Georgia Small’s Instagram page is filled with headless, half-naked bodies, their selfie-snatching phones featured prominently. They’re the brightly coloured, artistic illustrations that make up Project Secret Selfie, an Instagram-only series that encourages people (over 18) to submit their nude selfies to be reinterpreted as a drawing as an act of self-empowerment. We connected with the Australian artist over e-mail (because, you know, time zones and whatnot) to find out more about the origins of the project and why she feels like anonymous selfies can be force against objectification.

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What is Project Secret Selfie?

Project Secret Selfie is an illustration project that turns selfies that women are too scared to share, into art.

Walk us through the process–how does it work?

People send me a selfie, often along with a very lovely personal message about their own experiences with self love or hate. I upload the file in Illustrator and trace the exact outline of their body, ignoring their head and always including the phone. I draw it so that their underwear (if they’re wearing any) becomes like negative space, part of the background of the drawing. I move the file to Photoshop, where I colour it in. For the ones I really feel a connection with, I look at their Instagram to try and figure out what colour would suit them best. Then I save the file to my phone and upload it!

Why did you start the project?

Basically, it stems from my own inability to love my body for what it is. I have an immense appreciation for the female body; I look at other female bodies as art, but I never [see myself in the same way]. It’s something I’ve struggled with for a really long time and it totally sucks. I think a lot of selfies are actually moreso a product of low self-esteem than they are of self-love. I only feel good when I post a carefully posed photo and other people like and comment on it, hoping that if the world sees me as someone confident, I’ll see myself the same way. I also think that most girls take nudes, but for all sorts of reasons: to make themselves sexy, or vulnerable; to remember how they felt on a certain day. I can look at every selfie I’ve taken and tell you exactly how I was feeling and why I took it.

Ironically, even though the idea [of the project] is to see yourself as art, I first came up with it when a boy told me that I was like art when I was lying naked in bed. I couldn’t stop thinking about how it was such a beautiful concept, so much better than being called “hot” or “sexy”. The trick is learning to see it for yourself. I always rely on other people for my own sense of worth, but I’m trying to find it within myself. This project has probably been more of a learning process for myself than anything else! Being able to focus on other people’s nudes has been the most incredible feeling ever. Tuning myself out, and instead thinking about others and helping them with their insecurities, has been incredibly refreshing.

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When did you feel like the project really started to take off?

A few random people sent in photos right away–which was great, because I genuinely thought I was going to have to beg my friends to send me nudes or just take photos of myself. But it really kicked off when my boyfriend tagged me in a tattoo I drew from him; he has nearly 30K followers and I got a crazy influx from that. He has been unfaltering in his support and I cannot thank him enough for that exposure! Then I got picked up by The Tab, a university student-run magazine in the U.K., and the morning after the article came out I woke up to 300 new followers! It felt like Christmas, without the hangover.

How diverse is the range of people sending in selfies?

To be perfectly honest, not diverse enough. I have been really intrigued by the lack of racial diversity amongst the girls sending in photos! I don’t know if it’s the nature of my project or the nature of Instagram that’s causing it.

But it is diverse in other ways. I’ve had a few pregnant ladies send in selfies, and older women too! I’ve also had a few messages from boys asking if they can send some in, and when I reply, “Of course!” they always seem to disappear… But this isn’t just about girls. I have no doubt in my mind that boys suffer from insecurities as well, deeply rooted in [society’s view of masculinity].

Why do you “decapitate” the models in the illustrations?

The idea is that it’s somewhat anonymous. It’s about seeing yourself as art, and not as something to be objectified. By not drawing faces, I feel like it’s a lot easier for girls to be confident, because there’s an element of disconnect. It also draws all the focus to the beauty of the body, instead of to the person the body belongs to. I suppose there is an irony to this, as in some ways this is objectifying the body, but it’s in a positive way. It’s also an attempt to separate your mind from your body, to allow yourself to see your body as a beautiful creation and not let your head get in the way of positive thoughts.

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What’s the overall intent or message of the project?

To look at yourself in the mirror and be proud enough of what you see that you want to share it! It’s about learning to look at yourself, not as something perfect but as something beautiful regardless of imperfections. The most amazing feeling has been when girls originally ask that their selfie be anonymous, and then come back and ask me to tag them in it because they’re so happy with the outcome.

What do you hope people take away from this?

That art is important! I want people to realize that art is part of every aspect of our lives. I want people to look at themselves as though they were looking at a painting, to see the soft curves and outlines of their bodies, instead of seeing areas in need of improvement. Loving yourself is hard; I find it virtually impossible. But I genuinely have found a sense of self-contentment through looking at myself as something to be drawn, and not something to be objectified. I hope other people find the same.

How can people contribute / participate?

Anyone interested can send in their selfies to ladyunlike.art@gmail.com.

Although the project started off as free art, I am now charging 30AUD per portrait because I got way too overwhelmed! Doing art for free is a beautiful thing—I haven’t ever wanted to charge people for my art because the thought of taking money from people for doing something I love feels bizarre—but I really want to forge my career as an illustrator now, so I have to try and grow some business balls!

Related:
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Young, Muslim and Tattooed: How I Stayed True to Myself
Order in the Court: How One Canadian Lawyer Tackles Sexism

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