"I wanted to reinterpret what it means to be a 'slut,' " says artist Chelsea Dom

By Tara Fowler
Updated February 05, 2015 07:55 PM
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Credit: Alice Lancaster

Chelsea Dom was working on a photo series about prostitutes and strippers when she came up with the idea for A History of Sluts, an art book that looks at powerful women throughout history with one thing common: They’ve each been called a slut.

“I was documenting the slut-shaming stigma that those women have experienced and realized that this isn’t an isolated issue,” she tells PEOPLE.

“I have been slut-shamed myself and so have most, if not all, of my female friends. Slut shaming has become so engrained in our culture that it’s now a normal and accepted practice.”

So Dom, a 23-year-old student at Parsons the New School for Design in New York, partnered with artist Alice Lancaster to create a book that celebrates the women who defied the odds and rose above the slur. From Miley Cyrus to Marie Antoinette to Frida Kahlo, A History of Sluts now includes more than 100 fearless ladies.

“I wanted to reinterpret what it means to be a ‘slut’ … redefining the word in a positive way,” she says.

But that hasn’t stopped some from being offended. “The word is very charged and stigmatized,” Dom acknowledges. “However I think after learning more about the project, and how we are trying to combat the consequences of slut shaming, people will be more receptive to the idea.”

Next up: a gallery show featuring an interactive installation. You’d think that would be enough for a 23-year-old student, but Dom hopes for more.

“I would love to expand the project further and collaborate with other artists and writers to present new work and ideas concerning slut shaming to the public sphere,” she says.

Adds Dom: “Women are taught to see their bodies as objects, as something shameful. I want to show through this project that some of the most powerful and influential women in history have been slut-shamed.

“It’s okay to be confident and empowered. We have to take away the fear associated with the female body, and not ostracize those who openly express their sexuality.”

So has Dom heard from her famous muses? Not yet, she says. With the project gaining steam, however, Dom has her fingers crossed that one of them will reach out to her soon.

“So far I haven’t heard any response one way or the other from the women included, but that could change!” she says.

A History of Sluts will be released in spring 2015. For now, you can check out more drawings of history’s most famous women on the project’s Instagram.