Interview with Aghh! Zine creators, MNamug and Nuria Castro
Following the success of the debut issue of Aghh! Zine, Britain Uncovered is speaking with its founders, MNamug and Nuria Castro, about everything the project involves, the ways in which the zine is providing a safe space for people to discuss subjects that are considered taboo or non-mainstream, the reasons why body hair was selected as the topic for the launch issue, and so much more!
Britain Uncovered: Hi both! Congratulations on the launch of the debut edition of Aghh! Zine, and it was such a pleasure getting to read through the issue during our visit to the Kemptown Bookshop in Brighton shortly before Christmas. To start with, can we ask how the concept for Aghh! Zine first came about, and can you tell us a little about the creatives/people involved in the project and how you came up with the idea for it?
Aghh! Zine: Thank you so much! Before we created Aghh! Zine, we were already following a few people who were creating zines and we were really impressed by it. We are inspired by Sweet-Thang Zine, Black Hair Stories and Tough Cookie Mag, who are friends of ours and who also offered their resources and advice to get us started.
For a long time, Nuria wanted to talk about body hair through her photography practice, and MNamug was really into zines and wanted to do one herself. After many passionate talks about beauty standards, feminism, art and publications, we thought: Why don’t we make a zine about body hair together? For our first issue, which is all about celebrating body hair, we were intentional with wanting to celebrate this topic, which often has negative connotations and memories and experiences. We asked for submissions only from people who had been historically negatively impacted by this beauty standard; therefore, we only accepted submissions from people who identify as women or non-binary. This submission process was mostly online, using Instagram to spread the news and spam all our friends to submit and share! Also, we reached out to friends and artists who fit in the theme. We were so happy and surprised with the turnout and the amazing creatives we featured.
BU: What were some of the primary aims of the zine when it was first conceptualised, and what led to you naming it Aghh! Zine?
Aghh! Zine: Ahead of actually creating it we did some research, in case someone had done the same thing before, but we didn't find anything specifically like we wanted to do. We found some illustration zines about body hair from the voice of the artist, but none that invited people to share their stories. The idea of creating a safe space and an open community that can feel free to explore different taboo or non-mainstream themes was really important for us. We wanted to raise awareness as well as to deconstruct societal attitudes to taboo subjects, and why these subjects are taboo. In a way, we want to decolonise publishing by pushing against the status quo and giving these themes, and the people who investigate them, centre stage.
Choosing names! What a difficult part of the process! When we started we were really focused on body hair and we weren’t sure about what the next issues were going to be about, and therefore, we needed an open name. We knew we wanted to tackle non-mainstream or taboo topics, and what’s people's reaction to these types of themes? Disgust, shock, horror? “Aghh! You have hairy armpits! Aghh! Is that period blood? Etc.”
Our name also adds another layer of engagement with our readers because everyone pronounces Aghh! Zine differently. We think this makes it even more interesting and reinforces the idea of the various perspectives and voices we want to feature in our publications.
BU: The debut issue celebrates body hair via testimonials, photography, poetry and many other art forms, and it’s such an important topic that Britain Uncovered has also explored on many occasions over the past few years. What prompted you to choose the theme of body hair as the subject for your first issue, and why did you feel that this would be the right topic to launch with?
Aghh! Zine: The main reason to discuss this theme is that we both had (or have?) a difficult relationship with our own body hair, and we didn't feel our hair choices were represented in the media. There was no space for us to talk about our feelings and experiences, therefore, we had to create it! We were really passionate about this topic and ignited our urge to use the power of zines to create a safe space for us to freely discuss and share our body hair experiences. Without body hair there probably wouldn't be Aghh! Zine, or yes – who knows?
BU: Do you feel as though body hair on those identifying as women is still considered taboo by and large, and if so, why do you think this is? And how might we be able to shift societal perceptions in this regard? Are we already taking positive steps in helping to normalise body hair, and are attitudes and societal perceptions already shifting in the right direction?
