As an Illustration Artist and Graphic Designer, Luke Manning takes great pride in creating artwork that centers on , body positivity and celebrates the innate, natural sensuality of all people. His illustrations and designs embody intimacy, queer exploration, and unapologetic emphasis on affectionate body representation. The works often highlight soft and romantic figures, with strong visual elements depicting the beauty and confidence of individuals in all forms. Pushing the boundaries of traditional body representation in order to explore a range of diverse, beautiful perspectives. These boundaries often need to be tested in order to open up new possibilities for different kinds of art. Through his work you see how deeply he cares about establishing an environment of inclusivity, respect, and admiration for individual bodies and their associated representations of beauty.
ART BY LUKE MANNING
“As a queer person, I was only able to find spaces of genuine acceptance and understanding once I was honest with myself.”
A healthy body image doesn’t mean achieving a specific appearance. How would you define a healthy body image?
There’s merit to wanting to combat the negative ways in which we might perceive our bodies through exercise and achieving a good perception of one’s physique and appearance. This desire is present from centuries of the human body being viewed as a commodity of capital exploitation; that our bodies are a depreciating asset that is ascribed an inherent value. There’s no easy way to a healthy body image, as it must involve practicing gentleness and self-compassion that we aren’t taught. When we are critical of our bodies, we see our bodies as something to contend with. I would define a healthy body image as difficult, it is difficult to develop and practice compassion when we are never taught ways to ground ourselves in our bodies. When all you are taught is to hyper-fixate on what you can change; you forget to appreciate the ways in which our bodies continue to take care of us.
Has there ever been a point in your life when you didn’t like your body? How did you find the confidence to love your body?
For years, I did not see my body as an extension of myself. I tended to disassociate my body from who I was. This disassociation made it easier to be rude toward my body. I learned to be abrasive at the sight of it. I learned to be critical of what this body lacked. I learned to be apathetic to its needs. The way in which I viewed my body kept becoming more and more inconsiderate and harsh, fueled by the intensely hyper-masculine environment I was raised in. It metastasized into a callousness towards any attributes about myself, even non-physical ones. I only began to see a difference when I went to a dentist's appointment. In one of the most physically invasive spaces, where a dentist can inspect the ways in which you might fail to care for your teeth, a sensitive part of your body. After a simple routine check-up, the dentist complimented my teeth. It was an innocuous comment, but it triggered a question in my head. “If I can accept this one part of me as beautiful, as worthwhile… then why can’t I afford that same beauty, and that same sensitive attitude to the rest of me?” The practice of looking at your body with compassion and grace, I call it to practice for a reason.
How do you showcase body positivity in your creative work?
My work concerns itself with body positivity through the lens of expressing sensuality as something innate to everybody. Creating art of human intimacy and queer exploration is a conscious effort on my part. An effort to showcase a perspective on the body that is unapologetically affectionate.
Who are some of your influences when it comes to body image and positivity?
I wouldn’t say that I have influences explicitly on the subject of body positivity. There are artists whose perspectives on human intimacy or the exploration of sensuality are ones that I feel are valuable. Artists like Christina Quarles, Photographers such as Jeremy Grier, and Performance artists like Juliana Huxtable are what inspire me because they present an argument on the body, sexuality, on identity that cannot be ignored.
The fashion industry has long set the tone for the perception society has of body image. Is that still the case today?
The fashion industry, as a whole, still creates and operates this model of restrictive conventional standards of attractive bodies, for men and women. It’s been interesting, however, to witness the fashion industry behave as a litmus test to what bodies are appropriate for objectification. We are beginning to see more opportunities for models who might have not been able to participate in the fashion industry less than 10 years ago. These opportunities also mirror the trend of models being scouted on social media; the opportunity for models to create their own spaces in these fields was unthinkable in the early 2000s. I think the fashion industry can represent the negative aspects of objectification, I also believe that the fashion industry is an insight into the societal standards of the body and what is considered to be conventionally desirable.
If you could change the way women are represented in the media, how would you?
Ultimately, changing the way women are represented in the media would require a change in how the larger society around that media perceived women. The present heteropatriarchal systems of socialization we are raised under mean that many of the ways we might interact with different genders are layered with unconscious social biases. Changing representation in how women are viewed through media means acknowledging these unconscious social norms and deciding whether or not to challenge them.
Do you think men are equally objectified in the media?
Of course, men experience negative objectification equal to women’s experiences. When we discuss the objectification of the male body and the role of men in a heteronormative, patriarchal social role; we are discussing the ways that the patriarchy is played against men. The male body in media is used as a vehicle of dominance; men are expected to be the provider and the dominating force against a realized threat to protect the submissive characterization of women. The social roles that media presents towards men are ones that encourage insensitivity and aggression, departing from any fragility or emotional strength, the objectification of men as a social role involve violence as an act of solidifying their identity. Men experience objectification under the patriarchy. The motivations for objectification between men and women are similar, a reinforcement of the existing gender hierarchy and the reassurance of male dominance.
What factors, other than body image, contribute to your self-esteem? How can you build upon these other areas of your life?
Self-esteem extends beyond just the body; it involves an assurance in your competency and abilities, your confidence in where you belong, and the strength in being proud of your personal identity. Building self-assurance in your talents and your abilities involves consistent efforts in improvement. As an artist, I have had difficulty in the past having total assurance in my ability or skill. Exercising self-assurance means building on my experiences and knowledge in the art field, taking time to develop new skills, and reminding myself of what I have the capacity to create if I make the effort. Finding a sense of belonging is often tied intrinsically to the confidence in our identities. Speaking as a queer person, I was only able to find spaces of genuine acceptance and understanding once I was honest with myself. Maintaining that sense of belonging then involves the consistent effort of showing up for those that care for you. When you build upon that space with reciprocity and mutual respect, you create communities. When you maintain a space of belonging that enables you to ground your orientation in life, you begin to develop self-confidence in who you are ■
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