You can make a difference.
(Editor's note: This article includes some explicit language, reader discretion is advised.)
MissMe is a street artist most commonly known for her 'portraits of an artful vandal' project, large sketches of her naked body in various poses, flashing, screaming, or standing firmly on the walls she paints at night or shares in gallery shows. MissMe is outspoken about her artistic attempts to push back against a culture of misogyny, reclaiming her sexuality, body and autonomy and encouraging others to do the same.
In an exclusive interview with National Observer in her home in Montréal earlier this month, MissMe talked about the ongoing abortion debate in the United States, the ways women's bodies and health remain a taboo topic and why she chose to freeze her eggs at the age of 36.
Listen to the full interview at the link below, or read through a condensed version.
Emilee: Can you introduce yourself?
MissMe: My name is MissMe. I'm an artist. I'm a woman with a lot of opinions. I'm a woman that lives very much in her society and likes to discuss things that I care about. So you could call me an activist in a certain way. I'm not sure how much I want to claim that word because I feel it comes with such a responsibility of, of almost everything. And I'm not going to pretend to talk about everything or speak for everyone. I'm just going to do the best of my understanding while I'm learning.
Emilee: What's your reputation in the street art world?
MissMe: I don't know - I'm a crazy bitch! I do what I call artful vandalism, more commonly known as street art. I like to play with the word 'vandalism,' because it's the idea of destruction, when what I do, I consider building. I do what people call 'street art'...But yeah, all my art is linked to opinions and emotions.
As a woman, people have a tendency, and when I say people, I always include myself as well, have a tendency to weirdly want to know what 'she' looks like and if she's pretty. It's a funny curiosity that most people have, that we don't necessarily have for guys. You don't care what this guy artist looks like, or if he's hot, it's not as big of a reflex as when it's a girl. If you listen, any woman that does anything, I'm telling you, a politician or whatever, at some point, if she's pretty or not, or if she dresses a certain way, it will come up and you'll have an opinion on it. And I fucking didn't want that.
I always give the example of till this day about if Cleopatra was hot or not, what she looked like. People are trying to figure out like her physical attributes because they can't wrap their head around the fact that such a woman could be so powerful without somehow being hot or something. I don't remember seeing any documentaries about Marc Anthony, Julius Caesar, if he's hot or not, what kind of body he had. Did he have a big dick?
He was probably very charismatic or charming, and that's always good enough, but not for women. I feel that's the reality and I didn't want to be part of it. I didn't want people to have any opinion whether they found me pretty or not, because I don't think that's relevant.
Social media as quick fix validation
Emilee: You don't give a shit?
MissMe: I don't wanna give a shit. Because you do end up giving a shit, especially if you start putting your face online, then you start caring. Especially today, it starts having such an important part in how you envision yourself, the 2-D version of yourself, like the 3-D in the mirror or how you feel towards others is not enough anymore, the 2-D in the virtual reality really matters more and more, and so I'm so glad because I escaped that.
Emilee: What does it feel like to have your art and your work speak for you and be a big part of your identity? In a world where, like you said, social media is all about somebody's depiction of themselves, of 'this person,' of our character. It's very inherently narcissistic in some ways, but for you it's so much more. You take up a different kind of space online.
MissMe: It feels good. We're all learning and evolving with those technologies, right? But I do what I do because it makes me feel good. It's a healing tool. When I draw these things, they impersonate emotions and things that I have trouble dealing with, whether it's me or me versus society, or what I see outside that doesn't resonate, or when I don't see myself in the outside world. So that's my way of putting myself on the outside. Even online, same thing. It allows me to express these things, because I always feel that my voice and my work is a balance, it's a much-needed balance in a lot of stereotypical things we see outside, exaggerations, or just plain commercial shit and superficial stuff all about aesthetics and sex and all these things, which is fine.
Balance doesn't mean you wanna eradicate the other part.
You're just like, I think we need a little more of this because this makes no sense right now. You know, this is way too salty. Like, you know, you need salt, salt is good, but this is too much. It also really allows me to emotionally keep a certain distance with social media that I think a lot of other people when they use their personal image, especially physically, especially women, I think there's something that's probably really not too healthy. And I have that distance, thanks to the mask.
Emilee: This culture of validating ourselves externally - validating ourselves outside of ourselves, rather than validating ourselves inside of ourselves. For me, if I come out of something like ceremony, or if I'm focusing on feeding my spirit in different ways, I feel whole in a way that lasts - it's not that quick fix for attention or interacting with a bunch of people at once and then it's done.
