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Behind the scenes: Ladybeard magazine

Posted by Stine Fantoft Berg on Wednesday, November 4 2015

We meet the women behind Ladybeard – a new feminist magazine that playfully portrays gender and identity

A new biannual feminist magazine, Ladybeard aims to inspire conversation around themes that are traditionally stifled or misrepresented by the general media. Over almost 200 pages and alongside joyful illustrations, their first issue is a sex special, presenting a vast array of sexualities and personal recollections.

Curious to know more, I met up with the six women behind Ladybeard for a discussion about feminism, the process of putting the issue together, and what the future holds.

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When and why did you decide to start Ladybeard?
Sadhbh: We all went to Cambridge University (except Scarlet who joined us in London) and that’s where it started. I got the idea in a pub – where all good things start – and told Kitty about it. We invited our friends to join and as a team of 14 we made our first issue, which looking back we’d rather call a pilot issue.

Madeleine: The pilot was very different from this one, more like a zine, and we handed it out for free. But it’s how we all got together and where our ideas were formed. 

Kitty: I always loved glossy magazines, but hated the way they made me feel, dictating what’s normal and what’s not. Ladybeard is a response to that; it’s a magazine that’s positive and makes you feel good about yourself. It’s not just a women’s magazine, it’s gender fluid and explores lots of different sexualities. The aim was to make a magazine that’s genuinely interesting.

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Madeleine: We started at an interesting time for feminism. People didn’t really want to identify as feminists – it was definitely not fashionable. But for us, feminism has always been about equality and positivity, opening up discussions that have been hidden away and making it fun.

Now, finally, it’s starting to become more accepted; Women’s Hour’s Can Porn Empower Women? debate, and feminism becoming a trending topic in women’s magazines are all good. But looking at what they’re writing and the degrading ads they’re still printing, they’re not really living up to their words.

Sadhbh: We wanted to address all that by creating a platform that’s bright, playful and celebratory. Most of all we want Ladybeard to be genuinely interesting and informative. We want people to read it and think, “I’m not weird!”

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This first issue is themed around sex – how do you decide on your topics?
Madeleine: We choose themes that are under- or misrepresented in the general media. Sex is really misrepresented, and our next issue will be themed ‘Mind’ and we’ll be looking at different aspects, such as mental heath, that are underrepresented.

Kitty: Also, it’s just really fun to talk about sex! And it should be fun, not something to be ashamed of. Though, personally, Ladybeard kind of fucked up my sex life. In the midst of it, it just reminded me of work. I’d be like “how can this experience be translated into the magazine?”

Ha! It’s a huge issue and it feels very solid – tell me about the editorial process.
Sadhbh: Yes, it’s huge! We’ve been working on it for more or less two years, so the size is definitely a result of that. There are 70 contributors and we’ve been blown away by how positive and willing people have been to contribute.

Kitty: It’s very important that our voices are not the primary ones. We’re all young, white girls and that’s not very representative. So we’ve worked hard to include as many different perspectives as possible. We would sit around and discuss all the different scenarios we’d like to cover, and then we’d try to track down people who could write about them. It was a huge job!

Tyro: But we also realise that there’s no way we could cover all aspects; everyone’s stories and ideas around sex and sexuality are different. I have a friend who lost a leg, and she’s been very open about how that affects her sex life – that’s an example of a perspective that we haven’t covered in this issue.

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Let’s talk about the visuals. You mostly use illustration throughout – what was your approach to sourcing it?
Bryona: It was really just spending hours upon hours scouring the internet, because we definitely had an idea of what kinds of visuals we wanted to include. Also, we knew that Peter Stemmler had done some amazing work for Suzi Godson’s The Sex Book (2002), and asked if we could use his illustrations as section covers. That worked really well to bring the issue together.

Tyro: We wanted to feature a lot of young, unestablished artists whose work isn’t shown much. For example, I did a piece in which I spoke to four different artists whose works reference sex and sexuality in different ways.

Madeleine: A lot of the imagery is rather graphic, and apparently it’s shocking. I mean, that really just confirms how misrepresented sex is, because you see these kinds of images all the time, just not presented as something positive and normal.

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How about the cover? Did you hesitate at all emblazoning it with a pink vibrator?
Scarlet: I think it pretty much sums up everything Ladybeard is; it addresses female pleasure, and it’s something that’s usually hidden and never talked about. I guess we’ll see how it sells… it should at least draw some attention.

What’s next?
Kitty: Our launch party! It’s at Hackney Showroom on Saturday 14 November. And everyone is automatically entered into a raffle in which you can win a huge box of sex toys donated by the sex shop Sh! (which we featured in the magazine). I hope I get it!

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