by Rose Miyonga and Jamila Prowse
Typical Girls is an intersectional women’s magazine. When it was established at the end of 2015 it was to create an inclusive space: one where self-identifying women from a variety of backgrounds, ages, cultures and disciplines could come together under one roof. In this way it was established as a response, an alternative to women’s publishing as it stood at the time. We wanted to genuinely represent our contributors, in a way that was honest to them, and avoided tokenising.
When I speak about the catalyst behind establishing the magazine, I often return to my childhood. I grew up in a predominantly white middle class community and was raised in a single parent household by a white mother. Despite having a mixed heritage (my dad was black South African) I did not have access to my black heritage growing up. As such, I didn’t strongly identify with my blackness. Yet, being noticeably ‘other’ in my appearance, compared to those around me, I also experienced a strong sense of alienation in my formative years which lasted well into my 20s, and still follows me today.
I always loved magazines as a teenager. The glossy pages seemed to hold secrets into another world. I would tear those pages out and paste them all over my wall, staring at them longingly, and hoping that their magic would somehow seep off the page and into my own life. I was overly romantic, and aching for something of importance to happen to me. I tried to imagine myself in those pages, in those worlds, but I could never quite make the leap of imagination to align myself with them. None of the girls in those pages had hair or features like my own. I would spend hours in the bath smoothing down my afro hair, willing it to stay straight. As much as I hoped and wished that the pastel colours of my favourite publications would influence my own life, I knew deep down that I did not belong in that world, because nothing had ever shown me otherwise.
It’s infuriating that, up until recently, you had to scour popular culture to find black faces reflected back. The few examples of black representation we had were nothing more than homogenised stereotypes. You would struggle, too, to find any discussions or explorations of mixed heritage. As a young teenager I was convinced that there was no one else who felt remotely the same to me.
TG was established in order to ensure that young women of colour could see themselves mirrored in the pages of a magazine. If young people don’t see themselves reflected in the world around them, how will they view themselves as being a part of it? Thankfully, with increasing discussions around representation things are starting to change. Women’s publishing is no longer the whitewashed space that it once was. Instead of responding to a lack, we are now part of a wider dialogue. I am so pleased to be able to provide a platform which contributes in some way to that conversation. If we can create a movement in women’s publishing which truly reflects all women, than we will have achieved something.
We have an extremely tiny editorial team who put together TG. It is made up of myself, our Art Director Chani Wisdom, and our newest Editor Celiya Koster. Initially, after deciding on a theme, we put a call out for submissions. Then the three of us go and source content based around this. Our contributors are the ones who really form the publication. We get sent such incredible work, and people give so much of their time and energy to our little publication. We wouldn’t exist without them.
For issue 3, visual artist, writer and creative consultant Amarachi Nwosu came to us to pitch the cover story. Amarachi assembled an incredible team in New York, and took to the streets of Brooklyn with our cover star Gabrielle Richardson. Gabrielle is a curator of the Art Hoe Collective, an online platform which showcases the work of PoC. Gabrielle is at the forefront of a movement of creatives who are shaping the future of representation. She is facilitating the voices of young people, Amarachi recognised that instantly, as well as the fact that Gabrielle’s ethos is entirely aligned with our own. The vision and dedication of the team behind that shoot brought a real magic to our third issue. You can feel the life jumping out of the pages when you look through it.
Once all the content is together, it’s just down to Chani and her laptop. Months of graft and painstaking work from Chani gives the publication a real sense of self. She puts great care into all the minute details of the design, hiding little nuances that tie the entire feel of the magazine together. That sense of coherence you get as you turn from page to page is all down to her.
We take our namesake from The Slits song ‘Typical Girls’ (we’re always overjoyed when readers pick up on this detail). For us, their no bullshit attitude, and complete control over the work they were putting out, is a real inspiration. They went out on stage and acted in a way that society wasn’t used to. Here were three women who stood on the cover of an album, stark naked and covered in mud. In terms of subverting the male gaze that was revolutionary. It was so rare for women to stand in the nude, in a way that wasn’t sexualised or produced for a man. The Slits showed that you could be a woman and still be strong, independent, and not take shit from anyone.
In our third issue we got the chance to speak to Hollie Cook, who was part of the second generation of The Slits. Hollie’s first experience of touring was with The Slits. She spent many of her formative years under their wing. It was amazing to hear firsthand how the band shaped the musician, and woman, Hollie is today. You can really feel that their resonance withstands multiple generations. I’m sure it’s something that will continue to be passed on by Hollie, who in her own way refuses to make any compromises on her vision.
