Florence Given: A Woman Who Knows Herself
By: Kirsten Armstrong
Florence Given (she/her), a British illustrator, writer, and women’s activist, challenges the status quo. She believes that everyone, from a very early age, internalizes misogyny to fit into the expectations and labels society creates. Given is a staunch believer that the patriarchy needs sexists, racists, and ableists to maintain these expectations that pressure women into struggling with their identities. Considering these parameters, Given creates a safe space with her art for people to learn, shift their subconscious bias, and accept self-love.
In 2018, Given petitioned to cancel Netflix’s T.V. show Insatiable, due to its fat-shaming plot. She gained over 300,000 signatures and appeared on multiple networks, embracing the platform to vocalize the damage that fat-shaming and other physical beauty standards cause. People do not need to look a certain way but feel pressured to because it masquerades as attractiveness and success.
Given explores the concept of “pretty” and how closely it aligns with what men find attractive. She reveals that standard views of physical attractiveness are objectifying and that people don’t respect objects, they respect people. This realization triggered Given’s spiritual journey of self-love and self-acceptance. She sought value as a person, not an object, and Given uses her art to encourage others to do the same.
“We’re told that if we shave our legs, put on more make-up, curl our hair and do all this stuff, we’ll receive the illusion of basic human respect. But the respect we’re met with as women when we perform these standards is usually objectification, which also increases our chances of sexual assault and sexual harassment on the street. It’s a double-edged sword.”
Yet, the question of reversing thousands of years of objectification and societal pressures remains daunting. Given suggests that women need to identify and then stop engaging in things that are not enjoyable but continue to perform because it plays into traditional beauty standards. Hate waxing? Stop it. Hate using makeup? Stop it. Hate your restrictive clothes? Shed them.
Given uses bold, colourful illustrations with a 70’s aesthetic and loopy text, which give her audience an impression of bright, hopeful excitement. Her use of bright, bubbly colours and decorative elements is traditionally quite feminine, but as Given says, “it packs a punch,” and seeks to reclaim these elements to a more inclusive female identity. Many of her pieces create discomfort in the viewer, as the visuals are both blunt but contrast her message. Given’s art is a form of cathartic release for the artist - as it allows her to process how she feels about herself and society’s conditioning.
Despite her forwardness, Given is well aware of the concerns and apprehension regarding change. Given explains, “Society rewards women who don’t have to be told to stay in their lane. It loves women who just readily accept their gender roles and conform. However, as feminity is associated with ‘weakness,’ it can also be the thing that people mistreat us for.” No matter the path women choose, it may lead to criticism and judgment.
It is past time to lose the oppressive attitudes that dominate society and institutions. Given proves that individuals need to unlearn and relearn who they are. Nobody can fit into a stereotype. People can take up as much space as they want, especially women. We may be too much, but only because you can’t handle it.
To explore more of Florence Given’s inspirational work, check out her Instagram:
To grab some of her unique prints, click here.