Aghh! Zine: We do believe there is still loads of work to do regarding body hair, mainly in the mainstream media. It is true that in the last few years there have been more real ads and campaigns showing natural bodies with their respective body hair. So I guess we are starting to shift our perspectives. But we still keep finding new series or ads where a woman-identifying character shaves her already-shaved leg. Which makes no sense at all!
We think this is because of the capitalist society we live in, which makes our body choices a tool of control and shame. We have to remember that our power is in our choices and in how we view ourselves. If we don’t have that freedom and the positive powerful perspective, we will always be slaves of what the media decide to tell us.
We think Aghh! Zine issue one is an opportunity for us, all together, to rewrite the awful and violent stories we experienced throughout the years as a collective – stories that we still keep experiencing, unfortunately, full of hate and shame towards our own bodies – and make something beautiful, safe, empowering and powerful for the next generations to come.
Since creating this issue, we have made great friends and spoken to loads of interesting people who have told us that our zine has encouraged them to grow their body hair and experience what would happen if you don’t hate your body hair and remove it out of shame. Which is a major accomplishment!
We don’t want to tell people what they should or shouldn't do with their bodies – we just want them to make conscious decisions and to love themselves in any of the ways they choose to. We also want the peace that comes from existing in our hairy natural selves without societal judgement.
BU: How problematic is mainstream media with regards to stereotypical depictions of body hair? Although it’s taken a long time, we’re starting to see some progress in terms of body inclusivity and more diverse body types being presented across various types of media, so do you feel as though the inclusion of body hair will be a logical progression from this, given time?
Aghh! Zine: You would have thought so, wouldn't you? But we feel this transition is taking ages to come. As we said previously, body hair is still non-existent or always connected to more alternative, anti-system companies or media targets, which adds a connotation and puts the people who decide to grow it in a box, or a category. If you grow your body hair you are demeed a hippie, a radical feminist or just different; instead of just being you, a natural person without labels. Body hair is still something revolutionary, something Erin James’ thought-provoking poem Accidental Activist in our first issue explores. Why is body hair a statement, or a revolutionary act? On another note, body hair is also considered a fetish in the porn industry. I guess this is because it is something you don’t see every day anymore.
This is another reason why we chose this topic. We feel there currently is no space for body hair in the body positivity / natural bodies movement, yet. We love that we are seeing more real bodies, different sizes, abilities and queer representation. We are even seeing depictions of menstruation blood in adverts. However, we do not see body hair regularly, unless it's for a targeted campaign about the diversity of bodies or something along those lines.
BU: Would more education from a younger age also help to normalise or destigmatise any negative attitudes towards body hair? One of our past interviewees explained to us that in school textbooks, men are often shown with pubic hair, whilst women are shown with ‘Brazilians’ or no pubic hair at all – which is surely problematic and shows that the issue is actually more deep-rooted than perhaps a lot of people realise?
Aghh! Zine: That’s awful! Of course. Kids at a young age accept everything they are exposed to as normal – they accept it and respect it. So if you teach them and show them body hair is normal, they would see it as such.
That is a really interesting point. There is always more to what you see. We are not just talking about body hair here, we are talking about repression, submission, and creating product-like bodies for consumption; pieces of meat styled to their liking. Our bodies become trends which shift through the years, always there in one way or another, moulding us and our ideas of what is socially acceptable and beautiful.
Loving oneself and being accepting of your body and who you are is a powerful tool, and this is of no interest for the system (in any gender role; which themselves come with their own battles).
Images are an effective instrument for reinforcing certain messages. Melissa Speeds’ moving essay, I Was Ashamed of My Post-Surgery Hair, in our zine, talks about the negative effects of growing up with advertisements. And it works! We are being intentionally conditioned to find fault in our bodies so that we can be sold ‘cures’ for our ‘faults’ (and so that we spend as much money as possible on the way).
