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Bodies are cool: An interview with Tyler Feder
The artist and author shares her views on the power of nudity and art for combating harmful stereotypes about bodies
I first discovered Tyler Feder’s artwork from the children’s book she wrote and illustrated, Bodies Are Cool, which is a celebration of body positivity and diversity, and highlights the inclusion of individuals of different ages, sizes, abilities, skin colors, genders, hairstyles, and interests.
I had blindly ordered a copy of Bodies Are Cool to donate to the Western Nudist Research Library (where I volunteer), which already has a small collection of children’s books with nudist/naturist themes (there aren’t many). When it came, I was delighted to discover that the book was beautifully illustrated and uplifting, not focusing on nudity—but featuring it to display the magnificent diversity of bodies and body parts in the world. The book depicts bodies of all stripes, bodies using assistive devices, trans bodies, bodies with port-wine stains or vitiligo, body hair, cellulite, colostomy bags, mastectomy scars. It was inspiring to find this representation and this message in a kids book. So inspiring, I immediately ordered another copy to keep at home and read to my own son. The book quickly entered our regular rotation, and we now read it together often, alongside The Story of Ferdinand or The Little Engine That Could: books that we feel carry a positive message or lesson.
With each new reading of Bodies Are Cool, I found myself drawn to the artwork, and wondering about the artist. Eventually I looked into Tyler Feder’s work, exploring her instagram, website, and etsy shop, and I came to discover that her body of work makes up an amazing exploration of self love, gender and racial diversity, fat-positivity, and empowerment through nudity. I soon saw that her work embraces many of the themes and ideas of naturism.
I don’t know if Tyler Feder is a naturist, or even if she has ever experienced social nudity—funnily enough, it didn’t even occur to me to ask—but she clearly sees nudity and the human body through a similar lens, and I was delighted when she recently granted me the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her art and her views.
Your book, Bodies Are Cool, is a body positive book for kids. Can you talk about why it’s important to address these themes at a young age?
Diet culture is so rampant in today’s society that we treat learning to criticize our bodies as a normal part of growing up, and the consequences are serious: eating disorders, weight cycling, self harm, bullying, and discrimination against those who don’t fit the bodily “ideal.” I wanted to catch kids during that magical period before they become aware of diet culture and remind them of the beauty and wonder of bodily diversity, hopefully leading to a greater sense of self-acceptance and empathy towards people who look different from them.
With all the book banning and “groomer” nonsense that is everywhere as of late, I am curious to know if you have received any criticism for including nudity in a kid’s book?
Nonsense is right!! I’ve received tons of criticism, mostly not for nudity but for my inclusion of visibly trans and queer bodies in the book. Angry internet trolls have been calling me a groomer ever since I dared to show a nice trans man sitting quietly by the lake with his family and a queer couple eating ice cream cones together. It makes me so sad and angry, but hopefully the positive impact of my book has outweighed the nonsense criticism.
I love the way you use nudity to explore themes of empowerment, self-love, and representation in much of your other artwork. What else does nudity mean to you creatively, and why is it a compelling device for you as an artist?
The first time I ever tried figure drawing was my senior year in high school, where the teacher had students take turns modeling for the class (fully clothed!) and I was fascinated by the way I’d fall in love with people while I drew them. In a college drawing class, we had a couple nude models come in, and that was even more fun. Something about spending a long time quietly focusing on the angles and curves of a person just stirs up a feeling of wellbeing and admiration in me, regardless of the size or shape of the person I’m drawing. How could I not want to drum up that feeling whenever I can? Especially as I’ve moved more into the fat positivity space, I love using nudity in my art to lift up bodies and physical features that aren’t often presented in a positive light.
Your art often features human subjects. Do you draw figures from life? Reference? Freehand?
All of the above! The majority of the art I do is some combination of reference and freehand (my google image search history is filled with things like “woman sitting 3/4 view”). Every now and then I draw people from life, but that’s more of a fun novelty than a staple of my art practice.
Your characters often proudly exhibit scars and marks and body hair and assistive devices and all sorts of other features often viewed as unsexy in our culture. Why is this kind of visibility important to you?
In the last several years, I’ve adjusted my social media feeds to show a variety of body types/races/disabilities/etc., and I’ve noticed a major change in the way I see myself in the mirror. I once saw a tiktok where someone described people as being “nature-shaped,” and that stuck with me. If we think ocean waves are beautiful, shouldn’t we also think of cellulite that way? Because of diet culture and our society’s general uplifting of one very specific body type, we so rarely see fat/hairy/scarred/disabled/etc. bodies depicted with love and care. I take great joy in presenting all bodies the same way, hopefully helping viewers expand their understanding of beauty and worth.
What does society often get wrong in its views of nudity and the body? And in what ways does your work attempt to address or respond to that?
I’m a broken record at this point, but it bears repeating: all bodies are good, no matter what body type is being societally revered at the moment. There is beauty and value in the features that we may think of as “imperfections.” And positive societal change can come from this view being more widely accepted.
Finally, where can someone buy/support your books/work?
My books, Dancing at the Pity Party and Bodies Are Cool are available where books are sold. I sell digital downloads of my artwork at roaringsoftly.com and occasionally offer one-minute portraits there as well. I share art and updates on instagram @tylerfeder. 🪐
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