London-based illustrator Polly Norton, or Polly Nor as she’s known, took Instagram by storm with her bold, candid and humorous artwork, which presents modern women in a wholly new, relatable light--with all their trials and tribulations laid bare for the world to witness. She portrays their best days and worst in pastel tones, colour blocks and bold black outlines that don't aim to please aesthetically, something which seems deliberate given the nature of the topic she's chosen to explore.Femininity does run through her illustrations, but her characters are nowhere near media's portrayal of girls and women. Weirdly wonderful, intriguing, and at times even grotesque for some (though that really depends on how susceptible you've been to entertainment politics over the years) Norton’s exploration of female sexuality is especially refreshing in this time of idealised images of beauty and femininity that are pushed through mainstream media and pornography, modelled on the male purview.
“I want to question the ubiquitous male vision of women and sex that we have become accustomed to through most male dominated media, and offer a satirical and alternative view on female sexuality, relationships and emotions from a modern-day female perspective for young women,” she says about her artwork in an interview.
Focusing on female emotions, desires and frustrations, her inspiration comes from conversations with friends about sex and gender issues. Like the rest of us (secretly), her phone’s filled with screenshots of funny memes, selfies, angry tweets and break-up texts that she comes across online. Blending these together, with an added pinch of empathy from one girl to another, she creates her cheeky, sometimes creepy, images and distinct aesthetics. "Often, in the household scenes, I use very sickly sweet ‘girly’ colours and set them to a dull shade to suggest a dark, stagnant atmosphere. I like to give the impression that the female character has outgrown her childhood bedroom. I then often use the tropical green plants and the more surreal backgrounds to represent a hunger for adventure and escapism from the pressures of her mundane and claustrophobic environment."Devils play a recurring role in her illustrations and represent different ideas each time. Each illustration has a narrative of its own and the devil manifests as suppressed emotions and desires; it can be female frustrations, daily struggles, past relationships, friends and memories; a state of mixed feelings or the split personality of her subject, the use of the devil gives her character a sense of realism and being human. “People often read into the relationships differently than I intended. I like that. I want people to take what they want from my drawings,” she explains. It’s this very humanness that makes her work so relatable. Her un-photoshopped girls and their experiences tell the unembellished tales of women that live around the world.
In a world run on the views of men, Norton puts pen to paper to deal with girl problems in the way that she knows best. With witty titles like 'Look Sxc Liv Yolo,' ‘Nm Rly Wbu,’ ‘Shh bby no more tears over f*ckboyz,’ and ‘We in Luv and Live Very Fabulous Lifestyles,’ to name a few, her satirical selfie-taking and sexting female characters are a bold, humorous and ingenious steer away from the brushed-up waxed-up images of women everywhere.
“Kids are learning how to be sexual from an industry that is created almost entirely by men, for male pleasure alone. Through this very warped representation of sex and relationships, young girls are being taught that they are submissive, sexual objects for men to leer over, use and control, and led to believe that their value lies wholly in how sexy they are. But then, to make things even more confusing, our society also teaches females that being too sexual is shameful and vulgar. We should look available, but not too easy; we should be flirty, but not too forward; we should have sex, but not with too many people and so on. I'm interested in discussing and reacting to these conflicting pressures from a female perspective for a young female audience,” she wraps up, leaving us with these insightful illustrations to draw our own conclusion from.
Scroll on to view more from this series by Nor
Words: Sara Hussain