Sex Sells, But How Do Women Profit?

This piece is a personal reflection on how my immediate circles are microcosms of the social sphere. I believe I have been influenced by the white, male dominated society that has historically, sexualized women. Because I am visibly female, I feel pressured to comply to these social standards and expectations. Women’s sexuality is marketed for the male viewer. She is meant to pleasure her man. I am meant to pleasure my viewers.


Over the past 4 years, I’ve studied many feminist artworks that involve nudity, and wonder if they (the artist or subject presenting their nude body) could ever successfully challenge the male gaze.

An argument is that since these artworks are produced by the feminine eye (instead of by a male artist), it challenges the objectification and allows women to embody their own narrative, create their own identity.

Honestly, I’m still unsure on whether or not exercising the female nude as a woman artist challenges the male gaze, but I’ve become aware that taking ownership of my femininity and sensuality feels damn empowering – especially when female pleasure/reproductive health etc. are censored or hidden from direct view.


Pussy Playtime: This is How My Body Performs

You read the title of this post and you realize there’s at least 2 types of people in the world: those that thought ‘vagina’… and those that actually pictured the sweet, innocent image of their cat playing with a ball of yarn. Today, I play around with the double meaning of the word ‘pussy’. You see a cat. I talk about vaginas. I believe this is called a compromise.

BUT! on a serious note: I really want to explore the way we represent the female body through aesthetic metaphors such as the domesticated house cat. Pussy becomes a euphemism for vagina. (Funny how pussy seems like a harsher word with that hard ‘p’, but people are more comfortable saying pussy than vagina. Vagina!) These are subjects that I consider in my work; it becomes a reflection of myself. How is it that my body performs this narrative? What role does my pussy play in this day of age? How does it play in time? This is my pussy playtime:


Hickerson, My Body Performs/Pussy Playtime (left panel diptych), 2019, photography


Hickerson, My Body Performs/Pussy Playtime (right panel diptych), 2019, photography

I want to explore how I have been trained to appease the male gaze, involuntarily, through constant surveillance, performance and embodiment. I feel that because I am a woman, I am expected to conform to gender roles that characterize women as sexual beings created to tend to their man.

And so I decided to play around with a camera.

Although I consider myself a fiber artist and painter, I enjoy delving into other mediums including new media. I decided to explore symbolic references and manipulation of cloth through photography to capture a realistic reflection of my narrative. In my work entitled, My Body Performs/Pussy Playtime (diptych) (2019), I carefully select my clothing to best accentuate my body, while keeping it covered. Although I am not nude, I want the viewer to view my form and infer a sense of nudity, or rather a sense of vulnerability. I aim to create an intimate setting wherein I stand, blurred in the background, but my presence is understood.

The viewer sees my nude-toned bodysuit and assumes my torso is uncovered. Then, the mustard pants are worn because of the flimsy material. The pants hang loose on my thighs, causing the material to curve with my curves, imitating the shape of my vulva. I hold a sweater in my right hand; the material imitates hair, and I place it over my thigh, near my vulva.

Then! Vivianne, my past roommate’s therapy cat, is placed in the foreground. In the left diptych (viewer’s left), Vivianne is viewed from her profile. She stares forward, fierce and calm. Her gaze looks forward which creates a directional movement towards my pelvic area. The image is split in half; Vivianne fills one half of the photo while my body resides in the other. The overall composition is balanced.

Similarly, the right photograph of the diptych depicts a near, duplicated image. There is a notable difference in Vivanne’s position. In the second diptych, she fills a little less than half the composition, and her head is placed at a ¾ profile where her gaze meets the viewer. She demands to meet the gaze of the viewer. As my body performs a feminine oversexualization geared to appease to the male gaze, Vivianne reflects the double meaning in the term ‘pussy’. She embodies the feminine, and symbolizes the manipulation of sex appeal to grasp the gaze of the male viewer.

An Essay on Lesbian Feminism and Art

Lesbianism: a political movement where women seek empowerment through female interactions/relations; also, a sexuality assigned to 'girls who like girls'... BUT what contributions do lesbian identities make in art?

Women artists, such as Short, McLeod, Dempsey and Millan, redefine their feminine identity through their technical approach, medium and content. The performed jouissance highlighted by lesbian feminists allows women to tell their story by separating themselves from male influences. The feminine persona displays a fetishism to appease the male gaze, which applies to lesbian identities as well. Arlene Stein quotes Jill Johnston in stating “that a ‘conspiracy of silence’ insured that for most women ‘identity was presumed to be heterosexual unless proven otherwise. … There was no lesbian identity. There was lesbian activity’” (155). The outburst of lesbian feminist movements in the 1970s allowed queer women to use their voice and remind people that they exist outside of sexual pleasure. Yet, the movement was a means for all women to share their experiences. Lesbian Feminism is political. Through the political standpoint of lesbian feminism, women artists are able to use activity to create a lesbian identity that is separate from sexual orientation.

To Be Naked Or To Be Nude?

Life is equated to a game through countless metaphors; sometimes it is a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ and other times it is based on predeterminism (entailing the course of life events have been chosen at conception or before your birth, typically due to the power of a higher entity/creator). I like to amuse the thought that life is a slight combination of both, where we are given the illusion of free will to choose the course of live events, but social constructions have limited our choices through standards and expectations. For example, my intersectionality – as a young, white woman born in a first world, patriarchal society and raised in a Catholic, educational environment – has deeply impacted my social perspective. My intersectionality dictates how people will expect me to perform, as well as how they will treat me based on learned behaviours. I have learned to embody an identity through my reflection of social norms.

Hickerson, To Be Naked Or To Be Nude (left panel diptych), 2019, photography.

Hickerson, To Be Naked Or To Be Nude (right panel diptych), 2019, photography.

