OP-ED: We Need To Talk About “Destroy My Face”

Passing the mic to our sis Leonie in Innsbruck, who hit us up with a few words about the controversial “Destroy My Face” skate installation

destroymyface | op-ed | reader
Image: Leonie Sailer

Hey, Girls Are Awesome fam…
What follows below is a letter that landed in our inbox from one of you who, like us, needed a few (thousand) deep breaths while watching the #DestroyMyFace skate-art controversy unfold earlier this week. We think the installation (and its subsequent closure yesterday) calls for some reflection, and since we couldn’t word it better than our sis Leonie, we wanted to pass her the mic. // xo

This is why we need to talk…
#DontDestroyMyFace

Words by Leonie Sailer
September 16th, 2020 – Innsbruck

Imagine you had been given the opportunity to turn a whole skatepark into an interactive art project…

…And it ends up being one of the worst attempts at controversy of 2020.

If you haven’t seen or heard about it, prepare yourself. It’s gonna seem so ridiculous you might think I’m making it up.

A week ago today, Dutch artist Erik Kessels – in collaboration with Pier15 Skatepark in Amsterdam – revealed a massive art piece as part of the BredaPhoto Exhibition. 

The monstrosity has been carefully titled „Destroy My Face“. It displays a whole skatepark plastered with giant images of women’s faces that have been altered through plastic surgery, which is meant to be skated on during the exhibition – until those faces are completely destroyed. 

destroymyface | op-ed | reader
Photo: Wesley van der Linde

So… What the hell happened here?

Despite the fact that both the artist and BredaPhoto defend the purpose and meaning of the project as a critical view on self acceptance, I think it’s pretty clear that there are a couple issues to unpack – and I’ve thought long and hard about how to approach that.

I don’t think anyone has to explain why womxn (and of course, a good amount of men) feel straight up attacked by this. Although Kessels said that the images are the result of an algorithm and do not represent existing people (…as if that makes it any less hurtful), we also know that from the “800 portraits of men and women“ put into this algorithm, the 60 images chosen (for destruction) are only of women. 

The conversations range from a point where it is seen as promotion of violence against women, to another critical argument of the pure and obvious misogynistic vibe this has to it – and how completely counterproductive it is for the female skate community.

A public space should be a safe space for all people, especially in a time where the world is crazy in so many ways. These spaces are our way of making people come together and feel included.

But I fail to see how Kessels’ project has contributed any positivity to our society at all. This brings me to my next point. 

„Randomly shitting on people’s choices isn’t art.“

…was my friend Rob’s first response. And I couldn’t agree more.

Isn’t it a bit odd how the project got pieced together? Using the skateboard community as a tool to shame individuals and their choices leaves a lot of questions. I think there’s a negative message here that needs to be addressed, but from a different point of view.

When we think about plastic surgery specifically, there are deeper questions to ask than „Why aren’t these people accepting themselves for who they are?“

Instead, what about asking:

…why people get plastic surgery in the first place?
…where do bodily insecurities tend to come from?
…could it be that today’s unrealistic beauty standards make people feel the need to alter themselves?
…why do we not take mental health into consideration?
…could a surgical procedure be serving an important medical purpose?

Also, and importantly, a good question to ask is whether anyone’s personal choices about how they present their own body to the world is anyone else’s business at all. 
…because that’s an easy one – and the answer is No.

And with all that being said…
What the hell does any of this have to do with skateboarding? 

destroymyface | op-ed | reader
Image: Leonie Sailer

Listen. Most of us in the Girls Are Awesome community, we know what it is like to feel like outcasts, and we understand the importance of having space in society. Everyone should be accepted. And more than ever before, we should create space for dialogue that finds solutions and doesn’t bash anyone. 

It’s astonishing to me how this project has made it through so many hands. Not a single person seems to have stepped up enough and said that this might be the wrong approach, or send the wrong message.

I highly encourage Pier15 Skatepark, BredaPhoto and especially Erik Kessels to take this public outrage seriously and give future projects more than a second thought. 

There is a reason why people don’t like what you’ve created, and that reason is not that people are scared of controversy. 

destroymyface | op-ed | reader

Our love and thanks to Leonie for sharing her thoughts and images with us on this important, truly wild conversation. Our DM’s and inboxes are always open, so don’t be shy when you’ve got something on your heart that you want to share with the Girls Are Awesome community.
It’s why we’re here <3

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