New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly likes the light touch
New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly has been using humour to touch on some of life's tough issues for nearly 30 years.
She started drawing as a small child and dabbling with cartooning by age eight or nine.
“Back then I was mostly just drawing people and making them funny. It was my way of dealing with the world and my relationship with the world,” she said.
Since 1982, Mrs Donnelly's work has appeared regularly in the popular weekly magazine. When she started she was the youngest and one of only three women cartoonists.
Her drawings serve not only to entertain, but educate people on a variety of women's issues from negative body image to changing male-female relationships and challenges faced by women climbing the corporate ladder.
Ms Donnelly was recently on Island for the Chamber of Commerce's fourth Annual Women's Luncheon.
Kendaree Burgess said they were looking for someone to speak on women's issues in a lighthearted way.
“There is so much unhappy, not good news that we thought a little levity on the issue might be what people wanted,” she said.
Ms Donnelly told businesswomen and politicians at the luncheon their bodies told a story about the most important points in their lives.
She said the year she developed breasts, experienced her first kiss and first feelings of sexuality were all crucial moments in her womanhood.
Pregnancy was another major event for her. “Giving birth is an amazing experience [but] if there's a doctor's pain scale from one to ten, mine was like a 57.”
She described the emotional reaction to her children as “something you can't describe”, but said she was terrified about having girls. “The cultural stigma of mothers and daughters was wearing down on me.”
She had to teach them how to apply make-up and paint their nails, but said her daughters had a kind of confidence with their bodies she didn't.
“They informed me a lot [about] how to be as a women and hold our bodies, so I am very grateful to them.”
Menopause was another “interesting and tricky” experience that altered her relationship with her body.
As a woman, Ms Donnelly was also subject to some negative attention. When on a crowded bus in Italy at age 16 she recalled being “looked at in ways I never conceived of”.
“I also remember construction workers telling me how I looked.”
Such experiences were an eye-opener for her and taught her about the pressures on women and their bodies.
She explained: “Women's magazines tell us how to be and look all the time as well as other women criticising us and telling us how to be.”
She said beauty, fashion, entertainment and plastic surgery were all billion-dollar industries, which serve to “make us think we are supposed to be a certain way”.
“It's as if our bodies are owned by society. The media is so persuasive and unrealistic we think we know what we are doing but do we really?”
She said women in some Eastern cultures had even more challenging relationships with their body. In some places girls are persecuted for driving or beaten or stoned to death by going against their cultural rules, she said.
“Such violence needs to stop. A woman's body belongs to her and a woman is also not only her body.”
The accomplished cartoonist, who spoke at the United Nations in 2007, said she only accepted her body when it was finished with certain jobs.
“Only at 40 years old did I really start to speak my mind,” she said at the luncheon.
She urged women in attendance to empower the younger generation to be less judgmental of themselves.
“How can we teach young women not to live like this, to learn how to appreciate their bodies and navigate the world better than we did? Not just as objects to be admired and used.”
She said women need to challenge their inner dialogues and silence beauty magazines and other media in order to break down stereotypes.
“We need to help [young women] learn how to be stronger because each generation of young women coming up is at risk. We need to help them acknowledge the wisdom of their bodies and accept them as their own.”
“I may be ageing and my body is doing things I don't want it to do. I still admire the women I see in the TV and movies, but the dialogue between [my body] and my mind gets stronger every day.
“More importantly I am going to use my body and mind to draw ideas. I found a room of my own and it's between my ears.”
She concluded: “As talented as our bodies are that is not all we are. We are valuable parts of society and creators of valuable ideas.”
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