” – Frances Cannon

From almost-nude selfies to your illustration of body hair, what is it that makes you want to celebrate female empowerment and our bodies? 

Frances Cannon: I grew up disliking my body and only just recently (in the last year or so) have I decided to fully celebrate and embrace my body. This has been a freeing and exhilarating experience and by sharing these feelings and moments on social media I hope to inspire other women to embrace and love their bodies too!

Why do you feel now is the time women can express how they feel about periods and body hair? 

Frances Cannon: We have reached a point in our society that many men and women (including celebrities and people who are looked up to) are speaking out about their feminism. I think that society is finally pushing for equality. Even though there are still so many people stuck in the habit of criticising and comparing women’s bodies, there are enough people fighting for change (one hairy armpit selfie at a time) that we are moving forward.

Talk to us about why illustration makes it your preferred method of doing this?

Frances Cannon: When I draw I am at my most honest. I allow mistakes to happen and find that the ‘mistakes’ are what make the drawings so beautiful and real. I paint and sculpt and make videos as well, but drawing is the most portable and quickest art form for me. It’s the fastest way to put my ideas onto paper. It’s easy for me to draw while I’m travelling or away from home as all I need with me is a sketchbook and a pen (and my phone so that I can share the drawings on Instagram if need be).

You talk about loving and accepting your body a lot. Are your illustrations a solution to helping yourself and other women love who they are?

Frances Cannon: Yes! My drawings started out as little love notes to myself; encouraging myself to accept my body and treat it kindly and with love. All my drawings are daily reminders (to myself and to others) that it’s ok to have bodily functions, it’s ok to have emotions, it’s ok to have bodies that are different or that society doesn’t consider beautiful. It’s ok to be human.

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