MissMe: As you said, it (seeking affirmation from social media attention) is a quick fix, because it's a real thing and I think it's important to be validated by your peers, but I think it's only that now. And also I always talk about how people are sometimes confusing empowerment. They think it's self love, but it's not, they're giving the power away. But a lot of people end up crossing that line because they start caring about the likes and then if they don't get them... if you do it because you love yourself and you're feeling yourself, all power to you.
But if you get not enough likes and it starts affecting you, then you actually give that power away.
On abortion laws
Emilee: I was engaging with headlines in the U.S. around abortion and wanted to check in on some strong women. I needed to check in with strong women and see what you think about this whole craze. What does it say to you about where we're at right now in North America?
MissMe: It's scary because America does lead, value-wise, a lot of western countries and whatever happens there is going to be discussed everywhere and gonna allow people to, or to bring a lot of things up other places.
It's scary as fuck that we're still having to justify certain things like this. And don't tell me these people are pro-life. They're not pro-life, that's the crazy part. It's just like... I remember when I was a kid, my dad told me that any country that has the word 'democratic' in it is not democratic. They say democratic, because they're not. It's the same things with pro-lifers, you're not pro-life, you're pro using a woman's body to serve society, as a tool. They're the first ones to send everybody else's kids to war. They're the ones that are anti-healthcare, anti-immigrant children.
Their idea of pro-life is only using one's body as a tool.
Emilee: Do you think it's religion? Or do you think people are scared it's going to be a slippery slope?
MissMe: I think it's a lot of things. I think it's probably religion for some, in a very naive way, until it hits them though. And a lot of people doing those laws are really not the people being affected, not only because they're mostly guys, but because, when you look at numbers, it's mostly less educated people. Those are the same people that don't want to educate people about sex. If it really mattered to them, then they would educate all these people and kids, especially people that are more at-risk and in poorer areas, so they wouldn't get pregnant. Especially when it's young people, or poor people, it's the woman that is stuck with it.
They'll make it a privilege, not a right. Available only to the rich.
I was looking at the numbers in Alabama in 2017 actually, and only 37 per cent of women that had an abortion never had a baby before. Most women in general that have an abortion already have children. They're not trying to be like, ah, I was drunk. I got pregnant. Okay, I'll just get it out and I'll do it again. It's super traumatizing, super invasive. And it's also, it's a woman's body. And the idea with incest and rape, it's like the woman has more responsibility for the rape then the rapist itself.
Emilee: It's a symptom. It's like Donald Trump being the symptom of a much larger issue. He is the symptom of a much larger social-political landscape. Just like these ideas around abortion are a symptom of our current state, on sex education and relationships.
MissMe: Especially in the States. Just abortion, I think we should talk about what abortion is. I didn't know a lot about it, and I consider myself a pretty educated girl. I think it's the time to actually talk about the nitty-gritty, the ugly reality of this trauma. About what you actually have to do, what your body goes through, the risk. I don't think it matters whether you wanted it or not, it's going to be fucking traumatizing and it makes you physically sick. We don't know the details of our bodies, we just a few years ago really discovered what the clitoris actually looks like. How can you make a decision and a law when you don't know the half of it?
Emilee: I find it's an underground conversation, it's a behind closed doors conversation, it's so taboo.
MissMe: We need to make abortion a normal conversation. Even rape, I started talking about it more. People have this stereotypical idea of who gets abortions and why. They think it's this quick thing.
It's our freedom at some point. It's about consequences, and power. Once it's in us, what kind of power over our body do we have? Some people can be like, oh, it's not mine, whatever. Because to make a choice is to take responsibility.
Freezing her eggs
Emilee: Are you comfortable talking about what you posted on Instagram about freezing your eggs?
MissMe: Ya, ya ya. I think that's super important. I realized how important it was when I did, because I started talking and having so many conversations with women. Again, something that you wouldn't think is that taboo, but somehow we don't speak about it I realized how emotional I got through this whole thing and I didn't think I was going to get so emotional.
Emilee: What made you decide to freeze your eggs?
MissMe: I'm getting old. I got no man. I want a baby. I want a family. And I'm like, okay, I'm at that age where I don't have a partner. Okay, I need to woman-up and be smart about my options. I have these options. There are three things - to understand that you have those options, to be in a place where it's legal to do it, and then to have the money to actually do it. I was like I have all three, I better get doing it.
