I finally know what I need to write.
When I first started out putting together my website and such, all the blog and online shop advice places told me how important it was to create a carefully crafted “About” section that perfectly detailed my work and how it’s unique and special and new and no one else has it and how I make all my decisions that go into my work. I also needed a quick “elevator pitch” that quickly and easily explained to people the same thing.
I have struggled with that for SO. DAMN. LONG. And I wasn’t really satisfied with what I put up, but I knew people would want to know something about me other than that I make art. lol But I work intuitively and autistically, basing my work on the non-verbal language of my autistic mind and body. I work based on what need I feel inside myself and what need others express to me and to the world.
So coming up with words not naturally compatible with the way I perceive the world and the way I think has been very difficult. This post explores some of the language I’ve come up with to interpret and share with you as an audience the way I make decisions about my work and how I decide what to make my work about. It’s not perfect, but that’s okay.
I started drawing only fat people because I was tired of looking at a lot of popular artists like Lois Van Baarle, aka Loish, Laura Brouwers aka Cyarine, Ruth Speer, and Heikala* and other artists whose work can truly be gorgeous in both their portraits and fantasy works– but who almost exclusively create thin and non-disabled people in that gorgeousness. Artwork is subjective, absolutely, but Instagram’s algorithms reward artists for upholding certain traits such as thin, non-disabled, white people in their work.
(*I’m only mentioning white artists because I’m white and wish to stay in my lane about critiques.)
For example, here’s a fair representation of what most of the portraits done by Cyarine, an artist with over 1.5 million followers on Instagram, look like: thin, usually white, almost always has a prominent thigh gap, no one visibly disabled (although the artist is openly autistic). Granted, a lot of this older work is based on the artist’s own body, but in the last year, their entire body of work presented on Instagram has featured very little of themselves, focusing instead on drawing other thin folks.
In contrast, here is the fattest (and only fat) person I could find portrayed in their work in the last two years: it’s not even a complete work, it’s just a “doodle” by the artist’s own words, and the fat person is surrounded by two thin people who are hyper thin even in comparison to Cyarine’s already thin-centric work.
And what’s mind-boggling to me is that artists such as Loish, who currently has over 1.2 million followers on Instagram right now, who do the occasional feature of a slightly fat/small fat person are often hailed as champions of body diversity– even though the work they create is nowhere near that definition and they themselves are thin or not obviously of size and engage in anti-fat behavior, as well as the people lauding them. It’s outrageous!
Here’s an example of Loish’s typical work: thin, but not hyper thin characters, no one visibly disabled, etc.
The next example is the fattest character I’ve seen on Loish’s feed so far, and it was one of four fats shared on IG in the last 15 months and the only one that was a bit bigger than a small fat: actually fat but only one of four in 15 months is unimpressive, not visibly disabled.
I’m sure that many thin people, especially women, appreciate Loish’s tendency to draw and paint people with more realistic body proportions: meaning, Loish draws characters whose bodies are usually not more narrow than their heads, whose joints aren’t mere pinpoints, and so on. But why do artists who like to draw people more realistically still exclude fat and disabled people so much??
Do we not deserve to be treated as subjects worthy of gorgeous art, too? Of course we fucking do! And so I decided that if no one else was going to make beautiful art about fat people who are bigger than a size Large, more than one piece every six months at best, then I would, dammit, because I’m so sick of this shit.
When I decided to draw disabled people it was because I was similarly sick of not only not seeing enough disabled people in art but also just not having access to enough non-medicalized knowledge and media about the various conditions I have. A doctor can tell me what my nervous system is doing “wrong,” but they have no clue what it actually can look like or feel like in the world outside of their medical realm.
I think half the reason doctors piss me off so much is their lack of desire to try to understand symptoms and diagnoses from the actual perspective of the patient. They get annoyed when you ask specifics about what your condition might “look” like or feel like in your every day life because they don’t know what it looks like, they just know it doesn’t look like what it’s “supposed to.” Instead of trying to understand that this need for more information comes from such a severe lack of representation and not to annoy them or question their capability as doctors, they become defensive when you ask questions that test their knowledge and experience. They don’t understand that when you say you don’t know what an emergency looks like compared to just a symptom of your diagnosis, it’s because there’s so little representation and knowledge, often research even, done about your life’s experience.