In terms of publishing, there are of course DIY zines. In our ethos we’re very much aligned with the idea that if you don’t see yourself being represented, you go and create something that does. Spare Rib, which was a second-wave feminist magazine, immediately comes to mind. But then, in that, I think it is necessary to acknowledge that feminism has not always been an inclusive space. In fact, many people, especially women of colour, trans women and sex workers, still feel alienated from the movement. It’s about trying to create something that is truly inclusive. Inclusivity is not instantly achievable, and as editors we are constantly challenged to work at it. We might not ever get the formula completely right, but with each new issue we can ask ourselves how we can be more open.
i-D, too, has always stood aside from the crowd. Whereas tokenising, and a lack of visibility, have been inherent problems within publishing, i-D has never adhered to this. The first person of colour to feature on the cover was as early as April 1983, when the Nigerian-born singer Sade graced the fourteenth issue. In issue 3 we got to speak to Lynette Nylander, the writer, editor and creative consultant who worked as Deputy Editor of i-D for 3 years, about how the publication shaped her experience of growing up as a young black girl in London. i-D made it possible for women like Lynette, and the editorial team behind TG, to realise that we could be a part of shaping the culture around us.
Today, publications like Riposte, Sister Magazine, OOMK, Orlando and Girls Club push us to be better. I love that so many independent publications are now going out and shaping the landscape of publishing to be a space of resistance.
It’s tricky growing up in a world which is so centred on technology. It is something we are all acutely aware of but it’s actually terrifying. Information is so fast paced and easily digestible that we don’t really need to take the time to sit back and think anymore. We’re told what to read, what to like, what to follow. I was part of the generation that spent the first decade of our lives largely offline. I didn’t have a smart phone until I was about 17, and didn’t have Facebook until my mid teens. I find it really concerning that young people are now being raised entirely on social media. There’s no escape from it. It penetrates every aspect of your life.
With that, how we consume our news has altered considerably. The rise of clickbait journalism and fake news has taken away the core of what we’re reading. I think people are increasingly realising this, and making a conscious decision to seek out platforms which provide honest, captivating, thought-out content. We take our time when producing TG. The 6 months between each issue prevents a fast pace of consumption.
In look and feel, TG is closer to a book than a magazine. It’s a really weighty publication (quite literally – it’s a heavy bugger). It asks you to take your time over it. Pour yourself a cup of tea and sit down in your favourite armchair. When people have a copy stored on their bookshelf, I always feel like that’s exactly where it should be. You could easily spend months perusing slowly through the pages. It’s not about being up to date with the latest fashion or news; it’s about slow journalism, which might be somewhat outdated by the time you get to it, but is more about the timeless value of people’s stories and experiences.
As we have grown and developed, so too has the breadth of the work on our pages. Issue 3, which is our biggest issue yet, is filled with life and colour. It is an offering, a love note, to all the incredible women who inspire us on a day to day basis. TG allows us to explore the many aspects that can, and do, encompass womanhood. It is our way of proving that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ girl.
I think it’s about putting your money where your mouth is (as blunt as that may sound). We have a lot of power as consumers. If we invest our time, energy and interests, as well as our spare pennies, into publications and artists we believe in, they will be able to continue. If we demand, as consumers, that journalism is considered, and conscious, then publications will eventually have to listen.
The reality of publishing is that it’s a pricey industry. Funds that come in are quickly eaten by printing costs, and all the expenses that come along with running a small business. In order for independent publications to survive, they need to have readers who are invested in their livelihood. None of the people I know who run small print magazines make any money. They do it out of the necessity to contribute something worthwhile to the industry. Everyone involved tends to have full-time jobs on the side just to keep it going. We put our own money into TG, and don’t earn a cent. Our contributors, too, give their time for free out of a love of the publication. But it’s not an ideal situation by any standard. For creatives, making work is often the determinant of their livelihoods. It’s how they put food on the table.
We need to shift how we view the creative industries entirely, especially people who work outside of a commercial, corporate agenda. In today’s political climate there is little financial support available for independent artists. If we can consciously change how we, as consumers, spend money — buy an artist’s print instead of a wall hanging from a high street store — we can make small changes that have the potential to really impact someone’s life. The same goes for if you have a choice between a publication heavily filled with advertising, where 70% of the publication is marketing, and one that is independently run.
The aim in the future is to continue to grow and develop with the times. Hopefully collaborating more with publications we admire, and continuing to work to create a cohesive and supportive movement of independent publishing. We have lots of exciting new projects in the pipeline for the next year, to really push what defines TG as a publication, so watch this space…