Gia James chats to one of Sneaky’s favourite artists, Bei Badgirl…
What inspires you?
I’m always finding new inspiration – and I’m loyal to the things I adore so I carry them with me. The way girl-brain works is when you like something, you become all about it. I have a definite thing for mermaids. There’s my concept of 2.5D, and I like sex, excess and cute stuff in general.
A few of the things that inspire me right now include pink marabou, tan lines, Japanese drink packaging, Instax photos, porno style and Jenna Shea’s butt.
Forgive me if I sound like a creep: I love the subtle use of things like Shibari and bondage in your paintings. Is it accurate to say there are themes of sexuality in some of your work?
I love creeps, Haha! But yeah, I love both Shibari and bondage! Aside from the obvious, I really enjoy the aesthetics – especially how the rope and straps look cutting into all of your soft bits. I bought a swimsuit a year ago solely because it had all these extra straps along the sides that cut into my love handles; so juicy, it’s amazing. I’ve always been attracted to sex and sex culture without really meaning to be – and that definitely comes through in my work.
What are your thoughts on social media? Do you find it a useful tool as an artist?
Social media is incredible; I’m so in love with it. It’s no secret that the internet and social media have been responsible for changing how the art world works with regard to gatekeepers; you’re now directly accessible to an audience, galleries and the media.
Whenever I talk to my art buddies about social media the point gets raised that now people want more from an artist than just their art. Being an artist isn’t just a 2D thing, it’s 3D – but I feel like that’s always been the case, you know? You think about artists like Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol – they existed three dimensionally. Aside from that, art can be a lonely game – it’s a lot of time spent by yourself if you’re not sharing a studio – so I like the company, it’s nice.
I bought a swimsuit a year ago solely because it had all these extra straps along the sides that cut into my love handles; so juicy, it’s amazing. I’ve always been attracted to sex and sex culture without really meaning to be – and that definitely comes through in my work
The girls you paint are more voluptuous with rounded tummies. It definitely helped me embrace my own body shape. Would you say your work is body positive?
I’m so happy for you, you have an amazing body! My work totally is body positive, but kind of effortlessly. I still get caught off guard sometimes when people point out how my work is body positive because the girls are all pretty thick and have tummies. I never really thought twice about it – I was just drawing what made sense to me and looked pretty.
On the subject of body positivity, I found a link recently on your Facebook about “Marshmallow Girls”. Can you explain this concept to me, and your feelings about this?
Audrey Magazine recently published an article titled “Japan Introduces Term ‘Marshmallow Girls’ To Combat Fat-Shaming”. It discussed the launch of a new magazine, La Farfa, that exclusively features “plus-size” women. La Farfa has been pushing the term “marshmallow girl”, aiming to change the generally negative perspective society has of chubby girls. Personally I love it. I felt really uplifted on finding out about marshmallow girls.
When I posted it to Facebook another girl commented with a link to an article about the pressures of being “fat for an Asian”. She talks about the difference between “pang” – an affectionate way of saying chubby – and “fei” – fat. It really hit home for me: I grew up in a Chinese household and I quickly learnt the difference between the two. I remember one time I met my grandad on my mum’s side – I’ve only met this guy a handful of times – and he started with questions like I wasn’t even there: “How old is she now? What’s her height? How much does she weigh?” I felt confused and humiliated.
I grew up being told that I had a “pretty face” but it was a shame that I was “too fat”. I would be “perfect” if only I could lose that extra weight! All of this contributed to an extremely bad body image and some eating disorders. I think back and realise just how young I was when I had all these negative views reinforced daily, and can only consider it cruel… I was just a child. The funny thing is that the other day I was looking through old photos with my mum and I noticed for the first time that I was kind of chubby for a little kid. Mum said: “Yeah, you’ve always been a little pang”. I told her it didn’t bother me anymore and she replied: “That’s good – the soul is more important.”
As an adult, I choose to be happy and choose to love myself. I eat healthily and walk a lot; I don’t care much for “working out” and I love dessert. I have a predisposition to being on the chubby side but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I think you need to find a balance between the things you want and the things that make you happy versus things that make you unhappy. Be smart and kind to yourself in your choices – you’ll make the right ones and be happy.
Letting go is difficult at first – you’re breaking habits. But then the sense of lightness, freedom and happiness is addictive. I can’t imagine going back to hating my body; it was so oppressive! Hating your body, fat-shaming, skinny-shaming… it’s a vicious cycle. When you’re judging yourself you end up judging others, and nothing good is born out of unhappiness and hate. Be kind to yourself.
It’s OK to have bad days sometimes, but recognise them for what they are and medicate accordingly – drink some tea and listen to The Weekend. Indulge in things that make you happy! This is obvious, but I strongly believe in the fact that people are meant to be different. If we were all meant to look the same, we would be. It’s nothing new, but it needs to be repeated as much as possible. “Perfect” doesn’t have a face, it doesn’t look one way. We’re so lucky that we live in a time that we can overpower the media and re-educate; “marshmallow girls” serve as an undeniable example of our beliefs, perseverance and unity being realised in such a powerful way.
That shit’s kawaii as fuck to be honest.
What does feminism mean to you?
To me, feminism simply means that women and men are equal and should be treated as so. It’s not about man-hating – maybe dickhead-hating, rapist-hating, sexual predator-hating. But I love boys – they’re so cute! It really blows my mind that shit like misogyny, racism and homophobia are still things in 2014.
I really thought we would have evolved past that by now. Whenever I’m reminded of some bullshit like how gay marriage is apparently both offensive and a concern to people who aren’t planning to be gay married, I imagine these people going home to their caves all “yabba dabba doo” and rubbing two sticks together to get their internet fires started. Stop embarrassing yourselves.
And don’t breed. ■