Margaret Eby
October 17, 2014 3:22 pm

If you’ve been browsing social media lately, you may have already hit upon the work of Brazilian artist Carol Rossetti, and her stunning illustrations of women on brown backgrounds, captioned with empowering messages. They’re beautiful mini-portraits with sweet notes of encouragement. They often directly confront beauty conventions and assumptions about female sexuality in a gentle, even-handed way.

Take one image, of a woman with short, blonde hair looking confidently out of the frame. “Ursula never liked wearing makeup,” Rossetti wrote. “That is not a problem, Ursula! You are the boss of your face!”

Another is a portrait of a woman with flowing white hair and a rapturous expression on her face, which Rossetti captioned: “Silvia has white hair. People have been telling her to dye it so she doesn’t look old. Silvia, dying your hair is a choice and never an obligation. If you like your white hair, nobody has anything to do with it. Age has nothing to do with it. Your hair is beautiful and the choice is yours!”

The series, Rossetti says, began as a simple exercise in kindness. She began trying to say, “something nice to my friends who already followed my work” and posting the portraits to Facebook, where they quickly went viral. “Most of them were based on people I know, who are close to me,” she told CNN. “For example, my mother who has white hair, and I think it’s gorgeous, but still many people tell her to dye it. In the end, I can relate to most of them, because they are all about the control over women’s bodies, and I live that every day.”

Every installment shows a different woman and a different quandary. “It’s mostly about our freedom to express our identities and to make our own life choices,” Rossetti told Buzzfeed. “It should be something very simple, but we judge and are judged for all of our personal choices–it happens the whole time.”

“I think the point of my illustrations is to show, in a gentle and nonaggressive way, that there is still a lot of oppressive control over women’s personal choices and identities, and expose a problem of representation toward women,” Rossetti told CNN. “Whenever I see a newspaper criticizing a woman’s appearance, it’s like saying that every woman in every occasion can and will be evaluated by her looks. Doesn’t really matter if she’s receiving a Nobel Prize or saving people from drowning, papers will talk about her poor choice of shoes or a nip slip.”

The takeaway? That people, and women in particular, really respond to portrayals of human beings, even illustrated ones, that ring true. “I was positively shocked by the amount of people who are eager to see a wider representation of the human being,” Rossetti told CNN. “And it’s great!”

Images via Buzzfeed

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