Digging the Dirt on Ex-Zinesters
Ah, the personal stigma that is body identity in the age of Photoshop. If only a zine that delves into this topic existed somewhere, perhaps we’d all understand each other a little bit better. That’s when I remembered Beautiful Bras & Bodyhair and tried dutifully to locate anyone affiliated with the production. Unfortunately, I’ve come up empty handed and so the hope of getting them to help me dig the dirt, so to speak, is now lost for all time. What a way to begin my column! I feel, though, that I have found enough “dirt” to recreate past glory, and give you an idea of what the zine was doing, and how it was perceived.
This self-aware zine about studying and challenging our conceptions, stigmas and ritualistic apathy (or possible obsession) in regard to body hair, bras and nuanced topics of feminine hygiene was an early 21st century creation of Colleen Gray and Nadine Wettlaufer, with possible ties (at the time of its creation) to York University. “This is what we want to achieve in this zine. We want to take a look at beauty laws and lawbreakers, to explore compassionate and free-to-be-ourselves images,” reads the remains of their website.
Beautiful Bras & Bodyhair was a digest-sized, 32 to 40 page zine photocopied with cardstock covers. According to the unkempt remanence of a website, there were four issues, and a mandate which states the publication was “a zine venue for creative women/grrrls to speak their mind about pressing issues and to put forward their own experiences. It’s about resistance, gender, religion, sexuality, art, beauty, class, shaving, culture, race, and everything else that comes into our heads.”
On the home front, Terrence Dick’s review of BB&B in issue 13 of Broken Pencil began with harrowing confessions, one must assume, inspired entirely by reading the deleted zine in question. Dick self-reflectingly confesses, “I look at the other men in the shower at the YMCA and wonder how they do it. Is there something wrong with me? I am a good person. I am happy with who I am. I am comfortable in my body. I know it’s wrong to be ashamed but I can’t help it. I try to be inconspicuous in the change room.”
The editors’ left bits of their manifesto on the website, which provide deeper insight into the plucky topics they surveyed. “We wanted to play with the idea of supposedly shocking and contradictory things (hey, aren’t feminists supposed to dislike beauty and not wear bras? how can someone who likes beautiful bras also think bodyhair is OK?). We liked how the title could provoke a lot of different interpretations from people. So we wanted to strongly emphasize the title concept for the cover of the first issue. This is why the cover is rather literal-there’s a beautiful bra, and there’s also body hair in the form of female underarm hair. Simple.”
My search also leads me to one of Canada’s great zine distributors Great Worm Express, whose listing for issue #2of BB&B says, “This issue starts with the juxtaposition of beauty tips for women from 1866 and 1956, sarcastically titled ‘Beauty tips-No pressure.’ Some tips for men follow.” The second issue also included 51 arbitrary pick-up lines, plus an essay on how to deal with these lines, and why people still try to use them.
In issue #4, contributors Nadine, Colleen and Shane tell us about their histories growing up and growing hair. Two guides follow suit, one about the various tools of hair maintenance, and about bra personality. The link on the Great Worm Express site still works and goes to an actual excerpt from this deleted ditty, showing the various moods a bra can have. This issue included a survey about body hair as well in decisive categories of quantity, quality, and social effects therein.
With only some clever cover art left behind, the dregs of my research floating in the hereafter, we’re left in the here and now, wondering where-oh-where this classic cut and paste mojo masterwork went. … Now a wistful pause wondering where the creators could be, and a hope for the possibility of the zine’s resurrection. At press time, Great Worm Express lists issues two and four as out of stock. Perhaps this micro-focus on BB&B will inspire the grrrl creators to put the band back together, and recreate what they did so well not so long ago.