In conversation with student artist Louise Brown, a.k.a. GoodStrangeVibes

Ella Williams interviews Newcastle University student and Instagram-based artist "GoodStrangeVibes".

Ella Williams
25th November 2019
image: instagram via @goodstrangevibes

Louise Brown is a Politics, Psychology and Sociology student at Newcastle University and Instagram-based artist under the name “GoodStrangeVibes". Her drawings focus on celebrating naked bodies in all of their lovely varieties across different genders, races, shapes, sizes and disabilities as a way to spread the message of body positivity and inclusivity and more widely to target the rising epidemic of mental health issues in young people. She approaches stigma head-on where many would shy away: a lot of her figures are unshaven, often dancing, scratching, sleeping or masturbating but all blithely exhibiting their spots, blemishes, stretch marks, wobbles and rolls! I had a conversation with Louise to find out more about the page, how it started, what it’s like being an artist on social media and the message she is trying to spread.

She approaches stigma head-on where many would shy away

When did you start GoodStrangeVibes and what initially inspired it?

I started it in November 2017 at the beginning of Second Year. The Instagram account came about based on my journal at the time which I did visually- I used to draw my week and I decided to post it to keep a record of it. The nude drawings started when I was in recovery from my eating disorder. I study psychology and kind of knew that you can’t make yourself break a habit *just like that*. I’m quite self-reflective and was aware of everything that was going on in my head but I just couldn’t make it change. I used to look at myself naked in the mirror and pick out parts that I didn’t like and I thought: “I’m still gonna do that, but just with a pen and paper in hand”. It just worked really well to help me appreciate my body in a new way. From that I started drawing a diversity of different bodies and receiving the positive feedback from people really helped me as well, so it became this reciprocal cycle. 

I’m quite self-reflective and was aware of everything that was going on in my head but I just couldn’t make it change.

Yeah, I think that idea of using art to appreciate your body can be a really healing thing because it helps you look at your curves and imperfections as aesthetic things to be appreciated. How would you encourage other people who are struggling with something similar to also use creativity as an outlet and maybe get started with creating something bigger out of that like you have?

I guess I’d hope that my own story of recovery would help, but obviously it’s so individual so I’d be wary to say anything like “do this one thing and it will sort you out”. I’m just aware that everyone’s reasons for getting an eating disorder or struggling with body image are different, even though it can be linked to society and those pressures that we all face. I guess I just want to show what’s helped me and how they have made a positive impact on myself in the hopes that they might impact and inspire other people. 

What is the primary message that you are trying to get across with your drawings. Is there one thing you would want people to take away after looking at your page? 

Hmmm… one thing is really tough! I guess maybe like: the problem isn’t you body, it’s your body image. But, as I try to convey with my stuff, that’s also so linked to mental health in general. But the reason I focus on the body image aspect, you know, using nudes as a way of presenting our struggles is because that can be something that everyone relates to. We all have a naked body. And just reinforcing that there is no point hiding from it - it’s the one thing that is always going to be there and going to be with you wherever you go. I think that’s a really powerful and special thing.

The NHS published figures las year that the number of eating disorder inpatient admissions has doubled from 7,260 to 13,885 in the last six years. Why do you think eating disorders are on the rise to such an extent? Do you think that Instagram and social media plays a role?

I definitely think social media can really contribute to negative body image and can really perpetuate things like image comparisons. So yes, it can be really damaging but I think in moderation, and what I’m trying to do anyway, is to twist that social media narrative and try and have a more positive effect. I also think it’s important to recognise that eating disorders manifest from something a lot deeper and bigger than social media alone, in most cases. Quite often it’s about grasping for control and I think in the context of global warming and job cuts and those  problems our generation is facing- they are becoming harder to control so it’s possible that people are turning to control in other areas in their life to try and deal with that. 

I also think it’s important to recognise that eating disorders manifest from something a lot deeper and bigger than social media alone, in most cases. Quite often it’s about grasping for control.

I agree that there’s definitely a misconception that eating disorders have everything to do with how you body looks when in reality they can come in all different shapes and sizes, and I think that’s really well represented in your work. What’s your favourite piece from the drawings you’ve done?

