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

This year’s Halloween controversy: How has candy corn survived?

By Charity Cohen

 Where did candy corn come from?

George Renninger, candymaker at the Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia had no idea of the polarization that his tri-colored candy creation would cause. Now, more than 140 years later, Renninger’s revolutionary candy, candy corn, is one of the most divisive seasonal treats.

Named for its corn-like appearance, candy corn’s legacy as one of the most popular Halloween candies remains undisputed — but, whether its taste lives up to the hype is the annual topic of debate. 

Jeremiah Holloway, a senior studying journalism and Hispanic studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, understands that candy corn is a staple for both fall and Halloween. 

“Candy corn is basically the equivalent of turkey because everybody knows that at Thanksgiving turkey is easily like the weakest thing on the table,” he said. “You just kind of have to have it.”

Regardless of the candy’s seasonal significance, the taste was less than satisfactory when Holloway tried what would be his first, and last piece of candy corn.

“It’s designed to be the candy of Halloween,” Holloway said. “It’s got its own reserved space, but when you taste it, it’s just underwhelming.”

Tracy Ridley, Jr., a junior studying European, German and African-American and Diaspora studies, appreciates the nodes of honey that he can taste in candy corn. He believes that the best way to eat candy corn is to simply just “enjoy it.”

“It’s candy,” Ridley replied flatly to Holloway. “It tastes good, it’s sweet, but much more, I don’t have these high expectations for candy corn. You take it for what it is, and enjoy it.”

What’s in candy corn?

According to Dr. Kimberly Truesdale, an associate professor of nutrition at UNC-CH, candy corn is mostly sugar.

“You’re eating pure sugar, boo,” Truesdale said playfully. “Nothing of any nutritional values, whatsoever.”

 Her analysis of this candy was accurate. The primary ingredients used in Brach’s Candy Corn are: sugar, corn syrup, confectioner’s glaze (shellac), salt, cocoa powder, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, gelatin, dextrose, honey, artificial flavor, sesame oil, yellow 6, yellow 5, red 3, soy lecithin, blue 1, and red 40.

All of these ingredients combined into those corn-shaped treats are enough to give Mikayla Cunningham, a senior studying psychology, African-American and Diaspora and sexuality studies, a bit of nostalgia.

Cunningham recalls the warm feelings that arose from eating candy corn as a child. They enjoy the smooth, sweet and roasted taste of the waxy treat because it is something that is familiar and sentimental to them — and they aren’t ashamed of this guilty pleasure.

“A lot of stuff that’s polarized and that people don’t think that you should do, I do because of my inner child,” Cunningham said.

The feelings of excitement and comfort that Cunningham felt as a child knowing that their favorite season, fall, has finally arrived are captured in each piece of candy corn that they consume. Eating pieces of candy corn layer-by-layer as they did as a child, starting with the white tip and ending at the yellow base, allows Cunningham to exist in a state of childlike innocence and momentarily escape the world around them.

Bryson Ellis, a sophomore studying economics and Spanish, had a completely different experience with candy corn as a child. For him, returning home from a long night of trick-or-treating to find candy corn at the bottom of his candy bucket always put a damper on his Halloween. Ellis could never adjust to the idea of candy and corn being coupled together.

“It tastes like two things that should not be together,” Ellis said. “I don’t know what the idea was in its creation, but candy and corn taste good separated, but together it’s like, ‘this isn’t supposed to be happening’.”

Science behind the debate

Dr. Truesdale said this phenomenon is not uncommon. Our minds will often trick us into having a predetermined taste for something and when we find that the actual taste is nothing like we imagined, we can’t come to terms with it. The tricks our minds play can also cause us to determine our likes and dislikes based on associations.

“There’s certain foods that you associate with an occasion,” Truesdale said. “You might not even like it but it just brings back some childhood memories, you could taste something and it could be that you don’t like the taste but you like the memory that it gives you.”

This association explains why Ridley and Cunningham cling to candy corn to connect them to their childhood and happiest memories.

 Recently, Ridley has ramped up his candy corn consumption. “The taste is mixed with just the innocence of childhood,” he said. “These past couple weeks there have been some very deep things going on, it feels just like everything’s moving a little too fast and so I guess that kind of gives me a sense of childhood innocence.”

Even with all of the dissent surrounding candy corn’s taste, its impact on the season is a topic that everyone can agree on.

“Candy corn is that symbol of the season changing and it gives you a happy feeling,” Truesdale said. “Even though it’s nothing but sugar and some dye.”

Edited by Jocelyn Quinn and Izzy D’Alo

Why doesn’t “Squid Game” violence faze Generation Z?

By Sammy Ferris

Netflix’s newest hit show

Game 5: hopscotch. Step on the correct panel, stay in the game. Step on the tempered glass, plumet to death. American men wear gold animal-face masks and drink cocktails, cheering as South Korean citizens gamble on their lives. The shattering glass and bodies crashing echo in their theater. The observers laugh along.

