Olivia Gatwood is a poet, writer, activist, and educator on topics that include coming of age, feminism, gendered violence, & true crime. A month back, she went to the grocery store and when she came back, she had to drop all her clothes outside to avoid bringing infection inside with her. She caught herself in the mirror and thought how sad it was, her all alone in her apartment. A few days later, she posted a self-portrait of her on her Instagram. In the caption, she wrote, “self-portrait of a lady in quarantine”

Inspired by that portrait, she received over a hundred photos of girls from around the world in quarantine that motivated her to make a collage of all the pictures she received and post it on her Instagram. However, she was sent so many pictures that she decided to dedicate a different Instagram for this purpose — @girlsofisolation.

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Girls of isolation is a very inclusive space, it welcomes everyone who feels closeness to the term ‘girl’ in any and every way. Olivia mentions how there will be no questions asked and no feelings of space being taken up. The account now has more than 11,000 followers and around 50 collages. The aim of this project is to showcase womxn, all comfortable and in their space. All the portraits are mostly self-timed & clicked, and so there’s no hint of professionalism, all of the portraits are raw and honest. The portraits capture the girls in their own habitat in quarantine. 

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When I first saw the collages and all the girls at their places, surrounded by books, trinkets and on their own, a sense of belonging overpowered me. To know that however bad and sad the pandemic might be, there are people out there, who are feeling the same things as I am. Every day, Olivia posts around 4 collages and all the portraits remind me that I’m not alone. 

I had the opportunity to converse with Olivia regarding this project and in this conversation she focuses on body neutrality & how normal it is to exist in our bodies regardless of our feelings for them.

Q. To begin with, I must thank you for giving us your time. I am ecstatic to have been given the opportunity to interview you. It will be an honor to have your words on our platform. Your poem ‘When I Say That We Are All Teen Girls’ focuses on the relationship between teen girls and reality and is that also somehow a sub focus of this project as well?

A. In some way, sure. I think I’m constantly processing girlhood & in turn it kind of leaks into everything I do. The similarity between the portraits feels reminiscent of the idea behind Teen Girls.

Q. As you’ve already mentioned on your Instagram how you didn’t expect so many portraits to be sent to you, what were your original, initial expectations? girlsofisolation has more than 11K followers now. Did you get overwhelmed when the outcome exceeded your expectations?

A. Initially I expected around fifty to one hundred people to submit. I did not anticipate having to make an entirely new account. I wanted to make one collage of a bunch of different photos, but once the emails started coming in, they were all so beautiful and I didn’t want to leave any behind. I feel a little overwhelmed, but am learning how to maintain some organization amidst it all.

Q. What was your inspiration?

A. The film Portrait of a Lady on Fire and what it means to be witnessed in a time of solitude.

Q. Poor body image is something very prevalent today. Everyone deals with body issues and on platforms like Instagram, people put out their best for the world to see. How important, do you think, girlsofisolation is in the lines of body positivity?

A. I’ve been sort of distancing myself from the binary of body thoughts, actually. I think culturally, we transitioned from constant body negativity to this very hardcore body positivity, but in the end, the conversation was still cantered on the body. Is there a world where girls can focus on anything else? No one should be pressured to hate or love their body. Of course, my hope is that everyone feels comfortable and content with the body they were given. But that’s not always true. My question is, what does body neutrality look like? I want Girls of Isolation to showcase that, more than anything. Girls existing in their bodies regardless of how they feel about them.

Q. Is there some sort of message you would want to send out to the world through this project?

A. I just want people to see themselves and see each other.