Marcela Sabiá’s drawings may have a dreamy quality to them, but they are firmly rooted in reality. She uses crayons to draw women with pastel-hued acne breakouts, stretch marks, and armpit hair — participating in the ever-growing body positivity movement. With her soft aesthetic, Marcela strives to change society’s tendency to label the natural qualities and functions of our bodies, especially women’s bodies, “ugly.” For example, her chart of diverse nipple sizes and colors underscores the fact that every pair of boobs is different, and that’s okay.
The São Paulo-based artist accompanies her drawings with messages of support: “Just wanted to remind you that having acne doesn’t make you unloving, unworthy, or dirty,” she writes on one post. “It’s part of being human and we are so much more than our skin.”
Marcela’s Instagram page,which has over 33,000 followers, offers her followers a much-needed break from the photoshopped images flooding their feeds and points out how harmful our beauty ideals actually are, and how important it is to break free of them.
“I’ve always had a lot of beauty ideals that’ve brought about a lot of suffering,” Marcela tells i-D over email. She knows first-hand how painful changing your physical attributes to “fit in” can be. “I alway thought the volume of my hair was ugly and I wanted it to be straight. I did several aggressive treatments for it and I even had severe burns to the scalp.” But now, she has learned to tap into her insecurities to fuel her creativity. “All of this influences my work because I so badly want to deconstruct these ideas,” she writes. “Not only in my mind, but also the minds of other girls who put themselves down for these things like I did.”
Marcela wants women to accept their bodies just as they are, pimples and all.
What made you focus on illustrating and casting a positive light on “flaws” like acne?
At first, my own self-esteem! I was insecure and needed to feel better, so I made the drawings to cheer myself up. I was very surprised and happy to see the enormous positive feedback from people who felt represented by the illustrations. That’s when it became my focus.
What do you hope to challenge about our beauty ideals?
I really like to explore ideas that need to be deconstructed about our bodies, mental health, and relationships. There is still a lot of prejudices in relation to these issues and I would like to see more people speaking freely about their experiences — without fear of judgment.
How does it feel to see movements like #AcnePositivity become popular on social media?
Honestly, it's exciting for me. Social media has always been used to promote an idea of perfection: beautiful people, happy all the time, and free of problems, which has always bothered me a lot. We do not have perfectly smooth skin, there is no Photoshop in real life. Seeing these kinds of movements makes me optimistic because we're finally getting the guts to talk about reality. We are not perfect, we have insecurities, cellulite, acne, bad days, and it is okay. There is positivity and beauty in it.
Do you think our society is becoming better at accepting things like body hair and acne on women, or worse?
I believe it's becoming better, but it is a time-consuming process, which is natural because we have been taught to see many of these characteristics in an extremely negative way. But there are a lot of wonderful women advocating for society to change, which is pretty cool. It's something we still need to work hard for, internally and externally.
Your work contains a very distinctive and powerful "feminine" quality to it. Is this a conscious style choice?
At first, it was not something so conscious. I believe that artists always express what exists in their souls and by creating I could realize the deep connection I have always had with the female universe — the beauty, the challenges. Everything women need to deal with is something that interests me a lot.
What is like being an artist in Brazil? What has it been like to establish an international audience?
Being an artist in Brazil is definitely not easy. I think we still have little recognition and our culture does not value art as it should. It's still seen as a “hobby” for many. As a third-world country, I think we do not have much opportunity to get in touch with our artistic side since we have thousands of people who have not had their basic needs met. So to receive international recognition is very significant for me, and honestly what gave me the opportunity to work doing what I like.
This article originally appeared on i-D.