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CHEEKY: A Head to Toe Memoir (2020)
Book Reviews

CHEEKY: A Head to Toe Memoir (2020)

A young woman’s struggle for acceptance explored through colorful and honest pictures of her body.

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You’d think in today’s world self-love would be easy. There’s been a call to unhooking bra straps across the nation for women to feel more empowered about themselves and their wildly different bodies. Despite this, young women still find themselves bombarded with messages of how they should present themselves and striving to appear flawless.

Known to thousands of fans from her frank Instagram thecheekyblog, artist Ariella Elovic shares her journey dealing with the highs and lows of struggling to love herself as she is, rather than what the media says she should be, in her enlightening and brutally honest first graphic memoir CHEEKY: A Head to Toe Memoir.

Let’s be real here, not everyone is comfortable in their own skin. Elovic explores the lengths she goes to pluck and diet her way to perfection, but nothing ever seems enough. She re-discovers each part of her body from face to legs to find her way back to herself. Support from a group of girls she met during summer camp dubbed the Yentas, Yiddish for “gossipy women”, who changed her worldview of being a woman. Drawing from their support and her own personal experiences, she learns to love herself for the way she is.

Body issues can start at a young age. In the fourth grade, Elovic relabeled her pants to read size 6S, the same size the popular girls in her class wore. She internalized her weight as something she’d be judged by and over time became her worst critic. Each meal becomes a lesson in self-criticism and how the food in front of her would only add inches to her waistline. This type of mindset is damaging and bleeds into adulthood for most young women, forcing them to go to ever greater lengths to get that “perfect body”.

Waxing and plucking become less about self-grooming and a chore to maintain a hairless complexion. The Yentas laugh at such audacity and shave against the grain of society to display themselves for who they truly are, refusing to hide the fact they have body hair because it’s a natural part of their bodies, nothing to be ashamed of. While Elovic comes around to the not shaving party, she is still on the fence about whether she’s doing to fit in with her friends or she actually enjoys it. It’s a hard question to ask yourself when making changes for the better, whether it’s for yourself or to fit in with the group. We’re all still growing as people and it takes time to figure out who we are as individuals.

This upbeat tone carries on throughout, starting off with Elovic’s negative view of a part of her body and coming around to seeing it in a positive light. With the support from Yentas, she finds the confidence to explore her own body. When going to remove a tampon she finds stuck and doesn’t know what to do, she calls her mom who recommends soaking in a tub to loosen it up, which doesn’t help. Doing a self-inspection reveals a band of tissue caught around the tampon, preventing it from being pulled out.

Later on, she does some research and discovers she has a “septate hymen” – essentially two vaginal openings instead of one – which makes tampon usage difficult. Elovic’s experiences begs the question whether her mom ever discussed issues like tampon usage openly with his daughter, or if the two ever discussed the subject. To be fair, her view of her parents never appears either negative or positive because they’re rarely mentioned.

Elovic’s artwork is reminiscent of the late Frida Kahlo, the famed female Mexican painter who did self-portraits with her prominent unibrow. Each page feels like a celebration of her body, instead of being downtrodden by self-doubt. Her chubby tummy is a strong point of contention for her and as a young girl would hold up her belly fat to see what she would like as thin. She’d snack in secret thinking people would find it disgusting if they saw her eating and judge her for it. Over time, she gave herself permission to enjoy food and realize her body will always change shape, even if it’s softer.

Self acceptance is still hard to come by, for some people it’s impossible when comparing themselves to what they perceive to be flawless human beings on social media. Cheeky pushed me to confront my own misgivings of being a woman and to not to be so harsh on myself on certain issues. Through her colorful artwork Ariella Elovic documents her struggles to accept herself for the way she was, but eventually came to embrace the odd quirks her body, hairy or otherwise, was. And in today’s world, we could all do with a little bit of this type of self-love.

About the Author: Nia Bothwell