And they really don’t like having to find a new way to communicate with people who communicate differently from them and their training (neurotypical and/or allistic). They’re there to diagnose you, give you some pills or treatment, see the next several patients in their overcrowded schedule, and go home– not to help you understand this complex condition and how it, the medicine, and the treatments affect you in your daily life– especially if it’s an under researched condition. They generally express no interest in what your life looks like beyond this scope.
So that’s where the online disabled community comes in, and it’s astounding to see how much we generally care to help each other through these difficulties and hold space for one another to be “seen” and recognized in ways that are usually denied to us.
What I learned more in-depth and more personally when I arrived to the online disability community, particularly the chronic illness one for me, was that not only were the people overwhelmingly and wildly supportive and creative and so many other positives, but that we were also overwhelmingly depressed and isolated and under represented in our offline lives. This feels, probably, like an obvious thing to say if you know about the marginalization of disabled people– indeed, most marginalized groups, but it’s still an important thing to point out because it’s so all-encompassing for many of us.
What I also learned is just how much labor we do to simply survive our day to day lives.
As a community, we help validate each others’ existence in ways that are usually denied to us by non-disabled folks. We remind each other that our struggles are valid and that our horrible experiences with doctors actually did happen to us the way we perceived it (medical gaslighting and ableism is a level unto itself, y’all).
We help protect one another from the abuse of not just the medical system but also from the abuse of others who feel contempt for disabled people. We pool together tips and tactics for undermining and navigating nasty systems, share resources amongst ourselves for compensating for the disabling society we live in, watch out for and report predatory people and organizations, call out horrific legislation, and often physically and financially care for one another as best we can because no one else will.
We collectively do the hard work of emotional labor for one another through the never ending difficult and ableist doctor appointments, family gatherings, friend hangouts, work hours and situations, school everything, PTA groups, exasperating and infuriating instances with random shitholes at the grocery store questioning our “actual” disability status and rights. We strive to fight back against all these very real scenarios that continuously invalidate us as a group and undermine our human rights.
We share resources with one another on how to survive when we’re forgotten accidentally on purpose in emergency situations. We share resources on food, vitamins, and other alternative treatments to supplement or even provide sole care for one another when we’re not believed or served by the medical community.
We support one another’s efforts to put ourselves and our work out there.
We are gentle with one another and our non-disabled loved ones, recognizing that no human in perfect, no one is invulnerable, no one can survive alone. We remind ourselves and others that it takes a community to survive and thrive. We remind each other to eat and drink water.
We’re so consumed as a group by helping one another through the hard and difficult daily stuff– in addition to already dealing with our own disabilities and marginalized experiences, especially if we’re multiply marginalized– and just surviving that usually we don’t have much leftover energy or ability to collectively create representational art and media of ourselves. Even if we do, there are numerous obstacles socially, physically, medically, and financially that prevent us from gaining access to the things we need to create this work.
It’s fucking EXHAUSTING.
That emotional labor and disability rights advocacy is so important and so necessary, but it takes so much for us to do it, and not all of us can. Those of us who can, typically burn ourselves out quickly and frequently.
In my mind, being disabled means kind of being forced into a minimalist lifestyle we never asked for. Our lives are frequently pared down to caring for ourselves, juggling treatments, dealing with side effects of medications, dealing with malfunctioning assistive equipment, dealing with the medical system and its unique trauma, struggling to obtain access, dealing with the everyday ableism ever present in all of our lives, and so much more. So what little energy and time we have leftover after all of that is significantly reduced compared to a non-disabled person’s energy and time.
I can’t remember who said it, but someone described this as usable hours in a day, and it’s such a helpful term for understanding the different ways ableism and the kyriarchy limit the number of hours in our days in which we can create change or even just enjoy our lives.
So What Can I Do?
