Babes and Boobs

Artist uses her whimsical characters to promote body-positivity

There are many naked women in Sofia Holt’s studio. Some of the women are dancing, some are just standing. Some are facing the viewer, some are looking away with their backs turned exposed back and bottom facing the viewer. These women have raised a middle finger, like a challenge to those who’d prefer that the ladies be clothed, but none of them are. All are drawn carefree, seemingly living in an imagined world free of body image pressure.

“As a woman, I have a lot of pressure on me. Almost every time I speak to a woman, she agrees with me. My artwork, the women are dancing and they are happy,” Holt said. “For me when I draw something I can start laughing, and I know that that’s good.” The piece is part of the “Babes” collection, a series of drawings and paintings that depict naked women and female body parts. The pictures eschew straight realism for a more lively, playful look that favors heavy lines, strong colors and curves creating bodies that feel delightful. The look is something like the cartoonish, real enough feeling of something like The Simpsons.

There’s a playfulness in it that’s intentional, Holt said. Seeing women’s bodies—the whole thing, legs, breasts, stomachs, backs and all—in a style like this reflects a body positivity message she means to convey to those who see the females. “It’s a lot of pictures on social media, you will look at them and you will feel not enough,” she said. “With this collection, I want people to be aware of this… that you’re criticizing yourself. You’re being negative to yourself—‘There’s always something wrong with my body.’ There’s so much brain activity that goes in this that could go to reading a book or learning a language or enjoying my life.”

The women are supposed to be every women, so there’s a little of every woman scattered throughout the works. Some of the women are tall, some are short. Some are thin, and some are not. Some women are white like Holt, many are not. Usually people get it. Holt said she usually get positive responses from people who see her work. The embarrassment some women feel at seeing naked female bodies she said can sometimes give way to a conversation about where that embarrassment comes from.

Sometimes people don’t get it. Occasionally, her posts on Instagram posts are flagged for elicit content citing the nudity. She remembered getting one comment from a male commenter on her work saying “who doesn’t love boobs?”

Though bearing some surface similarities, the difference is in fact great between appreciating woman as sexual objects—and the appeal to that through pornography, as Instagram’s moderators have sometimes labeled Holt’s work—and the serious, affirming depiction of women as beautiful outside of their erotic appeal. It’s something Holt takes seriously.

As a young girl, Holt describes herself as “really big,” a 78 kilogram 12-year-old. She got diabetes and trimmed her weight dramatically but still felt inadequate. “It doesn’t matter. If I was big I was judging myself, my body. If I was skinny, I was judging myself, my body,” she said. “I just don’t want want to waste time with this anymore.”

Holt cited the dangers that stem from body image issues as a reason for her creating the works, too. Eating disorders, specifically anorexia, are a leading cause of female mortality for women aged 15 to 24, according to research compiled by US treatment center Mirasol Recovery Centers. They also show that untreated eating disorders will claim a fifth of the lives of those who do not treat it, a higher mortality rate than any other illness including chronic depression.

“People die from this, it’s very serious,” Holt said plainly. Breasts are an important artistic feature, Holt said, because they’re the source of many people’s first meal.

The nudity is the natural state. “The dog walks naked,” she reasoned. “We are also animals.”

Holt is a freelance artist and designer whose work record includes interior and industrial design, textiles, pottery, prints, painting and furniture. She arrived in Vietnam in 2014 as part of a work agreement with furniture maker UMA. She handles lots of deadline centered work like the illustrations she was assigned in summer 2016. She remembers reaching a point where the work wasn’t coming and all she could feel was the pressure. Her body was stiff and she was feeling unhappy. “It doesn’t release my creativity just to sit like this,” she reasons. “I was just loosening up and doing what I like instead. It just came to [drawing] some naked, dancing people having fun. It was such a relief. It just came as so natural.”

Holt said sustainability is also a big part of what she does. Where possible, she uses locally sourced materials and fabrics for her work, including the “Babes” collection. Holt said she kept sustainability in mind when she decided to create a product and print collection with the“Babes.” The cotton for the “Babes” bags is locally sourced, for example. The opposite of sustainability is mass production an existing item, and there aren’t many other designers drawing dancing, nude, happy women.

“Why would I do the same? It’s just adding more products too the world. But this is, it’s coming for a purpose. It’s something I want to say.”

To see more of Sofia Holt’s artwork, visit

Images by Vy Lam

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