Courtesy of @LaetitiaKy/Instagram

Artist Laetitia Ky has had enough: enough body-shaming, self-doubting and denying the natural beauty all of us possess—no matter what form it takes. The 21-year-old self-proclaimed “Ivorian goddess and polyvalent artist” has taken matters into her own hands—and hair—creating an Instagram full of surrealist imagery that tackles our worst insecurities head-on (pun intended).

Using her own hair, thread, needle, fabric, wire, wool, hair extensions and a lot of imagination, Ky creates elaborate and evocative sculptures atop her head, literally weaving a narrative that disputes the negative stories we tell ourselves. From her home in Ivory Coast, she was gracious enough to speak with The Glow Up about her inspiration and process (Editor’s note: As Ky’s first language is French, there has been minor paraphrasing for clarity):

I always loved everything about style in general, and hair included. I’ve known how to braid since I was 4 or 5, but what really inspired me to sculpt my hair is an Instagram photo album that I saw a year ago. That album presented the hairstyles that women wore long ago in some African tribes. It made me fall in love with my African culture more than I already was before. These were really impressive and artistic, and it made me want to use the hairstyle as one of my means of expression.

“Impressive and artistic” are certainly appropriate words to describe Ky’s hair sculptures, many of which would be as at home in a Tim Burton film as in the African tribes that inspired her. Ladders, animals and whimsical shapes and silhouettes of all kinds literally sprout from Ky’s brain, telling both her stories and those of many of her approximately 60,000 followers on Instagram. And while Ky is working on several concurrent artistic projects, using her hair as the medium in this series has been especially self-affirming:

Since always, the hair of black women—as well as their hairstyles—were considered not pretty enough. And with the return of natural hair to the black community, hairstyle has become a beauty asset, a way of self-affirmation and a claim of its beauty. To use the hairstyle as [a] means of expression is therefore a powerful means, because it speaks to all black women who for a long time have [been made to] believe that their hair was not dope enough.

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Ky hopes to eventually exhibit and sell her series of vulnerability-inspired images—but in the interim, she doesn’t take the overwhelmingly positive response she’s received lightly:

The positive feedback [shows] me that when someone decides to be completely [herself]—without fear and filter—[she] can touch the sky and inspire people. The feedback gives me a lot of responsibilities; there are a lot of people who consider me as a role model, so I feel the necessity to share love, strength and positivity with everyone through this art.