Libby Paterson-Oliver: Promoting Confidence in Women

One of our very own KCL students, Libby creates and shares body-positive drawings on instagram with the aim of promoting confidence in women. Where does she get her inspiration and what’s the story behind the project? Her Campus KCL has all the answers in an exclusive Q&A!

What prompted you to start this project?

In regards to my illustrations, I think it’s imperative that young women are given access to a full spectrum of sizes, sexualities, genders, and information about mental health. I thought that by introducing humour, these ideas would become more relatable and less frightening. Peppered into the mix are images that are more serious, when and if I feel it’s appropriate. Topics like mental health and body confidence are still incredibly taboo in the media which, something which is perpetuated by our fear of addressing them. It can be overwhelming or intimidating to personally confront these topics, let alone worry about the backlash of that confrontation. 


Where do you find the inspiration for the illustrations? Is it a case of reacting to the news, or is it more personal?

I have battled mental illness for 10 years; a concoction of PTSD, depression and NSSI certainly keeps me on my toes. Thankfully, I am on the other side of recovery, but through that process I learned a great swathe of information about therapy, treatment, symptoms, medication and institutions (both NHS and private). I feel that as someone who has lived through it – and continues to be challenged by it – it is important to help as best I can those who are still battling, or those who feel hopeless by the magnitude of it all. I am also disabled – I have Degenerative Disc Disease which means I live with chronic and debilitating pain from defects in my spine. I think that, as someone classed as both mentally and physically disabled, I have a lot to say, a lot to share, and a lot to give. I know what techniques helped me, what techniques I return to again and again. I am a fighter, and I want to spread a positive message.

In terms of body image, I think the majority of us have experienced issues with body confidence. I have always been overweight and learning to celebrate it rather than be ashamed of it has been one of the biggest and most rewarding learning curves (pun intended). I think that plus size women are massively underrepresented in media, fashion, music, and so many other social institutions, and yet we make up the average percentage of men and women in the UK. Promoting healthy plus size bodies is thus so incredibly relevant and important right now.

Of course, the news is also important. I love incorporating politics and current affairs into my illustrations. If I read an article that infuriates me, I’ll write about it or vent it in a drawing.


Can you tell us about 2 or 3 of your favourite images?

A post shared by Libby (@arcanely) on

I think this one is pretty relevant to what I’ve written so far. I believe that any body can be, and is, beautiful. Gaining weight, or existing as an overweight woman, does not have to be feared, shamed or corrected. As women, we are often penalized for having confidence in our own bodies – how medieval is that? Is it because we are threatening when we are confident? That kind of sexist rhetoric is something I want to seriously challenge. Stop body shaming us. Stop body shaming yourself. Whether you gained 30 pounds or lost 30 pounds, you are still beautiful. Self-love is the first and foremost form of love.

A post shared by Libby (@arcanely) on

This is one of my favourites. I thoroughly believe in promoting sex positivity and sexual exploration, particularly to and for women. We know that women have been sexually oppressed for thousands of years and it’s about damn time we reclaimed it. Sex is a predominantly male dominated world, still; despite women featuring in 90% of porn, it is tailored for men, by men. Women are penalized for being open about sex, or for being confident in their sexuality, but men are praised for it. 

I believe that sex and self-care are interlinked; women should be able to explore their bodies and the bodies of others without fear of shame or judgment. Women should be using sex as a means of self-care, whether it’s through toys, lingerie, masturbation or intercourse. A sexually liberated woman is a force to be reckoned with. Knowing and understanding such a massive and innate part of our bodies is hugely rewarding, both mentally and physically, and is scientifically proven to promote good health – so why is it still a secret?


What kind of reactions have you gotten to the posts? Has any of the response been negative?

I haven’t had my Instagram for very long, and the majority of my followers are friends and family, so I can’t say that I have ever had any negative responses to the posts. In fact, I don’t think I have ever received a negative comment about them, either on Instagram or other social networks I use to share my illustrations. I see this as both a good and bad thing: good, because it means people are eager to see these issues being spoken about and publically challenged, but bad because I have yet to know what my reaction would be if there were to be negativity associated with any of the drawings. 


What's your ultimate goal for the project?

My ultimate goal is to promote confidence in women. I want women to be able to access a range of ideas, advice and support about all of these topics. I want to make people laugh, cry and rage. I want women to feel liberated, and I want women to know that we are progressing.


Check out Libby’s Instagram here to explore more of her amazing work!

Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity