‘People believe that they are unlovable’: Kazakh cartoonist Aisulu Talkanbay on championing self-acceptance

‘People believe that they are unlovable’: Kazakh cartoonist Aisulu Talkanbay on championing self-acceptance

With her trademark green hair and burgundy hoodie, Kazakh cartoonist Aisulu Talkanbay — also known as Ice Baby — catches the spotlight. Based in Almaty, she creates tongue-in-cheek comic strips on bullying, female empowerment, and everyday life. In the second instalment of the What I Believe series, Talkanbay talked to The Calvert Journal about the message she wants to send to young girls, and her own search for self-acceptance.

8 October 2020
Text: Yuliya Khaimovich

Growing up, my family was very accepting of me. They supported my choice of profession. My dad wasn’t one of those parents who would worry I’d be a penniless artist with a canvas for a blanket and paint for bread.

Many people believe that they are unlovable the way they are. My work explores various themes, including everyday life, LGBTQ+ issues, feminism, body positivity, and bullying. But the main message behind them all is self-acceptance. I want to teach people to love themselves unconditionally, even with their shortcomings.

The main problem in the comic industry is that women are overly sexualised. It’s toxic. Young girls look at these large-breasted, perfect-skinned characters in skimpy outfits. They can’t achieve this unrealistic ideal of beauty, so they deem themselves unworthy. That’s why I make the heroines of my comics look more like ordinary people with flaws.

I was bullied at school because of my looks. And as my audience grew, I realised that it was important to show my subscribers that I was a human with struggles like everybody else. I started to create candid comics about my experiences with bullying. A large portion of my subscribers are teenagers, and bullying is huge among that age group. Teens have to face feelings so horrendous that it’s hard to say them out loud. I needed to show those kids that there are people out there who understand what it’s like.

Your appearance doesn’t define your value. The most important thing is who you are and what you can bring to this world. We need young girls to have more real role models in the media. Usually, when we hear about great scientists or political leaders, they’re all men — but there are plenty of influential women in world history too. In 2019, I dedicated the entire month of March to International Women’s Day. For 31 days, I posted cartoon versions of distinguished women in science, arts, politics, along with their biographies. I think it’s crazy that most people haven’t even heard of world-changing women like these.

​You can follow Aisulu Talkanbay on Instagram

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