So, in my mind and for my experience, this means that my personal usable hours remaining after caring for myself are reduced to basically being able to do one thing, and I have to choose what that thing is going to be. So I looked around at what’s being done already in our communities, what labor is being done, what strengths they require, if those strengths match what I have to offer, what efforts they need, if I can meet those efforts, and so on, and I looked specifically to see what we were missing a lot of that I could maybe fill with my artwork.
All community work relies on a variety of services to be successful. It’s kind of like a potluck– it’s not helpful for everyone to just bring the same dish. What dish can I bring to the table that no one or not many others have so far?
And what I found was that we need something in art and media that reflects us and makes us feel good about ourselves, our lives, and our experiences. Something that recognizes the power and value and beauty within us exactly as we are and reminds us of that when we need it most. What we need is positive representation. What we need is art and movies and books and so on that show us as we are and how perfectly normal a thing it is to be disabled. We need things that help us see the positive of ourselves, the humanity of ourselves, and to help find the positives of our lives.
In short, we need media that empowers us to combat that negative self-talk, that internalized ableism, that systemic oppression screaming in our faces all damn day long. And it’s like a lot of folks say– if you need to see something that isn’t there, make it yourself.
And I can fucking do that.
And so I am.
I’m making work for YOU as a fat person, for YOU as a disabled person because you deserve it.
This Is What I Can Do
That’s why I don’t draw thin people anymore. I center fat people because almost no one else does in the illustration industry.
That’s why I center disabled people– because almost no one else does in the illustration industry.
And while my main goal is to create work specifically for the people in these marginalized communities, my hope is also that my work becomes successful in a broader way that reaches people who are thin and non-disabled who can affect change in their peers by taking responsibility for their participation in the systems and undoing them.
I hope I’m not coming across as though I’m the first to have discovered or thought of all this because I’m obviously fucking not. lol It’s just that this was a revelation of words that helped me to understand the non-verbal and autistic language that was already speaking to me. And that was a huge thing for me personally.
So now I know better what to say.
Now I have more vocabulary for why I feel this incredible need to make fat and disabled artwork. It’s not just that I want to feel represented (because as an autistic person that is annoyingly vague and unhelpful when my mind is alllll about specifics), it’s that I need to specifically help enable people, especially disabled people, to see the goodness and value in themselves. I need to specifically contribute work that helps people find a visual language that enables them to fulfill a need they may not yet have the words for.
I need to hold up a metaphorical mirror to folks and show them with all the love I can muster that they are amazing and worthy and valuable and important to not just me but the entire human species– that we are as necessary as any other human, that we evolved as were supposed to, that it’s fucked up systems humans create and cling to that is unnatural and unevolved.
Disability is normal. Naturally occurring differences in the human species give us a collective flexibility and adaptability that helps us survive as one.
What a powerful concept to live by.
This Is What I Do
So anyway, that’s my super long delve into explaining my more empowered description of my work. lol Here’s what I’m gonna put in that annoying “About” section that’s been haunting me and what I’ll incorporate into my “elevator pitches” from now on:
Jessi Eoin is a multiply disabled and marginalized artist and illustrator who creates body positive art by focusing on fat and disabled bodies. Recognizing the need in the respective communities for positive representations of both but especially for disability, they make it a point to explore the beauty of the concept “Disability is normal,” creating a unique space in the illustration industry for prominently and unabashedly featuring fat and disabled people in the fantasy and portrait art genres.
Highly influenced by nature, femme, and witchy things, Jessi frequently includes these elements in their pieces to bring a sense of naturalness and spirituality to their work, truly evoking the notion that disability, as well as fatness, is normal, beautiful, and something to be celebrated.
That feels better. Not perfect, but much better and more at the heart of things.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll check out my shop where I have originals and prints available and hopefully soon some additional products like coloring books, zines, and more.*
*Update February 2020: You can now find prints in several sizes, tote bags, shirts up to size 5XL, and more in the shop, and if you’re interested in simply making a donation to support my work like many do with Patreon or Ko-Fi, you are more than welcome to drop a tip in the jar with my huge thanks!
You can also read my helpful guide for non-disabled artists to bring disability into their work if that’s something you want to try.
Hope you have a great day!