"Words Hurt"

"Words Hurt"


As I painted the last brushstroke, I looked at my now flawlessly white paper mache torso. Without a single imperfection, I couldn’t help but think about the social ideal of “perfection.” In this day and age, many people have a perception of “perfect,” and this perception has only been furthered by social media. Social media, more often than not, portrays a perfect life; when I pull up my Instagram feed, I see photos with smiling faces exuding confidence and carefully chosen filters to match carefully selected themes. 

Discontent with the torso’s flawlessness, I decided to insert more realism. I added a second, hidden ribcage made of clay on the inside and snapped off pieces to portray that people can be broken on the inside and still look unbroken on the outside. I left the rib cage hanging by a thread, symbolizing that no one can see how close to breaking someone may be. I kept going, adding broken bones to the base of my torso. Still feeling that it was incomplete, I thought back to the thread holding the interior ribcage. I wanted to do more to represent the misconceptions around perceived exterior perfection. All too often, words are hurled at people, and those words can hurt the receiver in ways one could never anticipate or see. Drawing upon personal experience, I crowded the torso’s spine with phrases all flung with the intention of breaking one’s confidence, finally regaining my power as I wrote “STOP” one last time. 

Inspired, I created the “Words Hurt” fashion line. Given the unfortunate prevalence of slut shaming and body shaming, especially in the world of fashion, I was determined to shine a light on this destructive societal behavior through the very industry in which so many of these problems have been and continue to be born. I decided to start by tackling the iconic red carpet silhouette. 

Taking transparent vellum paper, I began to craft a long bodycon dress. While the front appears to be a relatively simple and classic design, the back reveals the “truth;” thinking back to my torso, I shaped an image of a spine with cutouts, using red accents to represent the psychological ramifications that come from being shamed. And, thanks to the layering effect of vellum paper, I was able to create a blurred back, illustrating how unaware people can be of what they cannot see.

I added to my collection, creating an armor look-alike top and two more dresses, one with an unraveling fringe, and another, perhaps my most blatant design, with a stop sign patch and words that I can only hope one day are no longer spoken. In a purposeful choice, I drew very tall and long-legged women to show that even when people stand tall, they can still be struggling internally. 

In creating awareness, my goal is to effect change and put an end to words that hurt.

Pieces Created

These are two pieces from the collection that I proceeded to construct with bedsheets, fabric, and paint

Emerson Kobak