Representation does matter.
We have had parents tell us how they would like to start conversations with their kids about accepting their own bodies, and even teachers have told us how they want to use our zine as a learning tool as they don’t have anything like this to show them. One of our future goals is to create a children's zine celebrating body hair off the back of the feedback we received. Our current zine has some submissions that we think would not be suitable for anyone under 16 years of age.
BU: During our interview with Issy last year – who is also a strong advocate for body hair – she explained to us that she hoped that other women seeing her own body hair would give them the strength and courage to grow it out for themselves. Can this be a helpful approach in your view, and can seeing other women with body hair help to inspire others?
Aghh! Zine: Definitely. It is scary to do something by yourself, but much easier to do it within a community that supports you. Nuria: I remember going to the beach with my friends who shave and having a more uncomfortable experience than when I am with people that don’t (despite them being totally supportive of my choices). Also, when you see something different repeatedly, it might make you wonder and question the reason for your decisions. Even more, if you are a curious person (and mostly all humans are), you would even like to try it.
MNamug: It's crazy that we need to build up the courage to keep our body hair, but that is the reality. And having friends or family who are also doing the same definitely alleviates some of the anxiety that comes with going against what society expects. I also advise people to immerse themselves in images and stories that show body hair such as our zine, or body hair activists such as Queen Esie, Alok Menon or Bebhinn Eilish, whose artwork is gorgeous. You can also follow body hair hashtags for hairy content.
BU: How important or relevant are patriarchal attitudes towards body hair? Are women sometimes reluctant to grow body hair as a result of how male partners might react?
Aghh! Zine: Yes, definitely. And not just because of their partners, but due to the way their friends and families might react too. We are social humans, which makes us want to fit in with a group for survival – this is our nature. If we are not liked or accepted it could lead to us to be alone in the wild. Nobody wants that. Sometimes people are strong enough to leave and look for the right group of peers who would accept them, but most of the time we are told we are not going to find something better, or even find something at all.
These feelings get stronger with the people you are more closely sharing your life with. You want them to accept you and continue to love you, and sometimes you end up doing things you wouldn’t have done otherwise. Be yourself and go find your tribe if the one you are in doesn't accept you.
In their 2014 study, Pubic Hair Preferences, Reasons for Removal, and Associated Genital Symptoms: Comparisons Between Men and Women, Butler, Smith, et. al, found that in heterosexual couples, typically men's preferences for their partner’s pubic hair was hairless, and this translated in women's pubic hair choices.
MNamug: The older I get, the more nonchalant I get about my body hair, and I think it helps that my partners have also been okay with me keeping my body hair.
BU: How has your own relationship with body hair evolved over the years, and what advice would you give somebody who is tempted to grow theirs out – under their arms, for instance, and perhaps for the first time – but who doesn’t yet feel confident enough to do so?
Nuria: I’ve always been pretty hairy. All throughout my body my hair is dark, thick and mostly curly. When puberty hit, I grew longer and darker hair in my armpits, moustache and eyebrows. I didn't realise this was a problem until one of my friends laughed at my armpit hair and my eyebrow which connected in the middle. That day I shaved. And I continuously did so for more than ten years without even questioning it. Later on, when I was 16 or so, I had a distant and older friend who didn’t shave, and that was the first time I saw a hairy female body. I thought of it with weirdness and uncomfortableness at first. I guess from this day my mind started to unlock other possibilities. I always hated shaving, and yet I had to do it every two days (and everywhere) so I could leave the house with confidence.
Then, after I moved to England five years ago, I thought, “Nobody knows me here. What do I have to lose?” I felt it was a more open-minded country (at least Brighton is), and I felt free to explore my full self. Also, I didn’t have any partners or people to share my intimacy with, so I didn't care that much. Then it became normal and I felt strange without my body hair. It was hard though, and it still is sometimes, but what works for me is to reassure myself why I am doing it and to practice a lot of self-care.
