“Draw me like one of your French girls,” is one of “Titanic’s” iconic lines that has been quoted by many as a meme for years. Yet, so few of us have actually had our nude portraits drawn—which is such a shame because of how much it can elevate your self-esteem no matter your body type. Illustrator Christa Vega hopes to change that with her series “#SecretNudes.”
Through her series of anonymous portraits based on consensually sent nude photos, Vega has created a safe space for women to fully embrace their bodies without fear of malice and to stand up against digital sexual violence such as nude leaking. We had a chat with Vega about the stories within “#SecretNudes” and how building trust can become transformative.
We hear that you’re working on a new batch for “#SecretNudes.” Tell us about the process of creating a piece for it.
All artworks are based on real nudes that are consensually sent to me. Every commission goes through a checkpoint before anything else. This is where the client declares her consent to be illustrated, gives me permission (or not) to post her artwork, and validates that she is above 18 years old. I delete their photos right after artwork completion and remind them that although I have safety measures in place, external risks like hacks are unfortunately outside my scope. I observe these religiously. Not only to keep the project professional, but more so to reassure my clients. I must let them know that, woman to woman, the trust here is solid.
There were 150 #SecretNudes illustrated in 2020 and I am now at 200+. Each artwork claims a place in my heart, but the ones that truly stay with me are the stories behind them. Through modernizing nude art, women have opened up to me and I to them in turn—about the journey of womanhood, the battle of having the female form, and even overcoming the trauma that may come with it.
What drew these women to share their nudes with you? Are all the nudes seductive in nature?
Women send me their nudes to be drawn for self-love or, sometimes, the lack thereof. Some are eager to celebrate their bodies, while some struggle with it. I suppose the biggest push for them would be the bravery of fellow women who have joined the project—like a domino effect powered by female courage.
Not all are seductive in nature. Others are honest—moms breastfeeding, plus-size women allowing their skin to fold as they should, trans women in the middle of their [affirming] process, women who have gone through surgery flaunting their scars. There are photos of dark spots, stretch marks, all of it—everyday women as they are. [The project provides] a chance for them to be turned into an illustration that they can sit with and allow them to say “That’s all me” without being judged, faulted, or shamed.
Why did you start this project?
Initially, it was to share the thrill of being completely bare in an artwork yet anonymously concealed by lines, colors and textures—an experience of liberation through illustrations. But as the project grew, the messaging deepened beyond the superficial.
Every artwork became a female protest—coming together to take back the power our gender has lost to digital violence against women via leaking nudes, an advocacy closely related to my undergraduate thesis years ago. These are women taking a stand with their bodies, declaring: NO, we are not the objects that you say we are. We are not just scandals that you send around. We are works of art.
It birthed stories of women empowerment and body positivity. It became a commentary on consent and boundaries. It became an exercise of trust among women.
What do you think is a misconception about consent that perpetuates a culture of sexual violence?
In relation to “#SecretNudes,” I’ve received slut-shaming comments towards my clients—assumptions that they are promiscuous, or even other viewers “jokingly” asking for my album of reference photos. Some people think that just because women express themselves this way, it becomes forgivable to sexualize them (or even me). And to that I say: Leave your urges out of it and let women celebrate themselves.
Some people argue that sex positivity can at times be counterintuitive to the fight against sexual exploitation. What’s your take on that?
While my art is centered on the body, I believe that it is still up to me to protect myself in this not so woman-friendly world we live in. I am all for women expressing themselves freely. Different things empower different women.
I do have my personal boundaries. As with every other woman, I have had my fair share of unwanted sexual advances and harassment. It has conditioned me to be critical with how I am around the opposite sex. I do not want to feed the already inherent disrespect towards women and this is far from the purpose of my art.
What should we look forward to from you next?
After a year or so of illustrating women, I started getting respectful requests from men who wish to be drawn as well. I have only been listening to women, when all this time there were also men who wanted to be heard and seen this way. So far, I have already finished a couple of male artworks and have more lined up. Opening #SecretNudes to all genders and communities, I hope, will be our way of making the project more inclusive and human.