“How Feminist Zines Saved My Self-Worth” – by Hanna Askarpour
The first time I ever heard of a zine was when I was eleven years old. My sister was a sophomore in high school and I was a sixth-grader, already conscious of the plight faced by women of color both within and outside of my community. My sister came home from school one day with a zine that her school’s intersectional feminist club filled with the writing and artwork of my predominantly white school’s empowered women of color. I still remember being in awe at my cooler older sister’s artwork, completely enamored with the colorful and unapologetically loud pages. My mom sat with the two of us as we looked through the zine, and I felt an electric current course between the three strong women of my family: a power I knew I had to take advantage of. That same year, I did my history final project on feminism which my teacher refused to post on the bulletin board with the other projects due to the section I wrote on the over-sexualization and sexual abuse women of color have endured. Weird, outspoken, precocious sixth grade me knew she had seen a whole new world.
The second time I was introduced to zines was on Tumblr in eighth grade. My insecurities about my body and weight were growing to heights that felt uncontrollable. On the inside, I criticized every part of my body, personality, and performance in school as much as I possibly could. I was obsessed with tearing myself down. On the outside, however, I was obnoxiously loud, hyper-confident, of color, and a queer feminist who was appalled by her teacher’s analysis of the Black Panther Party and also vehemently defended fat women who were called ugly for their size. I felt an incredible amount of shame for my increasing hatred of myself and I felt terribly hypocritical and unlike a feminist. Like many of us in middle school, my awful Tumblr phase taught me more about life than I learned anywhere else. I would scroll endlessly on the app, looking at (what were supposed to be) funny quotes, fan art, and style inspiration. However, I fell victim to a certain type of blog that feeds into the insecurities of any young person who struggles with body image and disordered eating – pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia pages. Nicknamed “pro-ana” and “pro-mia,” these pages consist of young people, usually girls, posting “thinspo” pictures, advice on maintaining an eating disorder, and degrading statements meant to shame the reader into continuing their harmful habits. These horrible pages frequently felt like a guilty pleasure – validation for behavior that I knew was wrong and unhealthy. During this time, my developing eating disorder became a full-scale issue. My self-esteem was entirely ruined, but I rationalized my behavior by looking at those pages and convincing myself that my condition was not something to fret or seek help over.
I clearly remember the day when one zine changed my attitude towards my own body. I was looking around on Tumblr, and I saw the cover art – a beautiful, curvy, brown woman who was proudly naked. I poked around the blog for a bit, then found the link to the online zine for which I had seen the cover art. Inside was a diary of the author’s body parts, an unabashed celebration of her race, body shape, body hair, and everything else visible on her skin. Almost immediately, I saw myself in a different light. Her images, alongside short statements and poems, touched me in a way I hadn’t thought possible. I began to strive to be more like her – to be unafraid of my own body – and although my eating disorder did not go away permanently, I was now equipped with a secret weapon that would help me through my internal struggles.
Just last year, following a sharp resurgence of my eating disorder after years of ups and downs, I remembered that zine. I was a sophomore in high school, the same age as my sister had been when she came home with that first zine. My persistent fight for trans, non-binary, disabled, and fat women of color did not help me to see myself in any more of a positive light. I still felt weak and ashamed of myself. A friend of mine who had visited Barnard College told me about her experience seeing The Zine Library at the college and I remembered my love for feminist zines. I began to get into zines again and rediscovered more of my self-worth. Every time I looked at a feminist zine, I was able to see a small part of myself that I was trying to lock away, and I was able to appreciate it. For about a year, I struggled horribly with my mental health and eating habits; but I was able to turn to feminist zines, usually online publications, to help me grapple with my self-worth. Zines demonstrate the power and strength that I often feel is disappearing within me. Zines help me reject the notion that I have to disappear – that the less space I take up both physically and metaphorically the better a woman I am. I am reminded by the artists and authors that create such beautiful pieces that I am the woman I always wanted to be – and that is the best woman possible.
During a time where feminism is heavily commodified, zines are an escape from the white, capitalist, and the cis-favoring monster the feminist movement has become. Zines are organic, raw, unfiltered, and unwaveringly anti-capitalism and anti-establishment, projecting an authentic spirit that I recognize from the women I’ve looked up to my entire life. Not the women who sat peacefully by their husbands’ sides or who agreed to imperialist war while simultaneously being hailed as “feminists” by mainstream media, but the women who were seen as a threat. The black and brown women who shouted their opinions and were not willing to compromise: not when threatened by the police or even the national government. The transgender women of color who were dehumanized even by white members of their own community, who continued to make their own spaces and build their own movements. Not the feminist t-shirts or the white women-led women’s marches. At the very darkest times of my life, I did not read a New York Times article about Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi to empower me, I turned to the works of real, passionate artists and revolutionaries who were, and are, determined to make their voices heard without being published by a fancy journal. Zines are the very thing that kept my self-esteem afloat and guided me to become someone that I am incredibly proud to be.