Through my identity as female and living in a society that oversexualizes women and their feminine attributes, I have inherited beliefs of self-worth which are influenced by sexual availability and aesthetic appeasement; both of which must cater to the male audience. And so, I ask myself this question.

To be naked or to be nude?

I wanted to further my exploration of whether using my body as a female artist is challenging the male gaze or conforming to it. I question whether I am naked or embodying the nude subject admired by the male viewer.

In my work entitled, To Be Naked Or To Be Nude (diptych) (2019), I pose in front of my camera once again in my nude bodysuit, no pants and I’m wearing the sweater that I was holding in My Body Performs/Pussy Playtime (diptych). I stand against a beige wall. The neutrality is repeated in my porcelain skin, the fair tanned bodysuit and the tone of the blank walls. I almost blend into my surroundings, disappearing from sight. The focal points become my head and sweater, which are the bold shades of brown pushing forward in contrast.

In the left panel (viewer’s left), my arms are raised, elbows bent and hands tucking my loose strands of hair behind my ears. The pose imitates a shy and sensual body language that is often flirtatious.

Similarly, in the right-most panel, my hands are caught lifting the ends of the sweater up the length of my torso. Even though, comparingly, the sweater covers the same amount of body in both panels, the gesture in the right hints at an attempt of removing the article of clothing.

Although I stand in the image alone and naked, I am simultaneously nude in the eyes of my male spectator. I seek to make eye contact; I stand looking forward, confronting my audience. I am subject to the male gaze.

He’s Just Gareth

This is my muse and friend, Gareth. The best thing about our friendship is that he gives literal zero fucks about anyone else’s opinion on where he stands. He’s just Gareth. And I think that’s just grand.

In our relationship, he’s helped enable my own sort of freedom that comes with individual expression, which seems to flow through fashion for me. I love how clothing manages to bring art into reality. Each human being their own characters, taking the chance to express who exactly they are through aesthetics, regardless if the pieces come from the ‘mens’ or ‘womens’ sections, is truly beautiful.

I hope this shoot is able to inspire anyone to run free with themselves and their own true expressions. Become Gareth (of sorts). Release yourself Hunny Bee.


The entire shoot was produced by Viiein Dampier
Model: Gareth Iveson

Girls Grow Galaxies

I am a time traveler. I am a botanist. I am but a child.

Have you ever lived three lives at once? Time wraps back on itself in layers, mixing and merging into a temporal tapestry. I am a grown woman. I am a restless teenager. I am a wide-eyed child.

To me, time and age are nebulous. I was nearly 30 before my sense of self snapped into sharp relief. I missed out on so much of my youth. At 12, my body betrayed me. At 15, I buried my confusion deep and tried to hide. At 27, I was brave enough to try and honour my unique body rather than fight with it. I started to see a glimmer of beauty, and how much potential still lay within me.

I was born intersex — a condition in which I didn’t receive the right mix of hormones in the womb. “Intersex” is an umbrella term for a number of internal or external physical characteristics that differ from traditional definitions of male and female. In my case, I was born with an underdeveloped reproductive system. I have no ovaries. My uterus is merely a dot on an ultrasound screen, nonfunctional. I don’t make my own estrogen, so I have to take two little blue pills each day to stay healthy.

Girls grow galaxies. Women’s bodies give life. For years, I’ve struggled with what my history means for my womanhood. At night, I still lie in bed and trace a finger along my abdomen, imagining vines sprouting under my flesh, upward and outward along a fallopian route, until they flower.

I likely never will bear a child, and that breaks my heart.

I spent years being confused about my body and feeling alienated from those around me. It took far too long to gain some manner of control over my physical self. But on those nights in bed, I imagine those ovary flowers opening up inside me. And do you know what? It turns out that they’ve grown to give me life.

I was born in 1982. We didn’t have the internet. There was no social media until I was at university. We didn’t hear about other people’s lives the way we do today, and until I was an adult, it was easy to think I was alone in the world — or at least in my world. I was friends with all the girls in school until they got their periods and I didn’t. The boys knew I was nothing like them, and they didn’t let me forget it.

I was absent for my childhood in so many ways. I was an alien as far as I knew, and it often stopped me from making friends, from taking part in childhood activities, from having the carefree experience every child deserves. So while it might seem strange for a woman of 35 to talk about being a child, I’m reclaiming those years by letting wonder into my life, by spending time with friends and family who make me feel safe and loved and nurtured, by allowing myself to feel each emotion as fully as I can. Most days I feel like I’m about 15 — and I’m going to try to enjoy 15 this time around.

I am still growing up.

I’m still learning who I am and how to embrace that.

Dearest friends, watch me blossom.

Adelie Bergstrom
Thunder Bay, 2018


Model: Adelie Bergstrom. Artist: Shayla Hickerson. Photographer: Viiein Dampier

Women, So Much More than their Bodies

Photography and Styling by Shayla Hickerson
Makeup by Saskia Pateman
Written by Saskia Pateman

I remember one of my first thoughts as we started the shoot was comparing how my body looked to the other girls in the room. I quickly stopped myself and came to the realization that I was doing exactly what this art piece was trying to discourage. I was objectifying the women around me, dissecting their bodies into neatly packaged boxes, trying to create the perfect woman.

“She has a bigger chest than me”
“wow her skin is so flawless”
“I wish my thighs were smaller like hers”
“her face will be so much more captivating in the photos” etc.

I focused on the positive physical aspects of them instead of analyzing the other parts of them that actually matter. Like their kindness, intelligence, world view, humour etc. We so often tell women they are beautiful or pretty before anything else, but why?

Women are so much more than their bodies and this shoot just helped me learn that even more.

I stood beside the other women, confident and proud to be among awesome, likeminded, bold women. I’m glad that the shoot gave me that.