Last year, Artist Maritza Lugo and writer Danielle Sepulveres became viral sensations with their project "Disney Princesses Go to the Gynecologist," a project they did for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month that depicted Disney Princesses getting STD tests and pap smears at the gynecologist. Why? To bring awareness to women's health, and reduce the stigma of getting tested for things like HPV, which, according to the CDC, is a virus that 79 million Americans have.
Danielle told Huffington Post last year that, "I think that one of the things that happens with HPV and cervical cancer is this stigma and shame or embarrassment that doesn’t happen with other kinds of cancers,” she said. “People don’t talk about it, but it should be discussed because it’s so prevalent.”
In a post on Medium, she continues that her goal with the project was "to garner attention from MSM to remind anyone with a uterus that they should make their annual pilgrimage to the gynecologist. Ask about the HPV vaccine. Get an STD test. Talk about birth control." She was, as many of us are "frustrated with the lack of coverage that dogged the more “taboo” cancers."
This year, Danielle and Maritza decided to team up for another awareness project, and it's more important than ever. Not only is January "Cervical Health Awareness Month," but we're about to enter the Trump/Pence Administration, and Women's Reproductive Rights are fated to change drastically. Ohio instituted The Heartbeat Bill, then vetoed it, then banned abortion after 20 weeks. Paul Ryan seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood.
Danielle explains that, "the underlying message of that rallying cry is actually for an end to women, trans, LGBTQ, disabled, chronically ill, people of color, and those with limited soco-economic means to have a right to healthcare. A right to choices. To dignity. And to their own lives. We’re staring down the barrel of a world where basic healthcare becomes a privilege. And being a woman could present as an uninsurable pre-existing condition."
I asked Maritza and Danielle a few questions
Had you always planned on doing a second series? And why is "Disney Princesses go to the OBGYN under the Trump/Pence Administration" particularly important?
Maritza: The latest series is so important because it reflects the harsh realities that women and people of color will be subjected to under a Trump/Pence administration. Most importantly, if we don't act as allies to the marginalized, then what's the point? As a Latina, this series was essential to fighting back and using what I could contribute: art.
Danielle: We always knew we wanted to do another one this year, we just didn’t know what until we realized what could possibly happen to 20+ million people if ACA is repealed. It’s important that we fight back against a new administration that is trying to remove basic rights from the American people.
In Danielle's post on Medium, she explains that "According to ACASignups.net, if ACA is repealed, approximately 12.3 million people on Medicaid/Chip, 9 million people on subsidized policies and 1.4 million young adults on their parents’ plans stand to lose their coverage."
Why Disney Princesses? The contrast of the princesses (beautiful, stereotypically feminine, in a world of a fantasy) being ripped of their reproductive rights is particularly grounding/jarring.
Maritza: Disney Princesses cast a huge net. Everyone loves them, or at least has a favorite. Warping them & putting them in a different light for others to see or to even consider definitely breaks that barrier between fantasy & reality. Reality is harsh but we needed to really make an impact. With Danielle's words & my drawings, we're looking for impact.
Danielle: It’s a piece of pop culture that everyone is familiar with. And for many of us, we have a favorite princess we wished we were like growing up. We wanted the juxtaposition of using images that everyone knows in scenarios that tend to be taboo to discuss openly.
What has the response to the series been-- both positive and negative (trolls.)
Danielle: The negative has been the anti-vax community when we raise the topic of the HPV vaccine and how it’s safe and should be used more widely. Another negative has been moms claiming we are sexualizing innocent cartoons and that’s inappropriate for their kids to see. I personally don’t think there’s anything sexual in the depictions and if a child were to ask what they were about, I don’t see why it’s an issue to explain that princesses have to go to the doctor once a year to stay healthy and informed about their body.
In a social media generation, how can art and writing be particularly powerful in bringing awareness to topics?
Danielle: I could have written all the posts without any of the illustrations and it would have had nowhere near the same effect. Maritza’s art brings the writing to life and paints a coherent understandable picture to the audience.
Maritza: As the generations evolve, we see more of a need for visual stimuli and illustration can definitely be helpful. Words & art are always going to be something that can go hand in hand. If there's a message that includes art where people can relate or grasp onto, then it's the right kind of activism.