If you have ever picked up a copy of Polyester – the fashion and culture zine founded by writer Ione Gamble in 2014 – you'll know that it is the opposite of “minimal” and “understated”. With its vivid, colour-splashed pages and editorials that look like surreal, maximalist fantasties, the zine has become known for giving a platform to marginalised genders doing things, creatively, on their own terms. “Have faith in your own bad taste”, reads the tagline – a John Waters quote. There is no such thing as “too much” in Polyester, because what does “too much” even mean anyway?
In Gamble’s debut collection of essays, Poor Little Sick Girls: A Love Letter To Unacceptable Women, out today via Hachette, she dives into a lot of subjects: her experiences with chronic illness, feminism in the post-Tumblr era, the cult of self-care, good taste and classism. She also writes about the idea of being “too much” and how so many of us are taught to avoid it, whether that means being too loud, taking up too much space or being too expressive.
“I think it's still a condition a lot of us are stuck in,” she tells VICE. “Online the idea of the 'cool girl' is still peddled as aspirational; being an aloof, mysterious waif that nobody has any clue of what's going on inside your head. But aside from that I think fear of being 'too much' dictates a lot of how we operate online; from what we post, to what we comment and that then reflects how we operate and feel both online and off.”
Being “too much”, Gamble says, is intimately bound up with “actual structural inequality that relates to the marginalised experience”.
In other words, “if you're already considered 'abnormal' by society, it's an extra pressure to try and conform as much as you can, which ends up being entirely pointless and impossible anyway”. Basically, we’re encouraged to make ourselves as small as possible, whether that means not posting too many selfies or not laughing too loudly at a house party.
Gamble says that the key to caring less about being “too much” is to surround yourself by the right people. “Most of us will still feel hangxiety and question every single thing we ever did after a big night out,” she says. But it’s about “finding people that love you for being too much rather than making you feel bad about it.”
You can read an exclusive extract from Poor Little Sick Girls below, from the chapter “Have faith in your own bad taste”.
I have always feared being “too much”. I’m terrified of talking too much after too many drinks, of being too bossy, of being overdressed for the occasion, of asking too much of other people and being too needy. Dealing with myself is like persistently arguing with the most high-maintenance person in the world; I’m constantly fighting an internal battle of wanting to do the most while being absolutely terrified of opening myself up to the vulnerability that comes with holding nothing back.
Illness in many ways forced me to accept that being perceived as vulnerable is largely out of my control. There is literally no way to be chronically sick without letting others see that you aren’t absolutely stoic all of the time. Becoming unwell helped me realise that the only person I was harming through fear of being too much was myself. That really, nobody else cares if I post too many selfies on Instagram or if my dress is too extravagant for happy hour.
But every so often, the dread that comes with facing myself for who I truly am creeps in. I question every decision I’ve ever made, every belief I hold, every outfit I own and every sentence I’ve ever spoken. I text ten of my friends to ask if I’m annoying, or cringe while frantically watching and deleting my own Instagram stories. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Nor do I think the fear of being too much only affects our individual minds and well-being.
The fact that we all think we’re too much isn’t just an irrational collective anxiety, but a deliberate gendered tactic to stunt not only personal development but also societal progression. The fact that so much of marginalised people’s behaviour is already policed forces us to be the smallest versions of ourselves in order to create minimal friction as we move through the world. But as we took up feminism, it felt as though enough was enough. We were collectively rejecting the notion that our identities inherently meant we had to constantly self-censor to be taken seriously.
On the surface, tackling these issues is a way to break down the societal factors that cause us to feel like we’re too much. For a while, the rise of sociopolitical discourse both online and in physical spaces felt like slowly breaking these boundaries down one by one: we started to teach each other that everything we knew about gender, or being fat, or poor, or chronically ill, was decided by a system that had no intention of caring for us. But then the fear of being too much slowly began to reinfect all of our minds. We began to second-guess our ability to change the world, so settled with self-optimising instead.
I believe the backwards way we are now approaching sociopolitical issues, be it feminism, self-care, fatphobia, ableism, classism or anything else, can be traced back to a fear of being too much. Somewhere between constantly being censored by social media algorithms, having our politics dictated to us, the commodification of fourth-wave feminism and the glorification of girl bosses, we began to doubt our own ability to build successful sociopolitical movements.
Instead of using this new power to shatter the systems that harm us, we have come to accept that liberating oneself is as good as it gets when it comes to fighting for equal rights. We believe that feminism is either shallow, individualist and only suitable for feminine hygiene adverts, or it’s governmental, ruled by policy and work done by “real” activists as opposed to anyone with an Instagram account. The former leaves many of us feeling above it all, with the latter alienating huge swathes of us who don’t see ourselves as educated enough to participate.
Poor Little Sick Girls by Ione Gamble is out today on Hachette.