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Shelby Bergen is an illustrator and cat enthusiast from the suburbs outside of the Twin Cities. She loves using bright colors, patterns and shapes in her work, and loves making fun character designs. Shelby prides herself in keeping her work diverse, focusing on showcasing different types and sizes of bodies. When Shelby isn’t making art, she spends her time petting cats named after breakfast foods, gardening and playing Dungeons and Dragons.
She graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Illustration December of 2016. Since then, she’s gone on to work with amazing people at places like Fatventure Mag, Rad Fat Adventure Camp and most recently had an illustration published in The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of The Fat and Fierce.
Tell me about you! What’s your name? What pronouns do you use? Where do you live? What do you like to eat for breakfast?
Hi! I’m Shelby, I use she/her pronouns and I live right outside the Twin Cities! My schedule normally doesn’t allow for breakfast at breakfast time, but I am the biggest fan of any and all breakfast food, especially when it’s not eaten at breakfast time. Currently obsessed with garlic sourdough toast, though.
What is your business, and how does it make a difference in the world?
I’m a fat illustrator, and I focus on body diversity in my work. I do my best to include as many different kinds of bodies I can, but I definitely do a lot more with fat bodies. I’m all about depicting fat bodies in a way that feels very honest and loving. When I first started doing this, I didn’t realize I was making a difference, or that people would even care that much! Now I get near daily messages of fellow fat folks thanking me for simply drawing people that look like them. Representation is something that really matters to everyone, and I try to represent as many people as I can.
Why is what you do important? How does it change the way people see or how they feel about their bodies?
Representation is so much more important than I think many people even realize. People see my work and they see themselves in it, and it’s a feeling that most fat folks don’t get to feel with popular media. My work makes people feel a little less alone in the world, and that means everything to me.
What’s your most popular item/service, or the one you most enjoy doing/making?
I do commissions! I love love love drawing people with the ones they love!
How does body positivity or fat positivity make your business different from others in your field? What has your experience been like?
As an illustrator, I don’t see a whole lot of others in my field even drawing fat bodies, let alone drawing them all the time. It’s something that makes me both sad and hopeful, because while I don’t see a lot of fat bodies in the illustrations I see online, I discover more illustrators like me all the time. My experience in this field has been both wonderful and sad, because I get so many people who come to me for fat positive art, but I also get these same people telling me that I’m one of the ew people they know who draw fat bodies. It does, however, fuel my fire to continue to make fat positive work and to rally fellow fat positive illustrators like me to make more fat art !
Can you share an instance where you made a real difference for a customer, or had some really great feedback from them about your body-positive work?
I may or may not have an entire folder on my phone of all the nice messages people send me about my work…everyone is just too sweet and nice!
How did you discover body acceptance or body positivity personally? What kind of difference has it made for you?
Tumblr! A piece of art from the Fat Art tumblr came across my dash (I believe it was a RimaDeer piece) and I remember feeling like the world was changing for me in some way. I couldn’t put my finger on how it was changing or why, but it felt significant. I went to an arts high school at the time and it was a really great, low judgement environment for me to really explore who I was and who I wanted to be and that’s where I first started to wade into the body positivity waters.
Body positivity and fat acceptance have changed my life in such an incredible way that I don’t think I’d even be able to properly quantify it. It’s what gets me up in the morning, it’s what has brought my friends and I together, it’s one of the main reasons I make art at all. I’ve met so many people through body positivity, It’s so woven into my life and my being that I don’t think I’d ever be able to untangle it.
What advice do you have for other people who are learning to love and accept their bodies?
You don’t have to do it all at once. It’s a journey! You’re not a bad person for not liking yourself suddenly and all at once. Be kind to yourself, we’re all still learning to love and accept ourselves.
Also, do things that are scary. I promise they’re not as scary once you’ve done them once, and you’ll feel like a total badass after.
What advice do you have for other business owners who’d like to incorporate body acceptance into their work?
Just take the plunge and do it! I hear a lot that people are worried about doing fat bodies wrong, and getting negative feedback about it. While you can’t do something wrong if you don’t try at all, you also can’t get something right if you don’t try at all. If you’re worried, talk to other fat people in your field, or just fat people in general! Believe me, people will thank you for representing them and including them.
If you’re worried, talk to other fat people in your field, or just fat people in general! Believe me, people will thank you for representing them and including them.