In her late twenties, illustrator Ariella Elovic embarked on a journey of body acceptance and positivity through art. Painting nude self portraits allowed her to see herself matter-of-factly, noting “each tummy roll and unexpected hair” without judgement. The result of this project was first a successful Instagram account showcasing her paintings and now Cheeky, a delightful graphic memoir.
Cheeky takes readers on a celebration of Elovic’s body, with different parts starring in their own chapters that tell the story of how she came to appreciate each bit. We see young Ariella who, like many of us, loved her body in early childhood. Many readers will feel a sad recognition as she ages into self-consciousness, fantasizing about cutting off her belly fat and being literally afraid to move because her thighs might jiggle. But the bright, spirited illustrations keep the tone light and lively and emphasize how far Elovic has come on the journey to self-love. Now, instead of fantasizing about getting rid of her tummy, she imagines bathing in leftover meat sauce.
“Face,” “Hair,” “Butt,” and “Vagina” almost become characters in their own right. They are joined by Elovic’s sisters; her fiercely feminist grandmothers and, most memorably, the Yentas, a group of longtime friends. The Yentas often appear as smiling heads in a cloud, like angels cheering her on. We don’t learn how the Yentas became so body positive themselves, but they are always ready and waiting to provide Ariella with support, a joke, or a wonderfully gross question about farts. Cheeky is a story of Ariella’s body, but it’s also a heartwarming tale of friendship among women.
The drawings are lovingly grotesque; Elovic doesn’t use her paint to cover up perceived flaws but rather to embrace them. The Ariella of the drawings has a knowing, confident smile, a body that always seems to be motion, and plenty of body hair. The Yentas have the biggest, warmest, most accepting faces you can imagine. Foods, from Kashi waffles to Bonne Maman jam, are tenderly drawn. One particularly fun image shows Ariella swimming in Metamucil (caption: “It’s Jewish Tang!”).
Elovic is upfront about how her story isn’t universal: she’s white, cisgender, and Jewish. But while not everyone will see themselves here, for those who do, it’s glorious to feel so reflected. The particular trials of indigestion, unruly curls, and overzealous eyebrows combine with stories of Jewish camp, Bat Mitzvahs, and plucking chin hairs with bare hands during Yom Kippur services to make a uniquely Jewish story of body love. While readers of all backgrounds, ages, and genders will find Cheeky inspiring and entertaining, it will especially resonate with teen girls and, hopefully, encourage them to embrace themselves as they are.