Bridget runs a full-time side hustle in illustration called Handsome Girl Designs that focuses on body-positivity and feminism. Handling online negativity is something she sees on a regular basis, so read on to learn some techniques she uses to endure and combat the instigators.
How long have you been at your day job?
I worked for a couple of years starting in 2015, left for nine months to work solely in design, and came back to merchandising. I missed my team of coworkers, which is what really made me want to come back. I have a rad team and we’re like a family.
What are some of your duties at your day job?
In music I have specific clients, such as Bon Jovi. If you go into a retail shop and see a tee-shirt with a Bon Jovi design on it, my team created it and made it come to market. I also work with many influencers, Vanessa J Simmons and I worked together to create a Mommy and Me clothing line. I make clothing concepts come to life in the market for many different people. There are some celebrity clients that are thankless, meanwhile others are humble and grateful for the work that I do. The scope of the projects I get to work on is amazing, which always keep things interesting.
How does your day job influence creating projects for yourself?
Handsome Girl Designs came to life as an outlet for my creative freedom. At work I am creating for people. I have to get their approval and edits, so when it’s finished, it’s not just my work. I just wanted to create things in a space where I have complete control and creative freedom. A deeper part of it, especially with the body-positivity aspect, was that it helped me illustrate my struggles with my eating disorder. Drawing parts of my body that I don’t love in a celebratory way helped me realize that my imperfections are beautiful. It’s a fulfilling project and it’s a plus that I am my own boss.
Talking about these types of social issues and female empowerment guarantees the occasional troll, how often does this happen?
It happens about 90% of the time. It’s mind-blowing what people feel comfortable saying online. I think some people are out there are truly trying to defend their opinions on a particular issue. One time, I illustrated a pizza slice that read “a slice a day keeps the sad away,” and I got so many comments about creating a better diet for myself so that I’m not “fat.” These are the type of people who believe they are being helpful, but it’s crazy because they are judging me based off of this illustration, not knowing what I actually look like. Then, there are others who are just bored and looking to piss people off. A lot of times, when I click on a troll’s profile, they’re just teenage boys.
What do you think some of the motivation that trolls have are?
When people are being negative towards you in a non-constructive way, it’s the “misery loves company” mindset. Making other people miserable is the only way some people are able to feel good about themselves and less alone. When these trolls see people empowering themselves and others through vocalizing their struggles, they want to bring you back down to their level. They don’t want to see you surrounding yourself with a positive community, getting the help you need, and rising out of that hole.
What’s your reaction when someone leaves a negative comment for you?
If it comes on a day that I have lost progress with my eating disorder, my confidence, and my body, it can hit me so hard. I will want to dive back into my bad habits. So, I will want to restrict my eating habits in order to regain some control where that comment took control away from me.
On the flip side of that, there are days when I rage and say “fuck this,” and let that rage power me through my illustrations. I wish that I could have that reaction every time, but I’m only human and sometimes the trolls really rattle me.
What’s your policy on responding to trolls?
It depends on the situation. I always check their profile to see if they are a legitimate account with more than a handful of followers and offensive posts. If their account reflects their rude comment, I will block them because it’s clear that they are trying to instigate.
If their account is more legitimate and they are just making a clownish comments, I’ll play back. I’ll say something like “Oh, gee thanks. What a helpful comment.” I want to acknowledge it and let them know that they are being an asshole.
If it’s a legitimate account and they are criticizing me or my work, because it triggered something in them, I will always respond. I appreciate that feedback, because my intent is never to produce negativity. I take these types of comments as constructive criticism, but also don’t take them to heart, because oftentimes it’s over unshared opinions and different ideology. My art reflects the way I feel and people are not always going to agree with those feelings. I leave those critiques up, and they don’t really affect me.
However, if someone posts a slur, a threat, or something morally offensive, I delete them, block them, and report them. There is no need for hostility and I don’t want it on my page.
Do you think there is room in the art world for conversations about this subject matter?
Yes! There cannot be enough dialogue about this disruption. There is an awesome ripple effect of positivity that I see radiating from my account to the accounts of others. We need that type of community where there is a safe space on the internet for feminist creatives. To have a little corner where you know allies will back you up in a comment against a troll is so important.
How do you overcome trolls and keep making things that you believe in?
My sister once told me this Andy Warhol quote: Don’t pay attention to what they write about you, just measure it in inches. This is so tangible, especially on Instagram. You can literally measure the comments and gauge the impact that your art had on them. It doesn't matter if it’s a positive or negative comment; you can see that something that you created struck them in some way. All artists should hold this idea close to their heart. It has helped a lot, particularly on the days I get a lot of mixed feedback.
What advice would you give to an artist who wants to tackle similar issues through their work?
Just do it. For the amount of trolls I get, there is more love and support that my art gets. The troll comments can hold a little bit more weight than the positive comments do, but at the end of the day the encouragement really keeps me going. There is somebody on Instagram waiting for you to create something they can relate to.
In my series “Babes” I started illustrating lives that I don’t lead, such as women disabilities and women who self harm/harmed. I went back and forth deciding if should post them after drawing it out. These my stories and I wasn’t sure if I should be the one to tell them. I finally got to a point where I realized that it doesn’t matter because I know these women and I want to celebrate them. When I finally posted them I got so much support and thanks for making my art more inclusive. I think it’s time to push through the doubts and put it out there. There will be people who bring negativity, but you are going to help somebody. It can have the power to change someone’s day.
What’s the worst experience you’ve had with a troll?
I made a post that said “Anything you can do, I can do bleeding” and a lot of straight men had issues with it. They read that quote as “Anything you can do, I can do better,” and decided there was room for argument. I got so many troll comments for that one, but there was one guy in particular that got a rise out of me. He started by saying that it’s scientifically proven that men are better than women. So, I decided to play back and said “I’m so bummed that I missed that riveting article.” Then, he decided that he didn’t like my playful response and escalated to slut-shaming me, which then turned into racial slurs.
I quickly blocked and reported him and deleted the comments as they came, but he created new accounts to harass me on. He then proceeded to DM me and email me. He sent me a picture of his dick and said “I could slice this open and still do things better than you.” He was messaging me ten to twelve times a day, got my email adress, and began threatening me with rape. After a week of this, I finally had to report him to the cops and it stopped.
What’s the best response you’ve gotten from your art?
There is a lot from me to choose from, because I get many DMs from people who are stoked about a piece that I did. This one girl really sticks out though. I posted an illustration of a woman with an amputated leg, and this girl’s friend tagged her in the comments because she had just undergone an amputation. Still hospitalized from the procedure, she messaged me to express her appreciation of the visibility that I brought to her situation and to let me know that through my post, she had found other accounts that did too.
It touched my heart knowing that I was a small cog in the wheel that brought a moment of hope during a terrible time in her life. My interaction with her really opened my eyes to the fact that I should be making art that includes even more diversity. She helped me just as much as I hope that I helped her in that moment.
Do you have any upcoming work that we can help promote?
Following and engaging with me on Instagram is the most immediate way to support me. If you are in the LA area, I will be having my first art show at the Earth Altar Studio in Eagle Rock. My art will be up all through the end of summer and the studio is a cool tattoo shop that you should check out anyway!