Self-Isolating With Florence Given

London-based artist and author Florence Given is our first cover star of BRICKS VOICES. Digital Edtior Maddy Reid talks to her about her upcoming debut book release, the best advice she’s ever received and taking it slow in self-isolation.

London is nearing the end of its second week in self-isolation, and the mood feels bleak. Once bustling streets now appear eerily empty, with the exception of the occasional jogger or dog walker. Supermarkets, meanwhile, mirror that of an apocalyptic movie – fights ensuing over essential items, barren shelves and queues wrapped around the block. 

Inside Florence Given’s flat, however, tells a different story. Enter her vibrant London apartment and the 21-year-old can be found “taking hot pictures of myself around my flat, dancing, crying, reading books, making friends with my neighbours and making TikTok videos.”

It’s a startlingly optimistic image, but the illustrator and activist has never been one to sit inside and sulk. With her sunny disposition and all-round badass attitude, Given has inspired thousands of her following to dump their mediocre boyfriends, stop trying to change others and channel that energy into self-improvement and self-love.

She’s been spreading this message since 2017 to her 300,000-strong Instagram following via sassy alter-ego illustrated women, slogan tees and viral online campaigns. This week, she’s been sharing her love for journaling: “You might not think you have a lot to journal about since you’re not really ‘getting up to much’ in your life right now and it’s probably spent between your bedroom and your kitchen, but because of this, we have a lot of time to reflect. Reflecting on past behaviours, relationships, finding out your desires, realising what brings you joy and what doesn’t is my favourite form of passing the time and mental stimulation,” she says.

Self-isolating solo, (“I’m fucking wonderful to hang out with,” she declares), Given is excitedly anticipating the release of her debut book launch, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, which has already become an Amazon bestseller from preorders alone. 

“I have been so overwhelmed by the support,” she gushes, “A lot of my followers have asked me over the last couple years to write a book – my Instagram captions and stories almost take the form of short essays – so I think people are excited to receive an expansion on what I already put out on social media! There are also lots of exclusive illustrations that haven’t been released before. There’s so much new content, it’s been hard to keep it all in for over a year.”

I want my reader to know that they don’t owe it to anyone to mute their authentic desires, gender expression or emotions for the sake of appearing as a ‘nice’ and ‘good’ woman.

Featuring a collection of illustrations and essays, Given has teased that the book will reveal “lots of uncomfortable truths about your own subconscious mind, society, sexuality and relationships – through the lens of me, a bisexual feminist bitch!” She laughs gleefully at this self-characterisation. While the message she spreads is positive at its core, Given doesn’t shy away from the tired ‘angry bitch’ stereotype of proudly feminist women. Instead, she acknowledges women’s anger towards the patriarchy and harnesses it to inspire her audience.

“I hope the book ignites a fire inside of people to question everything in their lives, specifically their own behaviours,” she explains. “Women are socialised to neglect their own desires and needs so that they are easier to control, oppress and manipulate. I want my reader to know that they don’t owe it to anyone to mute their authentic desires, gender expression or emotions for the sake of appearing as a ‘nice’ and ‘good’ woman. Vom.”

Given admits that writing the book “saved her”, after experiencing a lack of purpose and motivation before securing the deal last July. Since announcing the book in September, Given has been non-stop, also releasing projects with Lucozade, Calvin Klein and #EndPeriodPoverty along with new poster designs and merch collections

But a new-found sense of purpose didn’t come without its challenges, as she explains that “some days I’d write a sentence in a chapter and I’d be so proud of it, that I’d send it to my best friend on WhatsApp like “BABE! Look what my mind just fucking DID” while other days I’d be lying on my bed, dramatically staring at the ceiling like “Fuck. I’m a complete tosser who doesn’t know what she’s talking about”. 

“I spend so much of my time giving people advice or being a source of strength for others, people rarely ask me how I’m doing,” she admits. “They just assume I’m always good. It’s a very vulnerable, uncomfortable, isolating experience to write a book – but it’s important to learn how to ask for help when you need it, especially when you’re so often perceived as ‘the strong one’. Asking for advice is hard for me, but writing this book taught me how to open up and do just that.”

It’s important to learn how to ask for help when you need it, especially when you’re so often perceived as ‘the strong one’.

As the constant advice-giver, what’s the best piece of advice she has received? “My uncle (the only other queer in my family) once said “if you’re liked by everyone, you’re not being yourself”,” she shares. “It’s not his original piece of advice, but it’s stuck with me since. People-pleasing isn’t a sustainable way to live your life. Start living for yourself!”

While living for yourself is an important mantra (I’ve already added it to the list of self-motivating quotes that live in the notes on my phone), there’s undoubtedly still pressure to deliver in the wake of releasing such a highly-anticipated book as a debut author, especially one that’s so personal. Speaking to fans on Instagram, Given revealed that she wishes she could have read the advice inside her book rather than learning it “the hard way”. Recounting traumatic experiences can be a difficult experience for many, but she affirms that the experience was also therapeutic.

“I’m not a person who runs from my emotions,” she says. “I hold space for them, feel them in their entirety, give them time to fully realise, and learn from what makes me uncomfortable. I journal every realisation, question or idea that comes into my head on my laptop. So being able to write this book, to be given a space to execute something that already brings me joy, as a job, was pure heaven. I love diving deep, because if you’re going to live a life that satisfies and fulfils you, you’re going to need to get the hell out of your own way and stop self-sabotaging. You need to learn how to get off your own neck. And that requires isolation, deep self-reflection and accountability – which is what the process of writing this book looked like for me. I made sure I was going to therapy weekly during the course of writing, too.”

If you’re going to live a life that satisfies and fulfils you, you’re going to need to get the hell out of your own way and stop self-sabotaging.

“It’s wild now to think that people are probably going to receive their pre-ordered copy through their door, in quarantine,” she adds, as the realisation of a long-term quarantine in the UK becomes increasingly likely.

While she awaits the book’s June release, Given will be taking it easy. “Doing nothing is also highly productive and actually beneficial to my creativity,” she explains. “You need that ‘breathing space’ to be inspired again. There’s a lot of pressure to constantly be ‘on’, especially if you have a large social media platform. My friend Africa says ‘it’s like holding space for thousands of people, every single day’. So binge Netflix, eat and sleep all day if you want to. Do what feels good for you, whatever form that takes. There’s no ‘one way’ to handle this period of isolation.”

For Given, this takes the form of listening to music (“I’m listening to my very small vinyl collection – mostly Portishead, Talking Heads and Lou Reed at the moment,”) and engaging with her online audience. “I have never been so fucking grateful to have an online community in my life. I love connecting with people online. Making other people feel good about themselves brings me an unparalleled amount of joy.”

Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given published by Cassell is out 11th June 2020 and available to pre-order now in hardback and ebook.

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