I sent the Jewish artist a photo of my ID, a selfie, and $100 via Venmo. I had never met Fallon Smalberg, so the extra precaution made sense — after all, she was going to paint my breasts in the nude. Bearing it all to a complete stranger may be excruciatingly uncomfortable to some, but for me it was a Renoir fantasy come true (minus the male-gazey part).
“Paint me like one of your French girls,” I joked to Smalberg as I rolled my blouse off my torso, unclasping my bra.
Mesmerized by Smalberg’s aura, I let the cup of tea she brewed for me grow cold. While she periodically stole a glance at my lopsided breasts, I only had eyes for her brush strokes and the glitter she traced around my right breast to depict the scarring from a breast reduction that didn’t stick (it grew in size, but it’s still perky!). Hours later, as Shabbat swept the Brooklyn sky with a fiery sunset, I left the artist’s home, walking a little taller, with an original TittyPix painting in hand.
Printed on t-shirts, stickers, and stitched onto frilly pillows, boobs were everywhere in 2018. But it wasn’t until a friend gifted Smalberg a mug with breasts on it that the Jewish artist realized she could join in on the titillating trend. After all, “young, supple breasts” — as Kathryn Metreuil would describe hers in Cruel Intentions — in all shapes and sizes were the hottest feminist pattern of the year.
Painting tits wasn’t just fun and flirty, the 24-year-old would come to realize — it was pretty profitable, too. Soon enough, Smalberg became the CEO of her hobby turned lucrative career path and began offering live painting sessions for people with breasts with “the intention of creating a space of empowerment, self-acceptance, breast diversity, and healing.”
Having lost sensation in my nipple from a failed breast reduction surgery the year prior, my session with Smalberg helped smooth the bumpy road for accepting the asymmetrical sacks of fat that lay on my chest. From “a new parent discovering their breast’s new badass role to nourish their child” to “a person grappling with the complexities of breast cancer,” Smalberg has helped over 300 people like me squash the barriers that prevent us from loving every inch of our skin.
With a background in psychology and child adolescence at New York University, TittyPix is certainly in line with Smalberg’s passion for understanding the human body in all its forms. To top it off, she donates a portion of proceeds every month to organizations that align with her “philosophy of the healing power of communities that stand for unity, kindness, and love.”
Since getting my very own TittyPix portrait and custom T-shirt with my very own tatas, I caught up with Smalberg over the phone and chatted about her dedication to tikkun olam through body positive art, her own journey to self-love, and, of course, her explicitly strong Jewish identity.
You often say that the responses you got from sharing TittyPix on Instagram “contained a thread that echoed my journey toward a positive body image.” Can you elaborate on that?
I have struggled with eating disorders and poor body image, and it’s been a journey to get to a place where I really love and accept my body, and you know, that isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s kind of always a work in progress, you know. I didn’t want people to think my message is like, “You have to love your body 100%, 100% of the time,” you know? It’s really about, “This is the body we’ve got, this is the body we’re living in.”
Kind of like this is your vessel?
This is your vessel. This is what we’re going through life in. So what’s the point in doing anything other than loving it the best you can?
When I came to your house for the session, you gave me a spiel that made me feel super comfortable before stripping before a stranger. Tell me about how you crafted the speech.
Part of my own journey, having recovered from an eating disorder, is the everyday practice of positive self talk. It’s sad that it’s such a basic concept, but not being an asshole to yourself, which unfortunately, in this society, is often a default for people in their bodies. I recognize that being nude in front of someone is an incredibly vulnerable thing, and for me it’s a space that I want people to feel is honored, respected, and safe above everything else.
The message I wanted to give people before the session starts is that it’s a completely safe space, and a judgement-free zone. All of that person is invited and welcomed to the space, and not just the cool and fun parts, but the messy, snotted-nose parts of ourselves we don’t really walk around showing people. I invite people to fully come into the space, but I make sure that everyone knows that if at any point [during] our session they don’t feel comfortable, I’d rather us stop and talk about it, or completely stop.
Has anyone opted to stop mid-session before?
No one’s chosen to stop before, but I’ve definitely had people in sessions like, tear up. It’s a really fun experience, but it’s also really meaningful and powerful. When someone is really seen, especially when they’re reminded that this space actually values all of you, and not just the parts that are curated, I think that’s what really brings the intimacy into the room. My intention is to create that kind of space for people. So no one’s ever stopped, but I’ve definitely had pauses. We have a lot of laughs, and there’s also a fair number of deep conversations that come about.
When I came over I immediately felt a deeper connection with you because of your explicit Jewish identity. Tell me a little about your background and what Judaism means to you.
I went to Jewish day school from preschool through high school in Los Angeles, but I’d say that when I moved to New York I didn’t have a ton of Jewish friends. But at NYU I got in touch with the queer community and that actually connected me more to the Jewish community than anything else.
Why do you think that is?
College was the first time I explored being queer or bisexual. One of my best friends was also queer, and she was the president of the Jewish Queer Club. She really brought me in, and that was my first foray into Judaism in college, because beforehand it was always built into my life.
My freshman year I went through a period of not being as involved in Jewish life. It was unintentional, or perhaps unconsciously done. I was like, I’m in New York now, I want to do something different. I’m in the more modern and progressive Jewish spaces, and there’s definitely a lot of acceptance around queer identity and valuing creativity.
I think education and creativity are top Jewish values.
Yeah, I mean, this is so corny, but Jews have the concept of tikkun olam which is repairing the world. In grade school that was like literally going to the park to pick up some trash, right? But now I think part of my calling, or my life’s work, has to do with helping people connect with their bodies. And I think that’s my little part of tikkun olam.
After my session I remember I was going on a date, and you were going to a Shabbat dinner. Do you consider yourself religiously or culturally Jewish?
I think this is the thing a lot of Jews our age say — I’m more culturally. I like the community aspect of Judaism, but I’m not necessarily super “religious.” If I’m invited, I really like celebrating Shabbat. And that’s just to say that I like doing something special to mark the end of a work week with friends.
This is actually so funny, and goes back to one of my first Jewish queer events at NYU. I co-hosted a queer Hanukkah party with my friend called “Eight Flaming Nights” for the last night, and everyone was welcome.
Anything else you’d like to tell an audience of Jewish millennial women?
Check your breasts.
Check your breasts?
Check your breasts. Boobies. Check your titties. You know, it is so important for us to have information about our own bodies. We know our bodies better than anyone else. You are beautiful, you are art. I am here for you. Reach out to me. I’m here for a custom painting and I’m here for a chat.
Note: The photos in this piece were taken pre-pandemic.