I started telling every single woman that I met that was around 30, I'm like go get your fertility levels tested. You need to know where you're at. Because I realized your age doesn't have anything to do with how fertile you are. You can be super young and be almost not fertile anymore and it has nothing to do with how old you are or how in shape you are. Your fertility age is different for every single woman. And it's just a question of education, like all these things, even abortion, whatever.
Freedom strives in education.
You cannot truly be free in your choice if you don't know the options. So to make such hard decisions on something, when you're not really aware of what you're talking about, that's not freedom. That's stupid. So if you want to freeze your eggs or not, if you want to get an abortion or not, you have to understand how it works, what it really is to get pregnant or not. So every time I would inject myself, especially the first days, I would just cry a bit every time, because of a lot of things that I understood and some I didn't, but I had to be okay with it.
Emilee: What's the process like if you don't mind?
MissMe: It's two weeks. So it's on a cycle until you ovulate. The idea is to boost your ovulation. Instead of producing one egg, they're shooting you with hormones, so you produce as many as you can. It's super timed. You have to do it to yourself. And that was a part that I was really scared about, because I'm not good with needles. And emotionally, to be okay with the fact that I was at that point in my life that I still wasn't married, I was with no one and I didn't know when it was going to happen and I had to consider maybe having a kid on my own, that was really shaking my image of the personal legend I had, you know, since I was a kid. And I think that's why it made it really emotional.
I'm going to be 38 in a week. The biological clock is a real thing. It's getting pushed and whatever, but it's still a thing. If you want a career, you want to figure yourself out before being a mother, which is what I'm doing. I'm going to be such a much better mother now whenever I'm going to be a mother than if I did it 10 years, 15 years ago, 18 years ago, when my boyfriend back then wanted to have babies.
You have to keep them in a fridge and it's a very specific time and you have to take those syringes and put them in your stomach. And that's, like, not easy, man. I had a nervous breakdown the morning of, because I asked my mom to help me and she said no. My mom's a doctor, and I'm like, can you please show me? She was like, no. I realized it's too hard for her. But thank God she brought me to my cousin who's a nurse and she's like, look, I've done this. She had her kids like that, and I was like, can you help? She's like, I'll help you, come in.
And I just broke down. I just cried for half an hour and she's like, this is normal. It's super emotional. This is not an easy process. It brings up a lot of things you don't realize. So after that I did it every day. But what really was interesting is that you have to do it every day at a certain time.
For the first time in my life, I realized that I was my ultimate priority.
No matter what happened, plans, people coming, jobs, parents, whatever, at eight, I had to be home. I went to my room, I closed my door, phone off, no one mattered. And I realized, I had never done that in my entire life. In that way, it was amazing.
And you do that for like a week to 10 days. Then they changed the product and they have to check how it grows, if your body is responding well, if you're producing more. You start getting really heavy, your body becomes bigger. You start taking in a lot of water so you become bigger. None of my clothes fit. Your stomach becomes rounded. I liked it. I was like, I'm so like shapey and my thighs, my boobs, my stomach, my ass, everything... Some days are hard, just like anything, you know, some days you're more sensitive than others. You just accept it. And then after a while, I had to do it in Spain because in Switzerland, it wasn't legal when I did it to do it for a woman that's not married.
You heard that right. You are not allowed to freeze your eggs as a woman if you're not married in Switzerland.
Emilee: Married to a man? Or gay marriages too?
MissMe: That's actually that's a good question. I don't know. But I would say it's for, with a man, but I'm not sure. Lesbian women all over Europe.... anything to do with women's rights, you just have to follow the lesbian community. When it comes to liberating women, if there weren't the lesbians, you know, being so strong, we would have nothing today. Without the LGBT women, there would be no women's rights. But so many women would never stand with them for their rights...it's crazy.
But um... so they go to Spain or Brussels. So I went to Spain... I did my last shots and then they have, they can time it really to when you're going to ovulate and then they give you like some last pills and shots and then some stuff to prepare you for the operation. And then you come in the day of exactly at the time they ask you to. They put a needle in your vagina and they swooped them out. You do a bunch. I think I had 16, but only 11 were freezable. They're not always like good enough quality. Um, and then they freeze them and that's it. The operation was really harsh on me. Like I don't take medication almost ever. So it knocked me out, it took me two days to get better. I was vomiting, I couldn't stand up. It was crazy. They gave me way too many drugs I think. But that was basically the process and it's weird cause then you wake up and they're like, okay, this is the number, you get a paper and you're like, okay, I guess.
