Q&A with Colleen Clark

For the past little while, I’ve gotten the chance to have a virtual dialogue with Colleen Clark, self-proclaimed “illustrator and comic-maker.” Inspired by her comic “You Have Body Issues,” I knew I had to talk to her directly. Be sure to check out her illustrated Guest Post.

"You Have Body Issues" by Colleen Clark

Beginning of “You Have Body Issues” by Colleen Clark

JR: What first got you interested in illustrations?
CC: Well, I’ve always loved drawing since I was little, but what got me interested in comics for the first time was actually Sailor Moon. I remember finding the manga on the shelf when I was in first grade, and I was so excited because here was this girl superhero who was bad at school but good at kicking butt. I felt like I related to her. Until then, I had always thought comics and superheroes were for boys. In high school, when I was looking at colleges, I started realizing how fun a career in Illustration could be… and it just went from there!

JR: How did you start working on body positive cartoons? What prompted you to take such a daring stand?
CC: It was actually a class assignment in a more fine-artsy class that motivated me to make my first comic. We had to make a four-part series related to the figure, so I decided to take the prompt literally (figuratively? Ha!) and make my comic about my own relationship with my figure. I thought it would be interesting, but it did actually end up being pretty hard to do. I knew that when I brought it into class for critique, people would be looking at it knowing that I was talking about myself, and I didn’t like the possibility of my peers judging my body AND my artwork and then the two of them together. The thing is, what I’m trying to say isn’t really daring, because it’s something that women and men go through every single day. I quickly found out that almost everyone who looked at it could relate. Now I feel very comfortable talking about it and sharing my work!

JR: Have you received any hate mail? How did you overcome it?
CC: Not really, actually! I have gotten a few uninformed comments about obesity or the fact that being overweight or curvy means you are inherently unhealthy, but those are so dumb I have no issues ignoring them.  I’ve gotten a few critiques that men struggle with body issues too, which is absolutely true and something that no one should ignore. I have gotten requests to make a male equivalent, which I would love to somehow do but I don’t want to seem inauthentic and I don’t want to appropriate the feelings of a different group of people. But I see this observation as a really awesome critique and not at all hate mail!

JR: What is the most profound experience you’ve had since your art has become well known?
CC: Oh, good question. I wouldn’t consider it “well-known” or anything, but I definitely feel very lucky and flattered to be getting the attention I’ve got. Every once in a while, I’ll get a message from someone telling me that my comic described feelings that are very meaningful to them; I’ll get messages from young girls confiding to me about their eating disorders. Whenever a stranger tells me that my comic made them cry or made them look at their relationship with their body differently, I get incredibly emotional. That is, without a doubt, the best affirmation that I’m doing the right thing with my life!

JR: Where do you see yourself going with your illustrations? Do you see yourself as an artist or as an activist? Or both?
CC: It has become my goal to make comics and illustrations that women can relate to. I really think comics need more depictions of realistic, relatable women. I’d love to work in publishing or art directing for graphic novels as well as writing my own. Right now, I am developing an original story that will become a webcomic, with a bisexual woman as the main character. Other than that, I still love illustration in all forms, so I am super interested in editorial and freelance stuff. (I definitely take up commissions, if anyone is wondering!)

JR: Your most famous comic, “You Have Body Issues,” takes a very firm stand. What inspired it?
CC: At the time, I felt really affected by the constant comments I see and hear daily towards women’s appearances. I knew I wanted to talk about the annoying cultural entitlement we have to express our opinions of others’ appearances. I was struggling with my inability to weigh my worth outside of my weight. Therefore, when I made it, I wasn’t trying to take a stand as much as I was trying to give people a reminder that there are things about them that make them worthy of desire, love, and praise besides the size of their bodies.

JR: As far as body image awareness is concerned, what do you feel most strongly about? What story are you trying to tell with your body image comics?
CC: I feel very strongly that people don’t understand or choose to ignore how bad our culture is when it comes to objectifying and idealizing bodies, especially women’s bodies. In Tina Fey’s words: “the definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.” Sometimes, when I try to talk about why people call each other “fat” when they’re upset for different reasons, or why the women we see on billboards are likely starving themselves or photo shopped to look like they are, or why in every action movie, the male star is 15 or more years older than his 20-something female love interest, people either don’t care or don’t think it’s a problem. I would love to tell the stories of women who don’t fall into the very narrow descriptions that modern culture deems worthy.

JR: What has shocked you the most in the area of body image activism? Have you discovered any new theories that completely changed your outlook?
CC: I’m pretty cynical, so I’m not really shocked by ignorance or misogyny directed towards people’s bodies anymore. Same with how pervasive body issues are. But I do get surprised on the opposite side of the continuum often. There seem to be a lot of people fighting for size-inclusiveness in media, and I see a lot of straight men commenting that they desire this as well. I think over the past few years, my outlook has changed from the ignorant “real women have curves” to the much wiser “all bodies are real bodies” philosophy. When I was a teenager, I felt such passionate envy towards the girls around me who had these tiny bodies that I forgot to see them as people who had their own struggles with their bodies and self-worth. I strongly urge all women to fight for each other, because we are all struggling!

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