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ZÜCKER is the NSFW art zine breaking out of Instagram’s oppressive beauty standards

“It started when I realised I was constantly drawing a certain type of beauty standard for my Instagram page,” Lucie Finger says. “I saw I needed to challenge myself to draw different types of beauty, different types of femininity, and this was where I got the idea to make an art book.”

That idea became ZÜCKER, a Kickstarter project for an NSFW art zine about femininity, love, lust, and being queer—live on Kickstarter now. Away from the oppressive ideals Instagram repeated over and over again, she’s been able to poll her backers on the kinds of representations they want to see and to devote dedicated focus to a depiction of sexuality she feels is much more real.

ZÜCKER is the NSFW art zine breaking out of Instagram’s oppressive beauty standards

The problem with Instagram

For many creative people, Instagram is the default platform for sharing work. But it has a history of censoring lesbian art, acknowledging its moderation rules have been unfair to Black and plus-size women, and choosing to stay behind the times on sex education.

“It’s very difficult to present any slightly sexual or nude artwork on Instagram,” Finger says. Sometimes her art is taken down, but even what is allowed up seems to get hidden behind a shadowban. “I’m struggling a lot with the algorithm,” she says, “and I’m trying to make everything as ‘safe-for-work’ as possible on there.” Essentially, censoring herself.

In doing this, she’s noticed that artwork about heterosexual couples typically gets through moderation much more easily than anything with a queer couple. From what she can tell, the standards aren’t applied equally. “I think it’s very toxic,” she says, “It’s art and not porn that I’m doing. Not that there’s anything wrong with porn, but I think there’s a difference, and it is not inappropriate for people to see art online.”

Escaping the male gaze

Even when Instagram isn’t applying regressive social standards, it makes images into commodities, all competing for a limited supply of attention and likes. “On Instagram, you only have this one fast little picture that you maybe spent hours working on,” Finger says. The content that rises to the top tends to reinforce very traditional tropes of the male gaze? Big eyes, pouting lips, and hourglass figures.

When Finger decided to redirect her creative attention into her erotic art book project, she was able to develop a more feminine gaze. “For me, it’s more like an equal gaze,” she says, “you see the person you’re drawing as an equal, not as a purely sexual being or purely beautiful being, but you put all of the pieces together. And in the end, everything can be beautiful in a very different way. I feel a book makes it way more personal and way more in-depth.”

When you ask what the community wants, it’s more diversity

“I really try to not have this very typical view on beauty image,” Finger says. “I try to challenge myself more to see different aspects of beauty.”

Part of that, in her Kickstarter campaign, has been asking supporters what they think is beautiful and what they want to see more of. “I mostly had positive feedback about trying to include different queer identities,” she says. “Since I’m queer myself, I had especially a lot of trans people being happy that I’m trying to include gender queer and trans identities in my work. Everyone who sees that I’m including their suggestions, their requests, and their role models is very happy—it’s a very positive conversation, I think.”

It shows that, given the freedom and space to say it, many people want to see more than the narrow definition of beauty and sexuality allowed on Instagram.

Internet communities can build deeper definitions of beauty together

The feedback from her Kickstarter supporters has inspired Finger to think deeper on her work in general. “I learned to explore even more aspects of femininity and sexuality,” she says. “It was like, ‘Okay, I include body-positive and sexual images. How can I maybe include historic figures, trans people?’ I’ve been reading into trans history, and I’m learning.”

Spending the time reflecting on her book layout helped her treat these topics in a more intersectional way, too. “In the beginning, I tried to have an order with different themes but realised this will not really work. I want to have a flowy vibe to it.”

But maybe most importantly, the community of supporters who’ve been weighing in on her Kickstarter campaign have inspired her to keep learning and growing.

“I learned to trust myself and my work and be confident in what I’m doing,” she says, “because I’ve been struggling with my art early last year. Focusing on the positive feedback from followers, from friends, from family and personal reviews on my Etsy shop really gave me the push to just connect with people. If I’m being genuine, if I’m being honest, they will support my project.”

ZÜCKER is live on Kickstarter through February 4, 2021.