"Women Don't Owe You Pretty" is the standout slogan from artist and activist Florence Given's new collaboration with Weekday. The London-based 19-year-old is already Insta-famous for her feminist and socially conscious mantras, loved equally for their progressive message and retro-fabulous '70s lettering. Love Island's Megan Barton-Hanson even wore one to face Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain. Florence's "Stop Valuing Women Based On Their Sexual History" design perfectly complemented Megan's message about slut-shaming and the gendered, judgemental abuse she received for having sex on TV and stripping.
But it was Florence's campaign to cancel the controversial show Insatiable on Netflix – which has been accused of fat-shaming, perpetuating sexist tropes and triggering people with eating disorders – that caught the eye of high street store Weekday. Impressed with Florence's passion and dedication, the brand invited her to design their latest 'Zeitgeist' collection, their weekly artist-collaboration series.
"As women, we constantly find ourselves apologising for our 'imperfections'," Florence says, explaining the context of her "Women Don't Owe You Pretty" slogan tee. "Whether we’ve just had a big meal and we literally ask people to 'excuse us' for looking so bloated, or 'sorry I’m so spotty right now' or 'sorry I’m such a mess' – what you’ll find is that ONLY women do this. Men turn up as they turn up. We never question them, and they never apologise. Because why should they?!" she explains. "We never expect men to put in the extra amount of effort required to look 'presentable'," though that is something frequently expected of women, by others and themselves.
Florence's Zeitgeist collection will arrive in Weekday stores on Thursday 27th September. Ahead of the launch, Refinery29 caught up with the artist to find out when she knew she was a feminist, discuss her journey as an illustrator, and why she had to call out Netflix...
When and why did you first identify as a feminist?
When I was 15 years old, I stopped wearing a bra, and I realised that everyone around me was talking about my nipples being visible through my shirt. I didn’t even understand why. I was so confused. Why was it okay for men, [who] sometimes even reveal their bare chest, but as a woman to even suggest that you have nipples through a shirt, is considered controversial? That is the moment I discovered the female body was heavily sexualised, and I delved further into feminist theory online, reading articles and following movements, etc.
You're 19 years old. When and how did you start illustrating feminist slogans and images?
I’ve been drawing since I was 15, and I’ve always been in love with drawing the female form. I started developing my own drawing style at art college when I was 17, and incorporating my straight-to-the-point feminist messages around the same time, uploading them to Instagram [@florencegiven]. I only started doing this work publicly at the beginning of 2017! I guess it’s my honesty that captivated people’s attention. And the bright colours.
Your petition against the Netflix series Insatiable is what got you noticed by Weekday. Why did you start the petition, and how do you feel about the series being renewed?
I had to start that petition. There is a constant policing and criticism of women’s bodies in the media, and we don’t need another harmful narrative that tells fat women they can’t exist happily without losing weight first. She doesn’t even lose weight in a 'healthy' way – she has her jaw wired shut and is fed liquids the entire summer. This is a fantasy for some people with an eating disorder (ED). The entire series is incredibly triggering. It struck a chord in me personally because I suffered with an ED throughout high school, and those feelings of disordered eating never go away.
I didn’t expect the petition to garner as much attention as it did, which proves just how problematic it was. It gained over 230,000 signatures before they released it! We needed this petition as a place to take action and speak up to Netflix as a collective voice. As for the renewal of season 2; don’t expect to see any petitions from me this time. All it did was give them press and people started 'hate watching' it. I don’t even want to give them that.
The tabloid press went crazy when Megan from Love Island wore your T-shirt on Good Morning Britain. How did that come about?
Megan followed me on Instagram, very randomly, and said she wanted one of my tees for her appearance on GMB! It was great to see her represent not just my words, but a powerful message that stands up to everything she has been fighting against since she moved out of the Love Island villa. I didn’t even watch it, but I knew who she was because every day there was a picture of her in the press about all the 'work she’s had done' or her history as a stripper. When are we just gonna let women live? We can’t take the effect and make it the cause. Women getting plastic surgery isn’t the problem. It’s the strict beauty standards perpetuated by the media that make us feel the need to go under the knife in the first place.
How can women reject that double standard, and stop apologising for ourselves?
Not only do we apologise for these very minor things, it gets deeper when we think about WHY we apologise. This constant need to feel approval links to the objectification of women’s bodies and how we, in society, are still viewed to exist to satisfy the male gaze. We have been brainwashed into thinking that our 'imperfections' are something to shy away from because we are constantly bombarded with images of what we 'should' look like – 'to find a man' or to at least be attractive [to a man]. I want to see more women become more comfortable in being unapologetically themselves, particularly fat women or women of colour who have been brainwashed, like the rest of us, into thinking that Eurocentric beauty standards are the epitome of beauty.
If we took one thing on board from your feminist slogans and their philosophy, what would you want it to be?
I essentially want women to stop looking at each other as enemies. This happens in my space way too often, and it’s just a distraction from dismantling the systems (patriarchy, white supremacy) that pit us against each other in the first place. And I would also like to change the way men view feminism. We’re never going to make real change without their allyship (since they control the world).
Florence’s T-shirts drop tomorrow, 27th September, on weekday.com and will be available to buy for two weeks, for £12.