Skara Highlight : An Interview with Akshara Ashok on her Fight for Artistic Freedom

Artist Akshara Ashok uses her comics to talk about sex, body positivity, and mental health. But instagram keeps taking down her content. In this interview, Akshara discusses her art, censorship on social media and gives advice to aspiring creators

Social media and video-sharing platforms offer a great space for creators to share their ideas and opinions, but expressing one’s unique voice can often clash with content moderation policies. This doesn’t mean that content moderation is negative, as platforms use it to control the spread of hate speech or misinformation. But, on the flip side, it leads to censorship of sensitive content that is often made with the purpose of being educational. 

Let's face it, balancing content on social media is tricky. Creators have to follow the platform's rules as well as understand the user's preferences. For instance - What might be considered acceptable by one user would be considered offensive by others. Sensitive topics, even those with educational and social value, can be flagged or removed by users. For eg- Terms like "sex" or "menstruation" can be flagged by some users, impacting creators' reach and income. It’s the platform’s guidelines and the user's intent in reporting content that can often create a disturbance in the creator's business model. 

To explore this issue in detail, we talked with Akshara Ashok, a freelance illustrator, based out of Chennai, known for her funny, relatable, charming illustrations on her Instagram page “Happy Fluff Comics’’ and “fluffocouple”. Through her illustrations and short animations, she talks about issues like sex education, bullying, menstruation, mental health, etc. Her art also serves as a reminder that real women come in all shapes and sizes. 

A Focus on Her Work

What strong message do you want to give to your viewers through your illustrations and reels?

Akshara: I would like to talk more about taboo topics and raise awareness about it. Even in 2024, there are fully grown adults who don’t know much about menstruation/consent etc. I would like to educate people on less-discussed topics like these. Sex education and body positivity are also a big part of my life. Due to the beauty standards in our society, we seem to have forgotten what real women look like. In addition to this, I also want to raise awareness about mental health.

The Impact of Censorship on her Content

Unfortunately, her commitment to normalizing taboo topics has landed her in hot water. Akshara has been making illustrations for about six years. On June 31st, 2023, she posted an update on Instagram about her content being restricted by the platform for "adult sexual solicitation." Shockingly, most of her posts were taken down even though they were educational and deemed appropriate for audiences over the age of 13 years. For someone like Akshara, whose livelihood depends on content creation, the impact of content getting censored can be devastating. 


Q. Can you share your experience on how censorship has impacted your channel?

Akshara: To be honest, censorship has been a huge disappointment and has affected my work. My art has always been bold and talked about subjects most people shy away from. 

I have made countless posts about sex education, body positivity, mental health, and menstruation. Last year I had to archive 90% of the sex education posts I made because they kept getting taken down under ‘sexual solicitation’ which is irrelevant to the content I make. There was a risk of losing my account forever, so I had to archive them. It’s very hard to work around it because there’s no real human intervention as everything is automated. So even if your post gets taken down by mistake there’s nothing you can do about it. Some of my posts have been restored after I asked for a review but they get taken down again after a few hours which increases the risk of my account getting banned. 

Akshara's post was removed from Instagram

Q. How do social media platforms handle sex-related content?

Akshara: I find that censorship is a flawed system. There are racist, misogynistic, and homophobic videos being posted that never get taken down. I have reported a lot of videos for sexualizing minors. Even if you report them yourself you get a notification saying there’s nothing wrong with the post. 

Is talking about sex only an issue when it’s educational? I hope they work on this. There’s a lot of harmful content that needs to be taken down, so I hope they focus on that.

Bullying/harassment is a huge issue right now on social media. People are losing their lives because of the harassment they’re facing for simply being themselves. I wish they could find a way to censor comments and posts of this nature and not take down educational content that is valuable to the audience. 

I think censoring such content is harmful as it reinforces the belief that such subjects are not meant to be talked about openly. 

Because of the lack of sex education, even today, there are fully grown adults unable to comprehend consent. I think we should encourage creators who talk about sex education and mental health, instead of censoring their work. This creates awareness among the youth and helps them understand their body and rights. 

Akshara on Diversifying her Income Streams 

After her content was censored on Instagram, Akshara decided to migrate to other platforms to test her reach. 

Akshara started to post on YouTube, particularly experimenting with YouTube shorts. She says “ I’m not active on YouTube. I only make YouTube shorts from time to time. So I haven’t got a reach on YouTube, but I am trying’’.  

Akshara, however, is mostly active on Patreon where she is currently building her community. She says “I do have a very loyal fan base there. They’re very supportive and kind”. 

Akshara’s Advice for Aspiring Creators 

Q. Do you have any advice for aspiring creators or artists who might be facing similar challenges on social media or any video-sharing platform?

Akshara: Sadly, these platforms are limiting our reach. But I guess we have to push through it. It’s just a part of our journey. I would suggest branching out and posting to different platforms so you get a good following on all these apps simultaneously. And make minor tweaks to your work so it doesn’t get taken down. I am not a fan of censorship at all. I think people should be able to express themselves. But this is a precaution to avoid your account being taken down. 

Akshara’s advice highlights a key point for creators who are relying solely on one platform. Diversification of one’s content is a key to being on the safe side, especially when a platform’s algorithm is so unpredictable. Each platform has its way of deciding what content gets seen. When a creator is on multiple platforms, branching out their content, they are not stuck, rather they increase their chances of meeting new fans and creating a community of their own. 

Patreon, where Akshara is putting out her work, is just one example. There are other platforms as well, for example, Twitch for live streaming or Substack for newsletters. Each platform offers a unique way for creators to connect with their audience. Diversification doesn’t mean abandoning your core platform, it’s about creating a safety net when things go wrong.

Akshara has started posting on Instagram recently and we hope she receives a good response out there. 

A Glimpse into her Future Projects 

Q. Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you would like to share with your fans or any further plans about your work? 

Akshara: I just finished my first children’s book, Little Yellow Bird. It’s available on Amazon. Apart from that I have a huge project coming up, probably by the end of this year. Can’t reveal much yet but I’m super excited. 

Akshara's first children's book available on Amazon

She is also planning to start her website to avoid censorship and express herself freely. She would like to focus more on just making art. She says “I’m trying to be more active on Patreon this year."

Akshara's Opinion on Skara 

She says “I’m new to Skara but from what I have seen so far, it seems like a great tool to monetize your content”. 

Akshara is an inspiration for creators everywhere. Her struggle is a reminder that even in the face of censorship our voices can still be heard.

A few illustrations by Akshara that are inspiring -

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