Florence Given: “People don’t want you to break the mould… I needed it” | Books
Florence Given is an illustrator, writer and feminist activist. She launched her Instagram page as a 17-year-old art student in Plymouth to showcase her original feminist illustrations: she now has nearly 600,000 followers and her merchandise has won fans including Rita Ora, who asked her to design products for his 2018 tour. . Given’s first book, Women don’t owe you pretty, sold 100,000 copies and spent months on bestseller lists. In 2019, Cosmopolitan named her their influencer of the year, and this year she launched the Exactly podcast, for which she interviewed women including Jameela Jamil, Munroe Bergdorf and Sofie Hagen. Her first novel, In love with another girlis the story of Eartha, a young bisexual woman who becomes an internet celebrity overnight.
What prompted you to turn to fiction for your second book?
I wanted to write a book that shows people are messy and I wanted to create messy characters. Nothing makes me feel better than making people laugh, making them think, and gently holding the mirror up to the reader so they can reflect on themselves in a way that isn’t judged or shamed.
Social media is a theme of the book. How do you manage limits as an influencer?
The hardest thing for me is to extrapolate who I would be even without the internet. Social media is my gateway to the world and to connecting with people. As for the physical limitations I have with my phone: it’s never in my bedroom, it’s always on charge in the kitchen. And when it comes to what you share online, I always take a beating.
Sexuality comes back here, and in your other works. What interests you the most in communication?
I described Eartha as a bisexual mess. The thing is, especially for bisexual people, we don’t really feel like there’s a home. And then there’s home in this chaos, and not really knowing what you are.
As a bisexual woman and someone who has a podcast with an advice section, I get hundreds of questions from women every day. Most of them are: “Am I bisexual? I don’t know if I am. And I can’t tell people! I am not you. I don’t have the answers. I don’t know your life. What I wanted to do in this novel is to say that it’s good not to know. And it’s okay to be confused.
Women don’t owe you pretty was a concise, witty, and compassionate guide to navigating feminism. Did it achieve what you wanted it to do?
It’s sold at Tesco: women have come to my literary events saying, “I never thought of myself as a feminist. I bought your book because it was beautiful. And then I came out on the other end saying no to my husband, letting my armpit hair grow out, telling him when I don’t want to have sex. I want women who think they don’t have the education to be feminists to talk about this stuff. It shouldn’t be closed.
What got you started?
I was a teenager in Plymouth and experienced sexual harassment in a nightclub for the first time. All my friends were like: Floss, that’s how it is. I would complain about it and be shut down by other women. And that’s what I didn’t like: I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I was in fine arts college studying fashion, and there was a segment on fashion illustration. You could do whatever you wanted with your illustrations. And I just merged that anger with the naked women that I was drawing. And then I uploaded it because no one in my life was listening to me.
You have moved to London. Did you feel you couldn’t do what you wanted in Devon?
It was a wonderful place to grow up. I have so many amazing memories there. But I was going to an all-girls school, and if anyone was trying to break the status quo, it was kind of like a cult. Someone betrays the cult or does something different from the cult, you feel ashamed and try to sneak out. In small towns in general, people don’t want you to break the mold, and I needed . There weren’t even many queer bars in Plymouth – there was one for gays. I needed something to get out of it. And I’ve blossomed ever since I found people I love so much.
What is the difference?
My friends never told me about their weight. We talk openly about the sex we have, we talk openly about masturbation, and we’re very honest about our feelings for each other. We say no when we want. But it’s also because my friends are gay or bisexual.
I still have a few straight friends. I made friends with a bunch of straight guys last year, just based on musical taste alone; an amazing group of women. And I’ve never heard people talk so much about their bodies. It was a shock to me because I hadn’t been there in a while and couldn’t believe it.
Can you explain why young people love the island of love, when it looks like such a step back from a feminist perspective? How progressive is the younger generation?
I don’t think I can explain it to you because I agree that the island of love is horrible, but I still think it’s entertaining as hell. I can see why people are drawn to it, because it’s entertainment. It’s funny. It’s just reality TV. My generation is much more progressive [than previous generations]: we are learning. There are so many more people coming out as trans and queer because there are examples of that now. And I don’t think you can ever give yourself permission to be something you feel unless you see an example of it.
I was asked if I would like to go into politics. Nope! I would be horrible at that. I know my strengths. I am a writer, I am an artist. And I speak well. But I don’t want to be a politician. I want to write books for the rest of my life.