this artist is sharing her breakouts and breakdowns on instagram
“If it’s in my head it eats me up, but if I put it out there I can let it go” -- says Mónica Hernandez.
Image via Instagram
Mónica Hernández is an exceptionally talented painter. She makes 6ft tall paintings of mostly nude female bodies, mostly her own, which she uses as a vehicle to express her deepest insecurities. And yet it is the way in which she uses Instagram which is of most note.
Instagram is a virtual wonderland where everyone is always having a great time and everyone always looks beautiful. But Mónica is calling bullshit, using the social media platform to document everything from her breakdowns to her breakouts. “My Instagram is like the stuff you share with your best friend, you can break down in front of your best friend,” she explains. You can also share with your best friend that awkward time when you were accidentally walking around wearing jeans with someone else’s period stains on them. Or when you’re just really, bored and over it all.
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Mónica moved to the Bronx aged six. Heralding from a place where her natural curly hair is nationally known as ‘palo malo’ (ugly), the 22-year-old painter has been confronted by unrealistic beauty standards her whole life. “I started shaving my underarms and legs when I was 13,” she says. “I felt like a grown up, it was amazing. But my body hair grows pretty rapidly and it was just something that became very difficult to keep up on a practical level. And what got to me was the fact that I could not feel attractive or good about myself unless I was in this state of literally shaving from the neck down.” A few years ago body hair wasn’t as Instagrammable as it is now, so when Mónica first posted she had to deal with a backlash of negativity. “The social media community didn’t exist like it does now,” she explains. “People would screenshot my pictures and put them on their accounts and talk shit about me. It became super interesting like from the perspective of how we consume imagery on social media. The fact that some of the women who were commenting on the pictures were just like me and didn’t realise there is a choice. Like the beauty practices we are expected to carry out, it’s a choice. Now sometimes I shave, sometimes I don’t.”
But Mónica hasn’t just put down her razor, her self-acceptance journey involves make-up, too. “I was working in retail and wearing heavy make-up like every day, heavy foundation, just destroying my face and I already had so much acne and I just woke up one day and I was like what the fuck am I doing all of this for? For me, make-up was never a self-expressive thing, it was just trying to hide my face but then I realised I’m actually not fooling anyone.” It’s just like this transparency that’s really beautiful, you can see who someone is. In a really weird sense you can see them just existing without trying to be anything but exactly who they are in that moment.”
Mónica's transparency goes beyond scrapping beauty regimes. Thanks to the body and skin positive movements, you’ve probably seen numerous images of stretch marks, cellulite, acne, and body hair doing the rounds online, but have you ever seen anyone post a close-up of their fillings? “I have all these cavities filled and when I open my mouth when I’m talking you can see it,” she muses. “So, rather than someone looking and being like ‘oh what is that?’, I would rather just post it. So, we’re all in the know.” For Mónica, sharing her insecurities online is like going to therapy, only with 20K + followers she’s doing it on a global scale. “If it’s in my head it eats me up, but if I put it out there I can just like forget about it and weirdly let it go.”
In spring last year, Mónica's unapologetic authenticity was recognised by Canadian artist and i-D fave Petra Collins who tapped her to take part in In Search of Us -- a three-hour live tableau performance in celebration of the female form, staged at NYC’s Museum of Modern art. “It was super empowering,” she recalls, “existing in front of this audience in a major institution that has constantly excluded not only people of colour but creatives of colour and women who create.”
Fronting the first ever Nike ACG all women’s collection was another casual date in her diary last year, in which she starred alongside her art besties Lee Armoogam and Uzumaki Cepeda. Opportunities like this have only been possible because of Instagram, she tells us. “It’s strange because a lot of people have this very negative view of social media but I have a positive relationship to it. I’ve met my best friends on there and I’ve been able to be completely honest with myself through social media. I think it’s because our immediate surroundings don’t always have the people we need, that understand us and are willing to support us. You just post something and it’s just sending it out there, then whoever’s meant to receive it will receive it and will reach out to you. You can build a community.”
So, what’s next for Mónica Hernandez? “Just continuing to paint and write and paint and write…” And obviously continuing to serve the realest of realness.