A few years ago, body hair, curves, and periods were widely considered too taboo to showcase on social media. Then came along a generation of young female artists who showed that candy-colored expressions of girlhood and bodily functions and sexual expression could go hand in hand. Perhaps one of the most influential was Arvida Byström.
"I pretty much had my coming of age online," says the 25-year-old photographer. "So I wouldn't say it changed my relationship to sex, but it has been a big integrated part of me viewing sex. I never had it any other way."
Using 21st-century tools like her cell phone and digital cameras, she turns the camera on herself to create powerful images that celebrate the female form and all of its complexity. Her work is about much more than aesthetics, and it has helped shape how we view sexuality in the digital age. But her images are still considered controversial—many of them have been removed from Instagram. In fact, she compiled a book with some of her banned images, Pics or It Didn't Happen: Images Banned From Instagram, with artist Molly Soda.
Below, Byström shares some advice on how to create powerful self-portraits.
Tip No. 1: So You Want to Take Some Photos of Yourself? You Don't Have to Overthink It.
"Sometimes it's just a selfie and it comes down to opening the phone camera, being like, 'Oh, hi. I look cute today.' *Snap.* Other times, I make a lot of different fun poses, change the angles, and really play around."
Tip No. 2: Think About Your Perspective
"Our perception of the world is basically built on the male gaze. We can decide if we wanna comply or defy, but either way [our perception] is always in relationship to this gaze."
Tip No. 3: Your Selfies Don't Have to Be Suggestive
"I don't think everybody has to do it. It's a complicated thing. For some people who tend to objectify themselves and take the passive relationship in sexual interactions, I think it can be powerful to feel like you are holding the tool, the gaze—in other words, the camera—and can be in control and play around alone on your own terms."
Tip No. 4: When You Photograph Others, Don't Force Them to Express Their Sexuality
"Bear in mind that some bodies are more quickly judged as sexual without wanting to necessarily put that out there."
Tip No. 5: Don't Feel Pressure to Overtly Confront Feminist Issues
"Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't. I like to see my work as a discussion with the world and with myself rather than [as providing] definite answers."
Tip No. 6: Respect the Power of the Selfie
"I don't think our fabricated society's idea about sexuality has a lot to do with an essence of 'human nature' except that human beings want to connect with each other and that looks different in different societies. Because of the history of the camera and agency of one's own body, it can be pretty powerful to feel like you can take over the control of your own body if even for a second, an hour. Or even better, forever—if that is even possible."