It really helped me because I realized I was starting to look at every single man as a potential daddy and I was making some really wrong choices in guys.
Cause like my, my body was really being like, you need a baby and your baby. And I did this. It calmed me down. I was like, I don't need to rush. I'm okay. I got this. [...]
They have all these things for men being able to get hard and all this stuff for guys, when it comes to anything penis related. But when it comes to anything women, like we're talking earlier, like any kind of pain, any kind of problems, they would just go to the pill. [...] It's not a new thing, it's just recently people started actually listening to women... I was telling my gyneacologist, 'my breasts are really hurting and my stomach sometimes,' and he was like, 'it's part of being a woman.' That's what he told me. He's like take some Advil. Oh, like, okay, like this guy is telling me what it is to be a woman. [....]
Uterus as common property
One of the things that I realized when I froze my eggs is that doing this liberated me in one way from this idea, that I didn't realize was so heavy in my head until I liberated myself from it... is that, so I'm Jewish, and we are always like, you know, like the mother gives the religion and it's a very important thing. And so women have to stay in a community. When a man marries a non-Jewish woman, the kids aren't going to be considered Jewish, right?
So as a Jewish woman, you're very precious, but really it's your uterus that's precious.
And somehow I realized that the whole community had some kind of say in my uterus. And I realized, I don't owe you my uterus. And I told my mom too. I was like, I feel also kind of that you and dad somehow you always want grandchildren. But I felt that like my uterus was public to a certain extent. And that's what it is. Women that are not allowed to have any say of how these things happen, especially when they're raped or whatever. Because your uterus is not yours. [...]
It's my privilege. It's whatever I do with it. I'm not trying to say your dick is mine. Do you owe me your semen? I don't think so. How do I owe you my uterus? Just because life happens in us - that's a beautiful privilege we have and it's a power. They want to take that away from us. [...]
Reclaiming her body
Emilee: What do you think people see when they see your work in the streets? What do you think that they experience?
MissMe: I hope they gain strength from it. They gain confidence from it. I remember one girl was like, every time I pass, any of your stickers, I feel like someone's cheering me up and I just stand strong, taller. Because I want to tell every single woman that's doubting themselves, just the way I'm doubting myself too, I'm not pretending that I've figured it out, but I'm cheering you on, I got you, you got this. We need to stand taller to rock the boat. We need to do it because why the fuck not? It comes with consequences, and yes sometimes, some guys won't allow it, and you'll lose your job, and they'll make a fuss... but so many women fighting for their rights and our rights, had to make some sacrifices. [...] We got to. We have to. We deserve to. And it's beautiful, because it's not just for us, it's for everyone. Like we're half of society. If we're happier, we stand stronger. We're stronger for the entire society.
If we can redefine ourselves according to who we really are, it allows men to do the exact same and they need to liberate themselves from their own bullshit that's like pushed down their throats.
That doesn't really help a lot of them. And so they're not the best that they can be. Yes, socially they have much more privilege than us, but it doesn't mean that they're better off in a bunch of different personal ways. They still got shit... they could be so much better. I hope that's what people get from my shit, is like, you got this, you know, you're a badass bitch. You got this and you're wonderful and you're beautiful and you good and you deserve to do whatever you want to do. [...] Don't judge yourself, because that's what we do too. We internalize all that shit.
Emilee: That's what I love. We're just inundated with images of women's bodies, of women, of what we're supposed to look like, which again just perpetuates people objectifying you and then YOU come out like, NO, this is my fucking body. And yes, I'm naked, but it's me. You know? Like there's something powerful about the fact that you're like, this is me putting myself out there and no, you can't have my face, but you know, I'm not giving you my body. I'm giving myself my body back.
MissMe: Exactly. The naked woman body has always been all around us. Even today, even in the street art world, graffiti world, muralist world. You'll see beautiful girls and bodies in all sorts of ways. There's more and more women picturing ourselves, which is amazing and completely different, but it's not received the same way necessarily. Especially the way I do it.
It's funny how it really bothers people because it's naked, but I don't claim it to be sexual. It's aggressive, it's in your face. It's like people don't really know what to do with this too. Like I'm uncomfortable. I'm like, yeah, well, maybe we should address this. If I was in a seductive, more cute, like it would be probably cool, but that's not how I am. I'm yelling... angry naked woman yelling. An angry woman already, people are like, I don't know about this, she's crazy, she's hysterical. But maybe she's just got anger, that is legit.