If you really sat down and tried, you could turn a lot of pages in the space of 30 days. While we've spent over a decade providing you with about 120 of those pages every month, it turns out VICE isn't the only magazine in the world. This series, Ink Spots, is a helpful guide to which of those zines, pamphlets, and publications you should be reading when you're not reading ours.
Ladybeard's first issue is all about sex. Not that you needed to be told that. The front and back covers display sex toys artfully arranged on bright pink velvet and flower-sprinkled turf, and the inner covers are a wallpaper of miniature couples engaged in myriad different sex positions. It's almost shocking, but then isn't that what all women's magazines are about? From Cosmopolitan to Vogue, sex is ingrained in every issue of every glossy mag.
It's only once you start reading it that the difference becomes clear. Inside the 200 pages, over 70 contributors give their unique take on the theme, covering sex shops to sex work, through porn, art, drag, and something known as "ecosexuality." Instead of teaching you "10 Ways to Please Your Man," Ladybeard celebrates the infinite possibilities of human sexuality, without judgement. It's as informative as it is attractive and lands a heavy blow to the shallow, consumerist culture of women's mags.
Now, two years in the making, the issue is finally ready for release. Ahead of their launch event this weekend, I caught up with some of the team to talk about sex culture and the changing face of feminism.
VICE: Hi Ladybeard. Where did the idea for the magazine come from and how did it start?
Ladybeard: The idea came about at University, where we met and became friends. We've all been massive fans of glossy magazines—Vogue, Elle, Heat, Sugar (great freebies), Cosmo, Grazia—since we were kids, and we loved them, but we started to hate the way they made us feel. So we thought it would be cool to take the form and format of the glossy, make something really beautiful or something really aspirational, but change all the messages within it and really revolutionize the whole content.
How did you choose sex for the theme of the first issue?
Sex is so misrepresented and overexposed in mainstream media but you only see one view of it: one cis, slick, penetrative, too-perfect-for-words, depiction of sex in advertisements and film. There's a brilliant collage of Cosmo covers over the last 20 years and they all say sex in the top-left corner because that's where your eye's drawn to. We thought if the premise of Ladybeard is to invert the glossy mag, there's surely nothing better for the first issue than sex, which runs through these magazines and has been a bastion of mainstream media for so long.
How did you find your 70+ contributors?
Quite a scattergun approach really. Often it was through things we liked ourselves, and if we read about an article of someone doing something we liked, we'd get in contact with them and be like "will you write for us," "can we interview you," "will you do this for us." We came together, brainstormed all the different aspects of sex we could think of, hundreds of them, and thought about how we could cover each of those things. And because it's been about two years since the promo issue [a 70-page zine made together at University], we've had quite a long time to garner material.
How important is your voice in the publication?
We're very very conscious of our privilege as white, cis, middle-class women and while obviously there's only so much we can do about that within ourselves, in the magazine we have tried to seek as many different voices as we can. We wanted to make something we wanted to read and we wanted to read about things that we actually know very little about. The idea was to counter the damaging messages about sex that you digested yourself at a formative age, and then produce something we wish we'd got to read six years ago so maybe we could have avoided six years of really bad sex.
Do you think this is an important time for feminism?
Feminism is at quite an interesting point right now. Not that long ago a lot of people really didn't want to identify as feminist or there was a lot of jargon in the mainstream media—you had Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, these two huge pop female icons, being like 'yeah, I'm not a feminist.' Now, it's really mainstream. Stylist have feminist issues, Elle has feminist sections: It's become something really popular and topical and it's been rebranded.
The thing is, that kind of feminism is still not really that great and actually continues to perpetuate a lot of toxic messages. There was a women's hour debate about glossy magazines and the editor of Elle said something like "advertisers love feminism." That was the point we realized feminism is now a fashion. But it's got nothing to do with believing in the tenets of feminism or wanting to make any change. It's like Chanel staging their fashion show as a protest last year, or Brew Dog launching its ridiculous "No Label" gender-free beer as a 'sign of solidarity' or some shit. It's like pink pound culture is now moving out of being a LGB thing and it's now a trans thing as well.
Surely it's better that people are talking about feminism and declaring themselves feminist now though?
Maybe, but also we're just not that crazy about the kind of feminism that's really palatable, and which falls short from asking the kind of uncomfortable questions that feminism needs to ask if it's going to do anything meaningful or changing. If you look at these magazines, you have the kind of feminist content like Elle's #morewomen campaign highlighting gender inequality for instance—but then you turn the page and there are still those ads telling you to be a certain kind of thing as a woman or as a man and projecting those very damaging messages about gender and about sexuality. It's just hypocritical.
You say Ladybeard's like an inversion of a women's glossy. How does that work in terms of who your target audience is?
We don't really have a target audience because we like to think anyone who sits down with it will find it interesting and confusing and fun. You don't know what it's going to be like until you open it up and you actually dig into the contents. At the beginning of the magazine, we have these ten sexual experiences, and people have said to us they didn't even know whether the people writing them were men or women. And then after that, we go straight away into four spotlights which have a whole bunch of different sex going on. So we were trying to throw off the usual coordinates: start with a pink sparkly cover so you think you know where you are, but then you open it up and you're disoriented and get further disoriented until, maybe, you'll come out the other end with your perspective a little bit changed.
The problem with women's magazines is that it has to be awomen'smagazine. It's again putting all genders into boxes so that then you cant stray or move out of those boxes, you can't self-define. We really wanted to get away from that, like we are feminist but we're not just for women. We think feminism should be for everyone and hopefully that's reflected in the magazine.
Thanks Ladybeard. Good luck with the launch.
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