5 minutes with… Erin Laurence, The Story Behind a Viral Image

In this series we have a chat with activists, advocates and stirrers making a difference for women and girls. 

Have you ever looked at an iconic or viral image shared in feminist circles and  wondered about its origins? Today we’re looking at the story behind the now infamous “Warning: Reflections in the Mirror May be Distorted by Socially Constructed Ideas of Beauty” image which was created almost ten years ago by Novocastrian graphic designer, Erin Laurence.

Do you remember when you came up with the concept? It was 2008 I think, I was becoming heavily involved in my Campus’ Women’s Collective, and we had seen a lot of stickers for a bunch of different things around the place, and it inspired me to create a whole bunch of stickers for a bunch of feminist and anti-capitalist concepts, the Mirror one was just one of the series actually.

What was the process and how did you bring it life? The process was pretty basic, the wording came to me holus-bolus, and I just threw it, and some other slogany things into indesign and bought some sticker paper and printed them out, cut them up and started sticking them everywhere I thought I could get away with it!

You were distributing the sticker in the days before social media had really taken off and viral had a singular meaning! Do you remember the moment you saw the sticker reappear via social media? Yes, it was a few years ago that I became aware that the sticker/slogan had a life of its own, and honestly I was really chuffed.

As a marketer and graphic designer, there’s nothing quite as gratifying as seeing something you create really resonate! And being the feminist message that it is just made it so much sweeter!

What is it about the sticker that you think resonates? I think we all as women/femmes get really caught up in what we see in the mirror, many of us spend a lot of time engaging with our bodies and faces and mirrors and reflections and we conflate what we see/don’t see with our self-worth. The reminder that the reflections we see are all framed by social constructions, and are not a “TRUE” reflection is something we need to remind ourselves constantly. As a parent of a 15 year old girl, it’s a message that really means a lot to me as I see my daughter going through a lot of hectic body image stuff, and its heart-breaking. Especially as a parent and you see the same issues you struggled with yourself being perpetuated in the next generation, despite your best efforts!

How much has the body image conversation changed since you first made the stickers? I think it has grown and moved a lot since then. There is a LOT more conversation around self-acceptance and self-love. I think social media has had a massively positive influence on people in providing a kind of proxy-support-group for people in disparate geographies that simply wasn’t possible before facebook, tumblr and so on. I’m super gratified that this is happening and I hope the message keeps forming part of the landscape that helps women/femmes (and men too!) to engage more critically with the messages which are constantly attacking their self worth.

There’s an enduring quality about the message, I see it come up still frequently! In this day and age it seems like viral images have their 15 minutes and go on, how do we combine our messaging in a way that gets the viral kick and energy but also stays the distance? I think part of why this message has resonance is that it combines a deeply felt sentiment about self-acceptance and critical thinking with a silly twist based on the warnings seen on car wing-mirrors (“Warning, objects in mirror are closer than they appear”), which is a message we see all the time but mostly ignore. If it didn’t have that connection the message would probably have been lost in the ‘angry feminist’ criticism. As it is, it has that humour which makes it more palatable, but if you dig a bit deeper there’s actually a lot packed into that one sentence.

Something fun- what’s on your podcast playlist or what’s the last article you read you can’t stop thinking about? I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about Charlottesville, anarchism, anti-fascist activism and how to better leverage my white-skin (white-passing) and other privileges to combat fascism. I also read a lot of Game of Thrones re-cap articles! That helps as a bit of silliness to offset the heaviness, which is so necessary these days!

Check out Erin’s Etsy for the stickers!  

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