Being kind to ourselves is usually a lot harder than it should be.
I have found supportive friends, loving family members, and body positive art to really help me on my own self-love journey. When I got the chance to interview Flavia Bernardes, I was thrilled to share her inspirational and moving story.
Natasha: What does body positivity mean to you?
Flavia: It means loving and accepting ourselves as we are now, flaws and all. Truly loving ourselves and knowing that we are good enough, that we are beautiful, and that we matter. It took me years to learn that, and it’s really a practice, something that I need to consciously pay attention to because it’s not my default mode of thinking. But, really loving who we are and being kinder and more gentle to ourselves does make a huge difference. It creates a ripple effect and it makes for a much nicer world for us all.
Natasha: How do you promote body positivity in your art?
Flavia: Body positivity is a topic very dear to my heart and one that I’m passionate about promoting. I know what it feels like to not feel good enough and I know how art can help change that. To create positive change in the world, we need to feel good about ourselves. We need to feel worthy. My paintings are a reflection of the beauty we already have. Sometimes we just need a little reminder. I paint women who have learned to love and accept themselves or are in the process of being a little nicer to themselves. Real beauty can only come from a place of love and acceptance and that is the main goal of what I do. I want to show women that they’re beautiful, unique and special exactly how they are now. Not when they do, change, or achieve something. I want them to feel beautiful, whole and complete the way they are now.
Natasha: Growing up in Brazil, please describe your personal experience around body image.
Flavia: I grew up in a culture where looks are very important and in a time where children were to be seen, not heard. I was made aware of how inadequate I was at a very early age. The women in my family were constantly on diets, weight loss programs or taking diet pills. And they were quick to point out everything that was wrong with me. They probably weren’t fully aware of what they were doing. They were just passing along what they had been taught. It was the way they had been raised. But the message I got very early on was that to be worthy I had to look and act a certain way. I had to be someone completely different and I had this feeling that something was profoundly wrong with me because I couldn’t be what they wanted me to be. I never felt good enough growing up.
Natasha: What’s the culture like in Brazil around the idea of body-positivity and embracing one’s body?
Flavia: It’s been slowly changing, but it’s still far from ideal. Brazil is still very much a patriarchal society and the role women play is still objectified. Women are supposed to be feminine and desirable, above anything else.
Natasha: How does art play a role in the body positive movement?
Flavia: It’s a catalyst for change and it has the power to make people stop, think and feel. If we want to change the world, we need to start with ourselves. We need to feel good about who we are, and art plays a big role in that. I remember when I was 10 or 11, during an art class at school when one of my classmates (a little artist genius) drew a portrait of me when I wasn’t aware and I remember looking at it thinking how amazing that portrait was, but that it didn’t look like me. He made me look better. But everyone in class, even the teacher kept saying that it looked exactly like me. That changed something in me. And now I try to do the same for other women. I want them to have that kind of experience. Art can do that. It can reflect back to you the beauty you already have.
Natasha: If you could go back in time and give your younger self advice, how old would you be and what would you say to yourself?
Flavia: I’m not sure how old I would be, probably around 7 or 8, but I know what I would say: “It gets better.” I would tell my younger self that she’s great the way she is, that there’s nothing wrong or broken with her and that things will get better. Just be patient and kind to yourself and others. It gets better.
Natasha: Tell us a little about the #paintmeflavia campaign?
Flavia: I created this hashtag because a lot of women started messaging me telling me their stories or their friends’ stories, saying how much my paintings had impacted them. I was so touched and so overwhelmed with what I was reading that I wanted to invite more women to those conversations. I wanted an opportunity for women to tell their stories in a way that they felt safe. Healing happens when we tell our stories. Shame cannot survive talking, it cannot survive light. And we need to shed light on our stories, we need to own our stories to heal. So I ask them to tag a photo they’d like me to paint using #paintmeflavia and tell me their stories. And every month I choose someone to paint and to honor their stories. It’s been a wonderful healing experience and I feel honored that these ladies are sharing their stories with me.
Natasha: Are there upcoming projects you would like to share with the Plus Model Magazine community?
Flavia: Yes, and I’m super excited about it! I want to create a new series focused on our bodies and the way we relate to them. What we would like to say to our bodies, how we would talk to them if they were our friends. We would never want to hurt or be mean to our friends, even when they do something we don’t agree with. I want us all to make peace with our bodies and the way we look. I want to paint women’s bodies with the messages they would like to say to their bodies written on them. What would you say to your belly, to your thighs, or to your arms? I want to flood the internet with images of all kinds of bodies with messages of love written all over them. If you want to be a part of this project, I would love to have you on board! You can email your pictures to me or tag your photos with #paintmeflavia on Instagram.
Want to learn more about Flavia Bernardes?
Flavia is offering a special discount to Plus Model Magazine Readers:
€75 (~$85) off for commissions and 25% off prints – Email Flavia for more details!