Activist Chloe Allred uses art to help others overcome shame
Look closely at the recent Academy Awards telecast of Lady Gaga’s riveting performance of her Oscar-nominated song, “Til It Happens to You,” and you’ll notice a young woman with intense hazel eyes standing right behind her. Chloe Allred, an MFA student at Laguna College of Art and Design, was one of the 50 survivors of sexual assault who raised her arms as a standing ovation swelled for the song written for “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about collegiate activists confronting what they call “rape culture.”
Allred quotes Vice President Joe Biden’s introduction of the performance to sum up what she believes: “We must and we can change the culture, so that no abused woman or man ever feels that they have to ask themselves, ‘What did I do?’ They did nothing wrong.”
The feeling of shame is not only the legacy of assault survivors, but a feeling many women battle as a result of images idealizing the “perfect” body, Allred says. She co-founded the Body Joy Project, a feminist art collective challenging the notion of beauty standards and promoting self acceptance. Allred’s art and writing is also featured in a new book from Henry Holt & Co., “We Believe You: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out.”
Coast: How does art help end body shame?
Allred: I can remember thinking, “If I can become thin, I will be happy,” but it got to a point where it was never enough. It’s been a long journey for me, but I feel as if painting pictures of myself – I’ve done so many self portraits – and other women has really transformed the way I view my body, and myself. I have this comfortability in my body that is new. It gradually just got better.
Coast: How did you come to be on stage with Lady Gaga?
Allred: In March 2015 I went to a screening of “The Hunting Ground.” It’s very good but very intense. It was super triggering for me, but I am really glad I was there because one of the producers was at the screening and I got a chance to talk to her, even though I was crying. She followed up with me and loved my work, and connected me with activists in the film. Then, about a week before the Oscars, they sent an email asking if I wanted to be with other survivors on stage. I was, like, “What?!” I didn’t know going in if this was going to be a good thing or if it would feel exploitative, because it was super Hollywood. But, it was amazing, and Lady Gaga and her team were so understanding and very empathetic. Lady Gaga herself is a survivor, and when we first met her she gave everyone a hug. Later, being on stage, and seeing the impact that had in the crowd, just raw emotion – it was such a powerful experience.
Coast: Why do you think this is important?
Allred: It is so great to have this subject acknowledged in the sphere of pop culture. I am hoping we start to realize just how many different kinds of people sexual assault affect, and how huge the aftermath is in people’s lives. To be violated and dehumanized, and then to be disbelieved by friends and family and the justice system, is another violation. To have that starting to be countered is the beginning of something.