I think my favourite is when I look at one of my drawings and think “they look really powerful”. That’s really what I’m trying to do. I’m also proud of the ones that particularly resonate with people- when people comment stuff like “I can see me in that” or “that has helped me in some way” then I tend to get more from that piece as well!

You’re a young female with an online presence. Have you ever received any hate comments or backlash?

Yes. So the library female nudity censorship was once instance. Another big one was about a year ago in June and I did a post about amendments to abortion rights in Ireland. Basically, one person commented something like “abortion is murder” and I just responded with my views trying to have this open discussion. But no, that’s apparently not what happens with trolls… he suddenly start talking about doing a live debate with me and I found out his account had something like 100k followers so I started panicking. And when I woke up the next morning I had about 300 hateful comments and I went onto his account and found that in his latest post he had put out this request for all his followers to come to my page and troll me. So I had stuff like “you’re disgusting”, “your family are awful”, and some racist, bigoted remarks as well. Obviously it was horrible for me but also I really didn’t want it to get in the way of the positive message I’m trying to spread. If you see a drawing that makes you feel really good but then scroll down to all these disgusting comments is kind of counteracts it, and some of the comments are still there now. That’s been difficult, yeah…

I found out his account had something like 100k followers so I started panicking. And when I woke up the next morning I had about 300 hateful comments

Let’s talk about the positives then! What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve had with people in relation to your work? Is there one particular stand-out moment?

I actually feel like it’s more the little things that stand out to me. Like just a DM from someone I’ve not spoken to in a while, or someone I don’t know at all. I had a stall at Grainger Market a few months ago and there were a lot more older people than I think are my usual demographic. A lot of them were just really curious, you know, sometimes a bit shocked or taken aback and then just having those conversations with people and getting them to think a bit more and maybe not see nudity as this naughty, sexual thing. One girl in particular came up to the stall and said that she’d been following my stuff for a while and came specifically to see me. So I asked her if she was a student, you know, what does she study, but it turns out she was just a local who was a big fan of my work. I like the idea that I’m impacting all these different kinds of people, yeah, and little moments like that. 

What do you say to those “boomers” or older people who see your work and think it’s gross or wrong. You touched on that whole incident with the uni censoring the female nudity in your drawings at your library stall last year. How do you deal with those situations?

Well, my starting point with those people is always the actual starting point. So I discuss eating disorders and how it all came about. I think that often helps get across the deeper message I’m trying to convey and get people to look at it not just on a surface level. You know, these people have been victim to all of the same pressures in their lives so I think subconsciously they think “that’s just the way things are”. It’s just about starting to unpack that belief and show that if you don’t push for something different you’re not going to make that change.

Have you got any plans for the future or any particular direction you want to take your work in?

Well at the moment I’m really focused on trying to be more eco. Because there was a point recently where I thought, yeah, I’m doing something that’s important but does that really align with  the fact that I’m reproducing more and more products. So I’m trying to be more conscious of that. At the moment I’m in contact with the local screen-printer and discussing how we can use water-based inks and print them onto stuff like charity shop tops, stuff like that. There are all these options once it’s something you become conscious of, so yeah that’s the next step. 

I’m also graduating pretty soon and ideally I’d like to carry it on and it would be amazing if it could become a full-time thing. I’m doing a business and  entrepreneurship module specifically to try and see if that’s the kind of thing I like to do. I was kind of wary that it would be all about economics and profit but it’s actually been really refreshing. I’ve got a startup advisor and enterprise advisor and they both acknowledge the reason why I’m doing it and what my focuses are, so yeah, hopefully it’s something I can carry on with. 

How can people find your art and support you?

I’m @goodstrangevibes on Instagram and my website in the bio has my online shop. But really I think spreading that message about destigmatising our bodies and feeling positive about them. You know, maybe thinking before doing things like fat shaming or talking about your body badly in front of your friends, because I think people don’t realise but that really rubs off on people. You think you’re just putting yourself down but you’re actually putting down everyone else in the room, so just changing that dialogue about how we talk about ourselves and our bodies. Just going against those social media algorithms and sharing my stuff, maybe adding a comment can help spread that message I think… I hope! 

Thanks very much for being so open, that was really insightful! 

Thank you!

You can follow Louise on her Instagram page @GoodStrangeVibes or visit her website here

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