Based in St Petersburg, Miliyollie is a body positivity activist and photographer who believes that all people and their bodies deserve equal respect and appreciation. Her work often pushes back against the rigid boundaries of Russia’s conservative patriarchy, documenting the country’ body positive, feminist, and queer communities.
Miliyollie aims to give each of her subjects a place to shine and embody their true self. Her images are about visibility, self-determination, and reclaiming space — and being brave enough to confront the ignorance and discrimination which often comes with being different.
In the first installment of Russia Z’s What I Believe series, The Calvert Journal spoke to Milliyollie about her personal path of self-acceptance, and why representation is a radical weapon.
I am a body positivity activist and photographer, and I believe that visual diversity can help us both to accept and love ourselves, and to become more tolerant as a society.
I’ve never fit in with society’s standards of beauty. I am a fat, disabled person; I have strange skin and one half of my body is smaller than the other. Growing up, I never saw people who looked like me in the media. I want to change that, and increase the visibility of different looks and bodies.
People or things which don’t fit the mainstream often end up being suppressed, both in Russia and worldwide. The pictures depicted in the media for decades are very restrictive: everyone there is skinny, white, healthy, cis, heterosexual and middle class — and whoever doesn’t fit in with that aesthetic aspires to be the same. Disabled, fat, trans, non-binary people, or people with a different ethnic heritage, just don’t exist in this image of the world.
As a person who fits a lot of the above criteria, I Imagine that I was always supposed to feel like I should keep my head low. Ever since I started writing about body positivity, feminism, and my experiences on Instagram, I get comments like, “I don’t like looking at you”, “what are you?”, or “Why is this on my explore page?” People who can simply avoid my page express their outrage at my existence, and the idea that I’m not ashamed of how I look.
I don’t want anyone to be ashamed of their appearance. Even now, on particularly bad days, I hate my body. But I want less of this hatred in the world. I want to help people realise that there is no such a thing as a “normal” appearance. I want to show that the world doesn’t end with conventionally beautiful people, that some people are beautiful in a different way, and some people are defiant about not being beautiful at all.
I think it’s important to show your real body: with its flaws, folds, pores, hair, fat, skin tone variations and blemishes, deformations or missing limbs. The body can look so many different ways. And while the media continues to promote just one single standard of beauty, our own bodies are our main weapon of resistance.