I am a Lebanese illustrator living in The Netherlands. In celebration of International Women’s Week, I created a series of portraits titled “Celebrating Self-Expression” for a personal exhibition. Each portrait is accompanied by a story that is either based on a true story or fictional.
Coming from Lebanon, I always felt pressured to blend in society and it shaped the way I treat my personal style. I used to get asked to straighten my curly hair to attend business meetings because it makes me look neater, or to stop wearing black to look more feminine and fresh. Having lived a year in The Netherlands, I realized how much women here are freer to express themselves without being judged. I feel so much at ease knowing that stereotypes are not glorified and self-expression is encouraged.
I hope to help women see that they don’t need to change for people and by embracing their true identity, they become more at peace with themselves which brings out their beauty. I worked on the whole project in one week but it felt so amazing to be able to share my message with other women.
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Emma is 29 years old. She is a drummer in a rock band. When she met her boyfriend, he didn’t believe it till he saw videos. And he wasn’t the first one. Emma always heard the words “You look too nice to be in a rock band.” She was growing tired of event managers telling her she needs to look the role because she’s a performer.
Her orange curls are her Irish pride. She doesn’t want to hide that just to fit into a rocker stereotype. Emma always gives a shout out to her audience when her band is performing to remind all women not to accept society’s pressure on looks and style. She loves herself which brings her peace, and makes her even more beautiful.
Lilly is 36 years old. She cuts her hair by herself. She never understood the need to go to the salon and make small talk. She always believed that it was a waste of her time. The time she could spend drawing and improving her comic characters.
The tattoo on her face speaks louder than words. It was something her mother had to learn to accept about her.
She resembles a warrior, but that didn’t come easy. Lilly struggled to express herself as a young woman but finally broke free when she left her hometown and joined a video gaming company. She loves herself which brings her peace, and makes her even more beautiful.
Anna is 22 years old. Growing up, people joked about how quickly her tears ran down her cheeks. She would cry over movies, wounded animals, even books she read… With time Anna understood that she has emotional hypersensitivity and she’s not the only one. She explained that to people around her and after a while decided to ink an ellipsis (…) on her face. It was a test of strength and endurance for her and the tough experience helped her take control of her emotions. People wonder why she tainted her pure face. But for her, it’s a matter of expressing her mental state and being strong. She loves herself which brings her peace, and makes her even more beautiful.
Aisha is 33 years old. She is a mother and a magazine editor. In the creative world, Aisha thrives among her peers. She’s known to be strong and an advocate of change. As a young woman, Aisha got sick and lost her hair. But she decided to color it purple once it grew and got herself a nose ring.
Her edgy style is a liberation from the things that bring her down. She is proud of the way she looks, and her friends admire her for it. Today, the magazine where she works has a section on Celebrating Self Expression, thanks to her. She loves herself which brings her peace, and makes her even more beautiful.
Leonie is 27 years old. She goes by the nickname ‘Umi’, which means ‘water’ in Japanese. Leonie works as a receptionist in a hipster hotel. As a hobby, she makes crochet toys and sells them on her online store. Always regarded as the odd one, she learned to embrace people’s mumbles and stares when she’s on the train.
Leonie is applying for her PhD in Japanese Art History, a move that she believes will help liberate her style and inspire girls like her to embrace the things they love. She loves herself which brings her peace, and makes her even more beautiful.
Samantha is 27 years old. She has dyed her hair pink ever since she was 16. Her parents always encouraged her to do what makes her feel comfortable and so she never stopped. She goes by the name ‘Sam’, even to her clients. She is a freelance accountant who only works with startups.
Sam breaks the stereotype of what an accountant should look like and found her haven among like-minded people. In her free time, she makes video tutorials on how to combine hair dyes to make new pink hues. She also has a nice little online community and it motivates her to keep expressing herself. She loves herself which brings her peace, and makes her even more beautiful.
Lara is 30 years old. She works in a big company and her colleagues call her the next Beyoncé. She has beautiful wild curls that have become part of her identity. For a big client presentation, Lara was asked to tame her hair by straightening it because they thought it made her look neater. She said she’ll think about it.
Lara decided to make her hair extra big and curly that day. She didn’t care about what her boss would say and knew better than to submit to what one man thinks about her. She even got complimented by her client for her vibrant energy that day. She loves herself which brings her peace, and makes her even more beautiful.
Behind the scenes of the project
I first hand drew all the illustrations using Faber-Castell Pitt artist pen and then digitized and colored on Adobe Illustrator. The background pattern is also hand drawn.
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