Interview with zinester: Sarah Scalise/SA$$Y
Zine: Understanding the Beauty Myth: A Girl’s Guide to Human Sexuality, Interpreting Popular Culture, & the Cultivation of Pimples and Pubic Hair!
Thanks for letting me interview you! I’m excited to feature you on Women Write About Comics.
What name would you like me to use for you?
My real name is Sarah Scalise, but I originally intended to use my pseudonym, “SA$$Y.” I quickly realized the power of my social network and decided to use my name in the media and in a fundraising campaign. I wanted anonymity fearing that my philosophical ideas might be too radical, but since the first printing I’ve stopped worrying about the stigma for thinking outside the box. I only mention this because identity is a central theme in my personal life and writing.
Why did you decide to write Understanding the Beauty Myth: A Girl’s Guide to Human Sexuality, Interpreting Popular Culture, & the Cultivation of Pimples and Pubic Hair!?
It was my undergraduate thesis in college. I cannot stand writing papers that fail to capture my own interest, so I knew I had to shatter the traditional notions of a thesis and write something that really came from me. I chose my topic because I work with pre-teen and middle school girls. I partly wrote this as a manifesto to convert them into Hillary Clinton’s feminist army (kidding), but really I just wanted to have an explanation for why Miley Cyrus is a “better” feminist than Taylor Swift (not kidding).
Do you think a zine was the best format to convey your message?
Yes, absolutely. My first thought was to create a feminist magazine for teens, but I quickly rejected that idea. I’m purposely trying to break down the stereotypes of teen magazines and also lacked the design skills. A zine comes with an entire culture and community of other self-published writers and allows you a level of creativity that is impossible in a magazine or academic paper.
What is your elevator pitch about your zine?
Curious Individual: What is your thesis about?
Me: My zine is written for high school aged girls. It focuses on body image and interpretations of femininity in popular culture while giving advice on managing three common body “dramas” and analyzing celebrity feminism.
Curious Individual: *blank stare*
Me: It’s a little radical. You should just give it a chance and tell me what you think.
Is this your first zine?
Yep! This is my first venture into writing for an audience outside of school or my lewd and thus unpublished poetry.
Is it your last?
Certainly not. I’m working on two right now, and by “working on” I mean thinking about constantly.
What was the hardest part of creating it?
Organizing all of my thoughts. Tossing the ideas that either didn’t fit or became contradictions I couldn’t justify. The entire concept of my first proposal ended up being reduced to only a few pages near the end.
The easiest part?
Finally having the opportunity to write from my own, authentic voice. Ideas would take me over and I’d have to stop everything and jot down a section onto whatever piece of paper I could find. The project was so much a part of me that my mind was constantly working on the zine.
How did you distribute it/are you planning on distributing it in the future?
My best friend’s Mom sponsored the first printing. Without her help, none of what I’ve accomplished this summer would be possible. At first I just handed them out, my friends and colleagues all wanted copies. I celebrated the completion of my degree with a 7,200 mile road trip to the Pacific Ocean and back; I left copies at libraries, rest stops, bookstores, and restaurants. When I returned I had the opportunity to attend the Philly Feminist Zine Fest, I raised enough money to attend and distribute seventy-five copies of the zine. I’m running out of copies and hoping to start fundraising for a second printing; I cannot believe how quickly they flew off my shelf.
What impact has creating your zine had on your life?
I feel like I took a million anxieties and threw them out the door when I turned it in to my faculty advisor. Writing this zine helped me discover, interpret, and dismiss my body issues. So I guess it empowered me to send more sexts and traipse around Chicago without a bra, but damn do I feel good about that! I also cry tears of joy when I hear of the impact it has on the intended audience, teenage girls who read my zine feel more capable in their ability to subvert the beauty myth and identity as a feminist.
What do you hope for the future of your zine?
I want to make a few minor content edits and print it again! I’m working with a New Arts Journalism Masters Degree candidate to streamline the process while maintaining the DIY quality. Basically, I’m sick of stamping each cover and the tedious task of binding. I’ve taken stitching and bitching to a new level. I also want to learn new skills with each publication, and I think investing in some professional design and printing knowledge is the way to go.
If your zine was a living being, what would they/it be like?
Hahaha! My zine came from a living being, so it is me. My voice/the zine is snarky, direct, vulgar, brutally honest, inclusive, and, most importantly, it is understanding. It is a safe entity for teenage girls to lay out their worst body fears without facing judgment or criticism.
Best compliment you have received about your zine?
This picture, it is a reader holding a clipping from my zine. It was a total surprise and made me sob those tears of joy.
How long did it take you to create it?
I started in May 2013 and turned in my final version in April 2014. My creative process requires lots of ruminating; I didn’t settle on the zine format until August-ish and it took me until November to put any words to paper. My zine relies on a lot of complicated feminist theory, so the bulk of my time was spent trying to comprehend and then translate it for a teenage audience. I wrote and formatted simultaneously, saving all the design work for the final week. To bind my zine I threw multiple tea parties and exploited my friends for their labor.
Advice for zine-novices?
Give up on perfectionism. Spelling errors? Whoops! Formatted a page inconstantly? Too bad. Just go with the mistakes and realize that they are half the magic of a self-made publication. I also think it is really important to work with someone, even just a sounding board for your ideas. It is easy to get lost in all the doodling and copying, but your zine won’t have impact if your written work is unorganized or incoherent.
Thank you so much for your time and your thoughts! Thank you especially for bringing this great work of feminist Zine-ing to the world. I am looking forward to your future zines, whatever they may be.
Want more of SA$$Y?
— Al Rosenberg