By Emma Shakarshy – Mikhaila Nodel is a 16 year-old artist committed to spreading the message of body positivity and self-love through art. She uses zines to share this incredible message through the perspective of Cosmic Cuties, a team of empowering characters of her own creation. We were so lucky to chat with Mikhaila about her art and her journey as a young activist.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MN: My name is Mikaila and I’m a junior at an arts high school in Brooklyn called Edward R. Murrow High School. I’ve been drawing since before I can remember, but I got serious about it last year. I study in the art department and it’s a really cool community of people who support each other. My favorite medium to work in is watercolors but for Cosmic Cuties I use markers.
Who are the Cosmic Cuties and what are they all about?
MN: I kind of invented them as a species. They’re born from space dust and slow down the universe and fight sexist crime. They’re these feminist goddesses that watch over all women and are there to protect them.
How did Cosmic Cuties start?
MN: Cosmic Cuties started as an art project. A lot of my friends are insecure and a lot of teenage girls are really insecure about their bodies. I decided that I wanted to make people’s day better so I started making zines and I left copies of them in the girl’s bathroom so that people could just pick them up. I think it’s a really cool idea to make something that makes people feel better about themselves. I think that’s really important.
Why the medium of zines?
MN: I watched this documentary about a punk singer who made zines and I thought it was really cool. Also, I’m in the feminist club at my school and we had a day where we created zines. After that, I started making them monthly. They’re so easy to reproduce. You just copy them and leave them around. They’re small, too.
What has been the response of people who have picked them up?
MN: At school, people really love them. Usually, I’ll leave black and white copies around because they’re cheaper and sell color copies for a dollar to people who really like them. I was surprised that it became such a thing that people loved. People put them on tumblr and I started getting a lot of followers and it was really cool.
How has social media changed the way that you think about and spread body positivity?
MN: I follow a lot of body positivity blogs because if I’m having a bad day, it’s nice to just see stuff on my feed that makes me feel better and I think that’s true for most people. I think that social media is a really great way to show people things. Things are easier to circulate now with tumblr and facebook.
What is your personal definition of body positivity?
MN: I think that body positivity is about accepting all types of bodies without any bias. Especially in today’s society where bodies are only thought to be beautiful if they’re up to a certain “standard” and I think it’s really important that people that that standard isn’t how most people look. There’s more diversity in bodies than what is in the media.
Why do you create body positive art and what inspires your pieces?
MN: Body acceptance is really important to me because in middle school I was bullied a lot. When I got to high school, things got so much better. Since then, I’ve definitely rebuilt my self-esteem and I really want to help other people do that, too. I was in a really bad place and I know what that’s like. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.
What do you hope people will feel when they see your work?
MN: I hope that people enjoy the message and I hope it makes people feel better. I want it to touch people. I love it when someone comes to me and they found it in the bathroom or something and they’re like, “Wow. It really made me feel better and I love your zine. Please keep making them.” I guess it makes me feel great, also. After I made the first one, there were so many positive reactions.
If you could transform the media, how would you change it?
MN: I think that it’s important for not just one body type to be all over the media. And on the feminist issue, I think it’s important that women aren’t objectified so much because they’re treated as clothes hangers basically and it’s outrageous. I get so disgusted when I open a regular magazine and there are these guys in normal poses and normal clothes and the women are half-naked sprawled across them.
What’s one piece of advice you would give young activists like yourself?
MN: Keep going! Spread your word! I never would have thought that people would care about my art on the internet and I just put it out there and got so much positive response. Using the media like that is really important. Keep going, because they’ll be one person who resonates with what you’re doing and cares that you keep on going. Even if it’s just that one person, you should keep going because it’s important.
WYSK is proud to partner with Proud2Bme, an online community by and for teens who want to change the way we talk about food, weight, and body image. They are building a nation where confidence rules by taking on the body bullies. With 90% of teens affected, their mission is to stamp out bodysnarking, once and for all. This post originally appeared on Proud2Bme and is republished here with permission.