Our first issue is a great resource to start you off, as you can read other stories and how all the feelings you are having are true and valid, and that really, we are all experiencing the same thing.
MNamug: When I was younger I was very aware of my body hair and removed it religiously, especially in the summer months. In the last few years, when I started growing out my body hair, I remember a friend of mine commenting, “Eww, why?”, when I said I was keeping my chin hair. It really shocked me as she was a body positive person, but her tolerance apparently stopped at body hair. The remark hurt me a lot and I think I said something like, “That’s really rude.” When I got home, I replayed our convo over and over and wished I had said something smarter. I did get a chance to discuss the topic further with her and we discussed the impact of her words and how they came across as hurtful, judgemental and closed-minded.
I agree with Nuria – self-love is important. I think radical self-care and self-love which can include daily affirmations, or writing love letters to yourself can boost your confidence and self-worth. Queen Esie discusses this in this Instagram reel: you sort of have to re-programme yourself, which can be hard to do after a lifetime of being programmed to think a certain way about beauty. Everyone wants to feel beautiful. Now I refuse to let someone else's idea of beauty make me feel small and ugly.
BU: What were some of your favourite contributions in issue one of the zine, and were there any recurring themes that appeared throughout the submissions? Or were there a real mix of responses and attitudes?
Aghh! Zine: They are all our favourites! We were so impressed by the quality of submissions for our first issue and still feel so honoured that they trusted us with their beautiful work.
I think most of our stories are pretty similar. Most of the submissions talk about shame, early hair removal traumas and how we passed through it and turned the hate into an opportunity for self-love. We think our first issue is a sort of communal catharsis and celebration.
BU: Was there anything within the responses/contributions that you were somewhat surprised to read, or was there anything you hadn’t previously considered?
Aghh! Zine: In one of the submissions, Caley Draws talks about how her bush is a perfect filter. I knew about this and I was conscious about who to share my intimacy with and how, but this brings to light how actually it is a great tool for knowing if someone is worth it or not straight away based on their reaction to your body hair choices.
It was brilliant to get a lot of non-binary perspectives, and we especially liked Jay Newbery’s poem, My beard is a traitor, which describes how their hair doesn't reflect their identity.
We loved learning about body hair from a non-Western culture in Ofure Okaka, through illustrations which show different African tribes and their societal views in the African context. I think this is important as it shows that what we consider to be normative views are not always universally held views. It shows us how used we are to viewing the world through a Eurocentric lens.
Finally, it has been enlightening learning about the history of body hair removal in the West, its colonial and capitalistic roots, and how body hair is used to further assert the gender binary. Alok Menon has very accessible summaries of scientific studies and essays that we used a lot in our research on this subject.
BU: If there’s one thing you would like people to take away from the launch issue of the zine, what might that be? And do you feel as though you’ve taken big strides in helping people to address the theme of body hair differently via the zine’s existence?
Aghh! Zine: We would love for people to first enjoy and celebrate all the hairy content in our zine! We have everything from essays to poetry to artwork and even performances. As we’ve said, we feel this issue is a safe space for communal catharsis and celebration. We would like people to start to question where their ideas about their bodies, body hair, self-image and beauty come from.
We had one of our male gay friends discuss with us the views of gay men and body hair in our city, Brighton. It seems to be that in this group, the less hair you have, the better; and he, being a hairy man, has had some hardships while dating. It makes me think of how hairlessness seems to be a growing trend in the mainstream for everyone. When you think of Love Island, for example, a show watched by millions of people (mainly teens to 30 years olds), the men on the show are all generally hairless because they shave and wax everything below their neckline. They even openly discuss removing their body hair.
BU: How has the zine been received, in terms of feedback, and have you had any responses from readers that have particularly stood out to you? The zine being accessible in such a number of popular locations throughout Brighton must really be helping to get your message out there to many different people from all walks of life.
