Body-positive student artist uses activist art to help strangers

By Cailyn Domecq

At first glance, her electric-blue hair nods to the fact that she might be an artist — the color resembling a brighter version of a paint she uses as a base in some of her paintings. She has the air of a childhood friend regardless of how long you have known her, and a kind-hearted nature that draws people in.

“I don’t know what other path of life I could have taken, honestly. I definitely think it was meant to be,” she said.

At 22 years old, student painter Emma Rose Hoffmann has a thread of evolution in her life. It shows in the form of art among different mediums, growth in self-confidence, developing relationships both personally and with strangers, and working to advance body positivity.


Where it all started

Her urge to paint began around a decade ago from what started out as a series of obligatory visits to an art studio.

When she was 12 years old, Emma began seeing a therapist to help guide her through the emotional stress of her parent’s divorce. The therapist suggested taking art classes at a studio in Charlotte, North Carolina, and this is when she first got introduced to working with oil paintings.

She always had an artistic side and was known for absentmindedly doodling anime characters in her notebook, but she began to take her time with art more seriously once the classes began.

As is characteristic of the typical preteen, she described herself as being insecure and constantly comparing her work to others when she first started painting. Because of this, her love evolved over time.

This is where Kate comes in.


Lessons through art

She still works with the same teacher she had in these beginning years, the one who first taught her to paint. A continuing theme of evolution applies to their relationship as Kate has watched Emma go from a beginning artist to a well-seasoned young adult who expresses their individuality through brush strokes.

Speaking of brushes, her paintbrushes are well-loved.

She still has her very first set of brushes stowed away in her collection, for sentimental purposes more than anything, covered with splotches of oil paint from past projects.

When she’s in the studio, or “art corner” in her apartment, you can find her sitting cross-legged in a chair in front of the canvas, oftentimes with a cat in her lap and paintbrush flipped bristle-end up in the side of her mouth.

During the pandemic, she collaborated with her two live-in artists, Adobe and Mida.

“My cats would get paint on their paws and I would find little paw prints,” she said as she laughed. “I left them for way longer than I should have.”

While painting, a track from psychedelic rock band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, or an episode of a true crime podcast often plays in the background.

Her most recent work-in-progress for school is a collection about body positivity. It’s a necessity for a senior thesis class, but has grown to become much more than that. It’s a passion project.

The student has to choose their focus — she began by painting still life images. It felt more like an assignment than a passion project, and it showed. After a rough critique from one professor with an insolent tone, she knew something had to change.

A short conversation with Kate, the mentor and friend who has been there all along, helped her come to the conclusion this subject was not the one for her.

I had this really terrible critique this morning, like I don’t know what to do about it…


Rethinking things

Portraiture and figure painting have always been her strong suits, so Emma reassessed and came up with a plan that highlighted both.

The idea was to ask potential participants to submit a photo of themselves wearing minimal clothing that features their body insecurity, then write a short statement on what they have done to combat it.

The hashtag, #everybodyisagoodbody, is at the end of each social media post that highlights the project; a simple yet powerful and formative concept for both the artist and their subject.

One day Emma received a Facebook message that changed her perspective on the idea. A participant asked about the progress of her painting, and she sent a photo of the work that elicited an emotional reaction.

“I was painting this image of her that she felt really insecure about and very vulnerable in — she said that helped her see herself in a more beautiful light,” Emma said. “That’s just something that I didn’t think about when I had started the project, but it was very touching to read her message.

Emma has experience with body dysmorphia, which drives her to acknowledge body insecurities and promote body positivity.

Her roommate, Bex, spoke to her strength.

“She’s really fought for these things that she creates and the way she sees herself,” Bex said.

One of Emma’s pieces features a woman holding the middle of her stomach with subtle tones of earthy yellows, greens, and browns with fuchsia undertones. She is working on her sixth painting of the project, and plans to have 10 in total.

“Seeing a difference between the pieces she’s doing now versus what she was doing before when she was clearly unhappy with her concept, it’s so mind-blowing because these pieces are just so phenomenal,” her girlfriend Rowan said.

Emma explained how she struggles with ADHD and often finds motivating herself difficult, but with this project, ideas for painting are always on the brain.

“If anything I’m having trouble motivating myself to do anything else,” Emma said. “I feel like when I’m painting, it’s the one moment where I don’t feel like my brain is at 100 miles per hour.”

Emma will put on a green cap and gown at the end of the year to graduate with a degree in studio art, specifically painting, from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  She is to begin a full-time position working with children at the art studio where she is currently an instructor and mentor.

Bright in the way that she lights up a room, strong through the way she fights for the things she believes in, and empathetic by the way she cares for others, Emma’s growth is apparent. Promoting comfort in her body and encouraging others to do the same is an art form that will never cease to evolve.

Edited by Eva Hagan and Em Welsh