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Maisie Cousins, Dazed
Photography Maisie Cousins, styling Kylie Griffiths, hair Oliver Amodio, make-up Robyn Fitzsimons

Why we should embrace our bodies’ ‘ugly bits’

Fighting the good fight against clickbait feminism and ‘nice’ photos: Maisie Cousins gives a masterclass in photographing imperfection

London-based photographer Maisie Cousins is obsessed with slimy textures, oozing bodily fluids and ambiguous liquids, especially when they collide with flesh. Steering away from polite representations of the female body, Cousins is privy to shots that confuse and disgust, melding ideas about feminism, nature, impulse and arousal in her stunningly vibrant portraits. The 23-year-old artist started blogging her photos at 15 as a means to escape school, but her visceral work eventually got scooped up by major projects and exhibitions, namely Petra Collins’ girl tome Babe and the November edition of Late at Tate Britain. At the moment, Cousins is gripped by nature’s inherent perfection and its ability to withstand the grotesque. “I’m obsessed with shooting nature with disgusting things, because I think it’s impossible to make nature look ugly,” she muses. Below, the photographer breaks down how to capture the intersection between beauty and repulsion, imperfection and purity – where flaws become weirdly attractive.

“Our bodies are living, breathing, slimy entities… They’re not polite objects” – Maisie Cousins


“For most young women, we’ve had moments where we just don’t really associate our bodies with positive things. Sometimes I wake up and ask, ‘Is this really my body?’ You can’t read the newspaper without ten articles to do with something about the body. It’s like we’re living in this freaky game show and no one fully owns their bodies; it’s public property. My work has helped me normalise nudity. When you’re 15, for example, all you see is the most ridiculous imagery of nudity – you don’t really see yourself or your peers and you don’t really know what your friends look like naked. Representing all those little things that help you normalise really normal things… like being naked.

“However, people feel like they own you as soon as you show them any piece of flesh, they feel like they own the right to talk to you about it, to look at it and even to touch it, it’s bizarre. So, I think my models coming to me with consent and saying they want to be naked is incredible. It’s saying, ‘This is mine, this is what I’ve got, you can look at it and that’s all you can do.’”


“I think I’m really gross, my parents also say that I was quite a gross child. I think there needs to be a word for arousal that doesn’t have to do with sex, something that motivates you to do something bodily like picking a spot, picking your nose, or smelling your fart. All those things are so natural, gross and not spoken about and I think that’s why they’re kind of exciting to me, those gross little things that people think are impolite or rude. What’s the point of taking a nice picture? There is no need for me to appeal to nice – I’m not making an advert for a perfume! I’m not interested in nice things; I like grossing myself out.”


“All feminism interests me, I’m here for all of it. It’s not feminism that’s a problem at all, it’s not feminist art either – it’s the platforms that suck it up. It’s become commercial, it’s just making profit from a theme or a trend and the money is going to people who definitely aren’t feminists! It’'s terrible when you see online clothing shops with all these t-shirts and silly slogans like this one I saw the other day that said ‘ban the bra’. For fuck’s sake, I need my bra! That’s not liberating, that’s going to make me feel awful. They’re just picking up on things and trying to sell it to you, no thought goes into it.”

“If people’s attitude towards vaginas had progressed in any way, we probably wouldn’t need to take pictures of flowers that represent vaginas to make us feel more positive about them” – Maisie Cousins


“Our bodies make lot of slimy, greasy textures, and that’s really funny to me. I mean, whenever someone mentions the word discharge, people are like, ‘Urggh!’ But I’m not fazed by it. I take a lot of pictures of myself on my phone when I sneeze and I’m amazed at what comes out of my nose! And we’re told that’s disgusting. I mean, it kind of is, but I think that’s quite interesting and it offers space to discuss our bodily taboos. Those fluids and ooziness bring you back to nature. We all produce and emit things. We’re made to look like these hard objects but we’re soft. Our bodies are living, breathing, slimy entities… They’re not polite objects.”


“It’s sad because if you look at a lot of feminist art, we’re doing a lot of the same things that feminists were doing in the 80s, probably even before, and you think, ‘Why are these themes still around?’

And you get a lot of people thinking, ‘Oh, this feminist art is boring, it’s all the same stuff, just flowers and vaginas’, but there’s a reason for that. It’s because these things are still a problem, we still feel like we need to talk about them. If people’s attitude towards vaginas had progressed in any way, we probably wouldn’t need to take pictures of flowers that represent vaginas to make us feel more positive about them. I just don’t think anything has changed socially enough for us to progress in themes. It’s always us who get blamed. Feminist artists get blamed for not covering wide enough subjects, but the problem still stands that in order to move, people need to change their views.”

Shoot styled by Kylie Griffiths, hair Oliver Amodio, make-up Robyn Fitzsimons