Cheeky: A Head-to-Toe Memoir

  • Review
By – October 1, 2021

In her late twen­ties, illus­tra­tor Ariel­la Elovic embarked on a jour­ney of body accep­tance and pos­i­tiv­i­ty through art. Paint­ing nude self por­traits allowed her to see her­self mat­ter-of-fact­ly, not­ing each tum­my roll and unex­pect­ed hair” with­out judge­ment. The result of this project was first a suc­cess­ful Insta­gram account show­cas­ing her paint­ings and now Cheeky, a delight­ful graph­ic memoir.

Cheeky takes read­ers on a cel­e­bra­tion of Elovic’s body, with dif­fer­ent parts star­ring in their own chap­ters that tell the sto­ry of how she came to appre­ci­ate each bit. We see young Ariel­la who, like many of us, loved her body in ear­ly child­hood. Many read­ers will feel a sad recog­ni­tion as she ages into self-con­scious­ness, fan­ta­siz­ing about cut­ting off her bel­ly fat and being lit­er­al­ly afraid to move because her thighs might jig­gle. But the bright, spir­it­ed illus­tra­tions keep the tone light and live­ly and empha­size how far Elovic has come on the jour­ney to self-love. Now, instead of fan­ta­siz­ing about get­ting rid of her tum­my, she imag­ines bathing in left­over meat sauce.

Face,” Hair,” Butt,” and Vagi­na” almost become char­ac­ters in their own right. They are joined by Elovic’s sis­ters; her fierce­ly fem­i­nist grand­moth­ers and, most mem­o­rably, the Yen­tas, a group of long­time friends. The Yen­tas often appear as smil­ing heads in a cloud, like angels cheer­ing her on. We don’t learn how the Yen­tas became so body pos­i­tive them­selves, but they are always ready and wait­ing to pro­vide Ariel­la with sup­port, a joke, or a won­der­ful­ly gross ques­tion about farts. Cheeky is a sto­ry of Ariella’s body, but it’s also a heart­warm­ing tale of friend­ship among women.

The draw­ings are lov­ing­ly grotesque; Elovic doesn’t use her paint to cov­er up per­ceived flaws but rather to embrace them. The Ariel­la of the draw­ings has a know­ing, con­fi­dent smile, a body that always seems to be motion, and plen­ty of body hair. The Yen­tas have the biggest, warmest, most accept­ing faces you can imag­ine. Foods, from Kashi waf­fles to Bonne Maman jam, are ten­der­ly drawn. One par­tic­u­lar­ly fun image shows Ariel­la swim­ming in Meta­mu­cil (cap­tion: It’s Jew­ish Tang!”).

Elovic is upfront about how her sto­ry isn’t uni­ver­sal: she’s white, cis­gen­der, and Jew­ish. But while not every­one will see them­selves here, for those who do, it’s glo­ri­ous to feel so reflect­ed. The par­tic­u­lar tri­als of indi­ges­tion, unruly curls, and overzeal­ous eye­brows com­bine with sto­ries of Jew­ish camp, Bat Mitz­vahs, and pluck­ing chin hairs with bare hands dur­ing Yom Kip­pur ser­vices to make a unique­ly Jew­ish sto­ry of body love. While read­ers of all back­grounds, ages, and gen­ders will find Cheeky inspir­ing and enter­tain­ing, it will espe­cial­ly res­onate with teen girls and, hope­ful­ly, encour­age them to embrace them­selves as they are.

Jessie Szalay’s writ­ing has appeared in Gulf Coast, Aspara­gus, The For­ward, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Trav­el­er, and as a notable in the Best Amer­i­can Essays of 2017. She lives in Salt Lake City where she teach­es writ­ing in a prison edu­ca­tion program.

Discussion Questions