Femme Friday — Alison Nowak

Alison Nowak is an illustrator and writer. She has received awards from the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and 3×3 Magazine and has been featured in 3×3 Magazine’s New Talent Gallery. She received her MFA in Visual Studies with a concentration in illustration from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where she now teaches illustration and other topics. Alison has worked with a wide range of clients, from individual artists with small projects to retail stores launching national ad campaigns. Please check out her work here:



Flipping through an old issue Size Queen (anybody remember Size Queen??), I came across Alison’s wonderful, life-affirming piece about wanting to be a fat girl’s fairy godmother who “could stomp into a 16 year old’s life YELLING, ‘Hey GIRL put down that celery! I’ve brought you hot fudge, I came to tell you life ONLY gets better from here on out.’” The piece includes an utterly delicious illustration of said fairy godmother, who is topless, by the way. Excellent! I was so charmed I tracked Alison down on the you-know-what!

Deep gratitude to Alison for naming the toxicity, for the kind and thoughtful words, and for that absolutely necessary and life-saving fat girl’s fairy godmother!

Femme – Alison Nowak

I don’t think I had a particular moment where I talked to people about being femme. It was more that I gradually gave myself permission to be more and more myself. To try harder if I felt like it.

 I grew up in a small town west of Minneapolis that was almost entirely white, Christian, and conservative. As a teenager in the 90’s I was fat, queer, liberal, and agnostic. Things people commented on and disapproved of in roughly that order. I owned those identities despite the fact that they were a liability to me, but it took a toll. Being different and surrounded by contented sameness is exhausting. I fled for the Bay Area as soon as I could make it happen.

At 18 I was kind of a mess. I was almost phobic about trying to make myself look nice, a hold-over from my childhood where it felt worse to try and be shot down. I had a weird, unfounded belief that everyone looked the way they looked naturally, if they were more conventionally attractive than me it was because they were born that way. My entire strategy for functioning at that point was about not trying too hard.

Going to college and surrounding myself with people who loved me changed my life. My friends thought I was beautiful and I truly felt beautiful. I identified as femme at that time. It was only occasionally that I would rub up against my old reality. At age 20 an entire Super Shuttle full of people debated my gender in front of me. “I’m a girl,” I said, eventually, once people had stopped trying to weigh in. I was not intentionally androgynous. At this point I still believed make up was cheating somehow, that I should be judged by my raw appearance. Clothing was worse back then too. Nothing fit me well, so I defaulted to comfort. I look back at pictures of myself during this time with some horror, which is interesting because I was more comfortable with myself then than I was at any other time. I didn’t look femme but I felt femme.

I finally came to wearing makeup after watching drag performance. That makeup was so clearly unnatural it couldn’t fit with my belief that everyone just looked a particular way naturally. If queens could completely change their appearance then maybe I could change mine as well. Once I started wearing makeup I never wanted to stop. I feel more myself when I have it on.

The older I’ve gotten the more I understand that self-care is a radical act, defiance against what I was taught to think about myself or what I deserved. For me what is most important is authentic expression. I would love if we could push past binary labels entirely to something more expansive. My partner is trans-masculine and we talk a lot about what masculinity could look like separate from its toxic aspects. I also strive to separate the toxicity from femininity, and do my best to make sure that I am acting or looking a specific way because that it what I want, and not because I’ve been programmed to believe that is what I should be doing.

If there’s one piece of advice I have for femmes (and people of all identities) it is to treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. We live in a society that profits off our insecurity, and for that reason the most radical thing you can do is love yourself in all your perfect imperfection.

In terms of how being femme impacts my creative practices, I have a strong interest in female characters, and their stories. I am currently in the middle of writing a novel that has several female characters I would identify as femme. In my illustration, I’m often drawing animals instead of people, but I when I do illustrate people, I think it’s important to represent them specifically and as individuals. There is strength and beauty in diversity.

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com.


Published in: on December 8, 2017 at 4:57 AM  Leave a Comment  
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