All images via @frances_cannon
When illustrator Frances Cannon had the words "Self Love Club" tattooed on her arm, she saw it as a small, personal statement. She asked a friend, fellow artist Gemma Flack, to do the honours, telling i-D "I wanted something special to mark my growth and my journey of coming to accept and love my body." It was a club with one member for a time, but then Frances had the idea to invite others to join in. She wanted to share "this little symbol of acknowledging self worth."
Frances was already a popular artist online; her illustrations frequently borrowed by fans and friends for their own bodily adornment. It didn't take long for the idea to catch on. Soon, the three little worlds began appearing in her feed: her idea was turning into a movement. She was being tagged in images from all over the world.
Sarah Bishop — a grad student and mental health worker from Asheville, North Carolina — was already a fan on Frances' art, well before she saw people sharing pictures of their Self Love Club tattoos on her feed. Having struggled with self-image her whole life, when one of Sarah's closest friends suggested they get Self Love Club tattooed she agreed. For her, it was about "both starting a new journey in our lives and focusing on ourselves and cultivating our self love."
Sarah got her tattoo with her best friend.
While it could be easy to see this as a passing trend, another cute tattoo idea gleaned from the internet, Frances explains there is a deeper ethos here that the women share. "Anyone can get it as long as they're open to the club rules," she says. By choosing to carry these words on your skin you're promising to always show yourself respect, love, forgiveness and understanding. You also pledge to extend that understanding to others, and always be kind to your body and take care of your mental health.
Music student Olivia Shoesmith found the club through Instagram, and doesn't know Frances personally. Despite never meeting, she and the artist share a similar story. Her tattoo was also the result of an epiphany around how she had been viewing and treating herself. "I decided it was hypocritical to keep hurting myself while trying to not hurt the planet, so I got it above where I usually self harmed." Looking at the tattoo now, on a piece of skin that had previously held a very different kind of marking, she calls it a reminder that "I am worthy of love, from myself and others."
Considering many of the women who carry the Self Love Club branding also have tattoos of Frances' other illustrations, or at least count themselves as admires of hers, one does question whether this is something more akin to a fan club. It's a suggestion the artist is quick to dismiss, "if it were a fan club the tattoos would say 'Frances Love Club' and although that would be flattering, I think it would be a bit odd!" Adding, "I don't see it as a fan club and I don't think anyone else does."
Olivia got the tattoo as a reminder to appreciate and care for herself.
Despite being a fan on the artist and quick to share the origin of the tattoo with anyone who asks, Sarah is firm that "ultimately it was my choice to get it and I have my own personal reasons for doing so."
Olivia mirrors her sentiment, "members of the group do it more for themselves than for a cult thing, it's more a support network." Describing the feeling of seeing other girls with the tattoo, she says it's like having a secret with a stranger. You might not know them, but you immediately know that you're joined in a quiet commitment to support each other.
That's perhaps the largest take away from the club. Not only is it a pledge to look after yourself, but it's a commitment to look after others. Sarah reflects, "because I got it with one of my best friends, it also makes me think of her and how we always take time to build each other up." She also admits that it's a hell of a conversation starter, and as an icebreaker it usually leads to a really lovely chats about self care and respect.
To Frances, what began as a personal reminder to appreciate and look after herself has snowballed into a community committed to caring for each other and starting conversations around self harm, acceptance and support. Credit where it's due, it's hard to think of many other accessories that do so much good.
Text Wendy Syfret
Images via Instagram