Aghh! Zine: We have heard about how empowering, how beautiful, and full it is. And how needed our zine is. A lot of people have told us how they wish they had something like this growing up that shows real images of real bodies with body hair.
We’ve had people reach out to us via our DMs and at markets that we’re selling at to say they bought the zine and they’ve changed their perspective on body hair; and how it's allowed a space in which they can start conversations with their friends and families or how its empowered them to grow out their body hair. It's given a lot of people joy and, as we mentioned before, teachers and caregivers have utilised it as something to open conversations with children.
We are so grateful to have had our first issue stocked at so many places within months of printing. We've worked really hard to connect to our stockists and build our community and networks. We want to be as accessible as possible and our future dreams are for a digital zine for all our print issues, which will make it far-reaching, and also a cheaper product – as there would be no printing or high delivery costs (and customs costs) for our non-UK community. A digital version also means everyone can access our zine without any monetary barriers.
We would also like to have an audio version of all our zines for better accessibility for people with dyslexia or eyesight problems, for example.
BU: Looking ahead to issue two and beyond, which other topics will you be seeking to cover in 2023, and what other emerging trends or themes would you like to devote an upcoming zine to?
Aghh! Zine: Identity, social issues, politics, art.. we don't know. We have so many ideas, it's so exciting! Our first issue is body-related, as is our second one, which is due out this summer on the theme of ‘blood’. We have been actively collecting from people we’ve talked to at zine markets, or our friends and community. But we only bring out one issue per year, so we can’t do them all, although we are toying with producing two zines in one year.
We want to cover anything non-mainstream or taboo. Do you have any themes that you think we should cover? Or maybe your readers might have some. We would love to hear your thoughts!
BU: As strange as it might sound, it still seems as if there's no greater taboo than the mere presence of a naked human body - as evidenced by the rather absurd, yet large-scale backlash to the nudity featured within Channel 4's recent Naked Education documentary (a programme which also featured two of Aghh! Zine's contributors, Caley Draws and Bethany Burgoyne).
The body could and should be accepted as something that's entirely natural and normal, but many within society are seemingly adamant that it can't possibly be seen as anything other than something sexual - and I think that attitude is incredibly unhealthy and damaging on so many levels. So an upcoming zine along the lines of what we're seeking to promote through our BU site would definitely be welcomed!
Finally, how can people get their hands on your fantastic launch edition of the zine, and how can they keep tabs with the project on social media? Are you seeking contributions and for people to get involved in other ways later on in the year?
Aghh! Zine: We are on all social media platforms, so do follow us! Our Instagram is where we are most active. We also have a newsletter and it is where we get more intimate with our community. We are completely self-funded and make money from the sales of our zine and our other products. It would be helpful to us if people supported us by sharing our work or buying something from us so we can be sustainable.
I think as consumers, we need to be really strategic about where we spend our money, and we must opt-in and buy from small businesses and creatives, especially those from marginalised identities, who historically are more disenfranchised. We have been saddened to hear about Gal-Dem, a powerhouse home-grown platform that has had to close due to financial and structural reasons.
You can buy directly from us, through our Etsy or from our stockists:
In Brighton, we are stocked in The Queery Brighton, Metropolis Contemporary Art Gallery and Kemptown Bookshop to buy and read for free. You can also read for free at the Ledward Centre and at The Actors pub. And we’re so happy to tell you that our first issue is available at the Special Collections of Brighton University St.Peters House Library (Brighton Uni students only).
We have started to branch outside of Brighton and we’re now stocked at The Feminist Library, London, to buy and read for free, QueerCircle, London to read, and Girrlzinefair library, Southend-on-Sea, to read. We want to donate to more zine libraries but we don't have the funding at the moment.
We believe in giving back and sharing our resources and are always looking to feature work from anyone on the theme of our printed issues, so if you have any type of work, send us an email or DM to be featured. We would love to hear from you!