“Squid Game” is on track to be Netflix’s number one show.

Vulgar violence. English voice-overs and subtitles. A recipe for captivating America’s college demographic. It has taken over Instagram memes, Twitter commentary and Tik Tok videos. The violence of childish games and a disassociation from the horror are key ingredients to stomaching the savagery.

The Gen-Z perspective

This juxtaposition of innocence and violence is what captured Carson Smitherman, 21.

Teams competing in tug of war with a deadly abyss in between; contestants etching a perfect shape out of hardened sugar or executed on the playground.

He acknowledges that it is bizarre that he would want to spend over nine hours watching horrendous acts of violence.

“Yeah, that’s a good point. Why would everyone want to watch a show where people are getting point-blank shot? I am really sensitive to violence in the media, especially school shootings. I don’t know why I would want to watch a show like this. But I do.”

The dystopian feel to “Squid Game” is in part attributed to plot: hundreds of people with massive amounts of debt sign up to play a series of childhood games. The ruthless deaths of contestants who failed the first game pierces the scene.

In an instant, the players realize they are not simply playing for money: they are playing for their lives.

The show has six games, each one with the same stakes but intensifying difficulty. In the final episodes, ‘VIPs’, who are old white men betting on contestants, watch the last game in an exorbitant lounge. The protagonist, Seung Gi-Hun, wins the grand total of $38.6 million.

His victory is unrewarding in the face of his haunted future. Hanging like the storm clouds floating over the final game are his futile pleas to end the game before his final adversary dies.

Tik Tok was how Payton Walker, 19, first heard of “Squid Game.” She was in a social media rabbit hole when she saw a clip of the first game: Red Light Green Light.

Over four hundred Korean citizens dressed in matching teal jumpsuits. One huge doll commanding ‘Green Light,’ and the contestants run. When she chants ‘Red Light,’ they must freeze. Her supersized head swivels around like she is possessed. Her eyes narrow in on those who failed. Gun shots fire off, killing losers within seconds of their stumble.

Her neck quips back around, and the contestants hear: “Green Light.” The only way to survive is to play to the finish line.

When Payton saw contestants being mowed down, she immediately went to Netflix and told her roommate, Gray Perry, about what she was watching.

“Gray, I am watching this sick show. I just finished the second episode.”

“That sounds so weird. Why are you watching that?” Gray asked.

“It is so good. The concept of it is twisted, and I want to see how it unfolds. It’s similar to ‘The Hunger Games.’ The ultra-dark parts of it keep you invested.”

Payton went on to finish the entire series in two days.

Both Carson and Payton said that the game-like format creates distance between them and the violence. Carson went on to say that their generation’s tolerance to violence is higher, making it easier to watch the show.

“It doesn’t feel like ‘open society.’ Because it’s supposed to be a secluded game in a toy-like factory, it makes it easier to see. It doesn’t feel real.”

Not everyone is comfortable

Their surreal experience does not resonate with Jeri Rowe, father to a first year at UNC Chapel Hill.

He called his daughter on a Sunday and asked what she’d been up to. When she told him watching a new show called “Squid Game,” he and his wife decided to take a look. The same scene that hooked Payton on her 48-hour binge pushed Jeri to look at his wife and say, “No. We are not watching this.” One round of Red Light Green Light, and they decided to start “Ted Lasso.”

For Rowe and others in his generation, there is no desire to watch the cruelties of the world on a screen, even if their children are.

“The world is dystopian enough right now, you know. With Democrats and Republicans fighting each other. With millions of deaths from the pandemic. I watch television to escape. ‘Squid Game’ doesn’t help me do that.”

Gen-Z is different. As elementary school students during the Sandy Hook shooting and high schoolers during the Stoneman Douglas shooting; as young adults during the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; as the rate of mental illness skyrockets in their age group – maybe this generation can tell the difference between what happens in a television show and what violence, pain, and suffering feels in their real lives.

Payton says that there are many factors that allow her to disassociate herself from the characters in the show.

“It would be hard to watch if it was something realistic to my life as a college student and very violent. Horror movies that don’t seem real don’t scare me, but if they are realistic, I can’t watch them.”

The show has captured social media, and conversations about it have not slowed down. Even if this generation can distinguish between what is relatable to them and what is not, their empathy and imagination are still strong.

U.S. college students digesting violence can still see the irony.

While the American VIPs in the show place bets and fetichize death, the American young adults have started dialogues. Through memes and Tik Toks, “Squid Game” opened discussions of poverty, inequality and Capitalism.

Payton, like many members of her generation, is left questioning what this means about places and people she does not know.

“All the white men at the end with money and power make you wonder if stuff like this does happen. Not to this extreme but somewhere in the world, something like this.”

Edited by Sterling Roberts