With young people becoming wrapped up in social media and its accompanying pressures from an increasingly early age, one artist has created a loveable, ‘imperfect’ online character to encourage kids to embrace their differences.
It doesn’t take much to feel envious or inferior these days, with a stream of glamorous and seemingly flawless people popping up on Instagram feeds.
It’s easy to acknowledge that much of what we see online is edited – the Instagram filter options are clearly there for all to see – but sometimes it’s hard to separate that logic from feeling. No matter how many times we tell ourselves ‘their lives can’t really be that good’, a little part of us is still prone to believing it’s all real.
Young people are particularly susceptible to these falsehoods, with pressures to keep up with the glamorous online world creeping into their lives while they’re still learning who they are.
The James Fridman Foundation, established by artist James Fridman in 2018, aims to support children and young people affected by social issues by tackling stigma and encouraging people to talk more openly about mental health.
According to statistics cited by the charity, 80% of young people in the modern world have body image-related issues. Research suggests the majority of teenagers are not satisfied with how they look and how they are perceived by society and peers – feelings the charity believes ‘expos[es] their fragile psychological mechanism to a wide range of mental disorders’.
In an effort to encourage young people to acknowledge themselves as unique, James came up with a lovable purple cartoon character called ‘Bobli’. Bobli is a genderless, ‘imperfect’ figure with uneven legs, wonky eyes and a mouth that is both happy and sad at the same time.
James is perhaps best known for his photo editing work regularly shared on Twitter, where he has gained a lot of attention for the funny ways he interprets Photoshop requests.
Check out one of his amusing pieces below:
However, every now and again James receives a Photoshop request he does not fulfil. These tend to come from young people requesting alterations to their looks, whether it be to remove birthmarks, chin dimples or to help them look ‘thinner’.
Rather than changing these photos, the artist shares them online, unedited, with uplifting messages.
One example, sent to someone asking James to remove his birthmark, reads:
Don’t hide something that makes you so unique, something that’s been part of you since you were born. Accept it, and so will others.
P.S. Your birthmark looks pretty cool to be honest.
James’s supportive and encouraging approach to embracing body image has been welcomed by his followers, and he has received a lot of grateful letters from young people who have been inspired by his kind words.
Abby Liebermann, Charity Administrator at the James Fridman Foundation, told UNILAD these letters were what inspired James to create Bobli.
The artist wanted to create a character who experienced the same struggles and obstacles many young people face in daily life, while presenting an uplifting and positive narrative around them.
Bobli’s stories are shared on Instagram, where the character can be seen celebrating their birthday, playing video games and getting out and about.
Captions explain Bobli is lonely at times; they have worries and sometimes feel like staying in bed all day, though they also manage to find joy in playing their favourite games and in their love of watermelons.
The captions promote the idea that feeling down is normal, rather than being something that should be kept quiet, and that our looks, personality, likes and dislikes are all part of what makes us who we are.
One caption reads:
Someone once told me that if I want to have friends, I first need to fix my imperfections so I could fit in. But these imperfections don’t bother me. I’m perfectly fine the way I am.
Abby explained that James’s work – both with Bobli and his refusing to alter images – challenges the flawless beauty standards set online by emphasising imperfections ‘make us unique’ and ‘should be embraced, not removed from the images posted on social media’.
Speaking to UNILAD, she continued:
The internet today is flooded with heavily retouched, at times to the point of absurdity, images of young people that are made to be perceived by others as the definition of ideal and perfect.
Those images are deceitful and act as a catalyst for various mental health-related issues among the younger generation. It is important for young people to understand that ideal and perfect do not exist – and all attempts to pursue such are detrimental.
After Bobli was introduced to the world, the James Fridman Foundation was flooded with emails and messages from children thanking Bobli for embracing their differences, indicating acknowledgement of imperfection can have a very positive impact on young minds.
One message read:
I love your wonky eyes, your sticky-out ear and leg shorter than the other. I’m glad they don’t bother you, no matter what other people say. I hope one day I can be like you Bobli, because at the moment I’m not as comfortable with my imperfections as you are.
But you’ve brought me a lot of comfort, and I hope you don’t mind me considering you a really great friend. Thank you for everything Bobli, your existence may not change the whole world, but you changed mine.
Another Bobli fan wrote:
Dear Bobli, As someone with a visible difference (a lazy eye that simply REFUSES to cooperate), it means a lot that you exist and are spreading such a great message of love. Thank you for everything!!
You’ve helped me realise that even if someone says something about my wonky eye, their opinion doesn’t matter as long as I love myself.
One child got in touch on behalf of their sister, Haleigh, who wanted to be home-schooled because she had scoliosis.
The thoughtful sibling wrote to Bobli, saying:
You remind me of my sister, Haleigh… her curve is so bad that one of her legs is shorter than the other, and she can’t stand up straight because her hips are so misaligned.
She is 14 years old and has to wear a back brace until she stops growing. I feel so bad for her because she’s such a good person.
She feels like nobody would [accept] her because of her back brace. I just wish I could show my sister she’s beautiful the way she is.
To help spread Bobli’s positivity into the world, the James Fridman Foundation created little pins of the purple character for children to wear as a reminder to embrace their differences. After receiving Haleigh’s sibling’s email, the foundation sent the 14-year-old a pin in an effort to ‘brighten her day’.
Bobli is one of a number of art and creativity projects created by the James Fridman Foundation as it aims to help children and young people build confidence, resilience and self-esteem and create awareness of the importance of self-acceptance.
We want to ensure that everyone’s understanding of the need to keep mentally fit is on par with what we know about the need to eat healthily and to exercise.
We want to help children and young people… by developing social, emotional and coping skills through art, humour and creativity.
As the James Fridman Foundation was only established in 2018, it’s still in the process of generating resources for some of its various projects. However, Abby made clear the foundation has big plans for the future.
We are currently in the process of generating resources for various projects. Our prospects include partnering with public schools on implementing tailor-made art and creativity programmes, covering Film, Video and Graphic Design available to children aged 7-16, [and] working with other charities and charitable organisations whose mission is in line with ours on a series of projects predominantly aimed at raising awareness on mental health.
We are also looking to collaborate with brands that cater to a younger audience.
In an effort to make a difference in the wider society, the James Fridman Foundation is working on a campaign that stresses the importance of self-acceptance and mental health issues that ‘more often than not happen to be the product of unrealistic beauty standards set by the media, cosmetics and fashion industries’.
Abby told UNILAD the charity ‘strongly believes’ cosmetic and apparel companies must be banned from ‘digitally manipulating images they use in advertisements of their products and services’.
The foundation and James himself are working together to ensure young people have access to the support and realism they need in the modern world – one that centres around filters and editing.
Abby explained that through Bobli, many impressionable youngsters found a ‘true reflection of themselves’, something that is hard to come by online these days.
Similarly, James’s refusal to edit ‘imperfections’ encourages young people to be proud of their differences and realise they do not need to change.
The charity hopes to continue to raise awareness for the purple character and help spread Bobli’s message to as many young people as possible.
To help achieve this, the James Fridman Foundation hopes to send Bobli pins out to nurseries, learning centers and families. It has also received a lot of interest from parents and teachers wondering if Bobli would be available in a book, toy or animated movie to help illustrate the issues kids are facing.
There’s no doubt Bobli will continue to help and inspire youngsters for a long time, and hopefully the character’s open and honest approach to life, along with their adventures and mishaps, will encourage children to embrace themselves and their lives in the same, positive way.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.