Blog Series

“I recall, with zero shame, how Shameless’s logo drew me toward its booth”

August 12th, 2019     by Marta Balcewicz     Comments

Illustration: Beena Mistry

For our fifteenth anniversary we’ve reached out to the Shameless community and asked what the magazine has meant to them. What has Shameless meant to you? Talk back to us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Read past entries in this series: Melinda Mattos.

Photo: Adam Hammond

My first brush with Shameless took place in Toronto in the early-2000s at Word on the Street⁠—a book and magazine festival held each September in a handful of Canadian cities. I’d emerged out of an English Literature class in a nearby University of Toronto building and zombie-marched toward Shameless’s booth—at which, if memory serves right, the magazine’s co-founders, Melinda Mattos and Nicole Cohen, were sitting.

Judging books, or magazines, by their cover is a dangerous practice, I know, but I recall, with zero shame, how Shameless’s logo drew me toward its booth. Since high school, I’d lived with the intense regret that I’d missed the boat on a monumental and very cool feminist teen publication. This magazine was called Sassy, and I’d been just a hair-breadth too young, and too uninformed, to have gotten my hands on it while it was still in circulation.

Hearing all that Sassy had featured, all that I could’ve had, was like hearing of some cool older cousin who’d caught a bus to a great big fun city, where she now played in bands, shopped at thrift stores, and lived an independent life with likeminded friends, while I’d missed that same bus by seconds.

Sassy had featured Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain on one of its covers. Sassy regularly reviewed zines and sent out cassette tapes with new bands on them. Sassy published readers’ personal stories on topics like rape and eating disorders. Sassy provided step-by-step instructions on how to dye your hair with Kool-Aid.

Sassy featured models that weren’t just white and underweight, like most other magazines. Sassy was boycotted by an evangelical group because it talked about sexuality. Sassy discovered actress Chloë Sevigny when she was still just a teen. In 1996, Sassy shut its doors, and one of its editors went on to create Jane. I bought Jane magazine; I think I even subscribed to it. But Jane was not even close. I figured there’d never be another Sassy.

It was a very conscious Sassy-yearning that drew me to Shameless that day at Word on the Street. The two publications are different in many ways, but I hope it’s not a stretch to say that they can be thought of as not-so-distant cousins. I began contributing to Shameless not long after discovering it. I remember writing an early piece on making your own pant straps for cycling, and having Sassy, with its article on dyeing hair with Kool-Aid and promulgation of DIY.

More than a decade after my first Shameless encounter, I continue contributing pieces, and above all feel grateful for the way Shameless has created a community, which even I—through my small, sparse contributions—can feel a happy part of. Earlier this year, I’d read a book published by the independent, women-run Montreal publisher Metatron, called How Do I Look? My partner ended up placing How Do I Look? on a syllabus of an English Lit class he taught, and I sent some messages back and forth with its author, Sennah Yee, on Twitter, to talk about the book and the class and getting in touch with Metatron. At the time, I had no idea that I was speaking to the Arts Editor of Shameless. We met in person at a poetry launch not long after, which I happened to be attending with another friend, Shameless’s Editorial and Art Director, Sheila Sampath. These encounters weren’t planned, they happened by chance, our connections and comings-together took place independently of Shameless. Yet I’m certain that Shameless somehow played an essential, even if indirect, role. As the publication turns fifteen, I’m grateful that it’s thriving, and no potential reader is missing out.

Tags: media savvy

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