Canada’s feminist magazine for teen girls and trans youth marks a milestone.
By Carys Mills
Readers and supporters of Shameless are celebrating the magazine’s 10th anniversary on Friday.
Ahead of an anniversary gala in Toronto, J-Source talked to editorial and art director Sheila Sampath about the past and future of Shameless.
J-Source: What is Shameless?
Sampath: A national feminist magazine for teen girls and trans youth. It’s a really intersectional approach, so while we do talk about young women’s issues and trans issues, it’s also important for us to include analysis that includes race, class, sexuality, disability, all of those kinds of those things. We started out as an alternative to mainstream media for young people. I wasn’t around at the start of things—the project was started by Melinda Mattos and Nicole Cohen. We’ve grown into our own space and developed our own politics, which sort of focus around activism, social justice, decolonization, anti-racism and it includes feminism.
J-Source: What can readers expect to see when they pick up the magazine?
Sampath: We publish three times a year. We’re basically trying to make really complicated notions and really complicated politics as accessible as possible. You may have an article that will talk about symptoms of colonization, capitalism and oppression. But then it kind of ends up coming down to how this makes you feel, what can you do about it and how can you react to it from your location.
J-Source: So the magazine started as a prototype at Ryerson University’s journalism school?
Sampath: My understanding is Melinda and Nicole started it as a class project and then after they finished, they were like, “Hey this has the potential to be a really cool thing and this doesn’t exist in the world. So let’s make it.”
J-Source: You started at Shameless in 2006 as art director, before also becoming editorial director. How did you start with Shameless?
Sampath: I’d just finished design school. Shameless is 100 per cent volunteer run, not-for-profit, spare time work. (I’m at my day job right now; I run a social justice design agency.) I have a background in psychology, sociology and political science but then I also have a background in graphic design. I had done some zine making, I went to graphic design with the specific purpose of doing social justice work, and Shameless seemed like a really good space for that. Melinda and Nicole put their jobs up for grabs and a couple other people ran the magazine for a few years. A lot of the questions that came up during that period were: how are we defining feminism? Because it’s a word that’s used a lot but we don’t always have the same working definition of it. In 2010 I became editorial and art director.
J-Source: Since you started, how has the need for Shameless changed?
Sampath: In a way, we’re responding to the same things. I think maybe the way we’ve chosen to do it has shifted. Shameless went through a phase where it was really fun, it was lots of DIY, lots of crafts, stuff like that. Then we went through a phase where we were trying to work out the politics, and I think it was a bit more serious. Now I think we’ve got back to bridging that gap.
J-Source: Has the number of subscribers or retailers expanded a lot over the years?
Sampath: I do editorial and art direction and I know very little about publishing and circulation. But I actually think there are fewer places for us to be now. In Toronto, we don’t have many independent book stores any more. We’re in Chapters/Indigo and a few other book shops. Our subscriber rates have fluctuated, there was a bit of a lull in the middle, and we’re kind of on the rise again.
J-Source: Have there been any other industry changes you’ve noticed at Shameless?
Sampath: I know there’s fear mongering around print being dead. I don’t believe that to be true. We have an iPhone app but people don’t really use it. People really prefer the print magazine and I think it’s important we remain in print. For youth that are in school, I think it’s really important that when they go to a library, they see Shameless. They can hold onto it as an artifact and share it as an artifact. We have a really specific audience and I think there’s sort of a misnomer that young people are online—they are and they’re not. To be honest, our website tends to skew a little older in terms of readers than our print magazine.
J-Source: What are your best and worst moments at Shameless?
Sampath: The high points are when I get emails from teens. It happens a lot. They talk about how excited they are about Shameless, how they didn’t know about it, or how they want to write for us. I think a low point was trying to rebuild Shameless in 2010, trying to kind of acknowledge we weren’t always perfect, and not trying to erase that.
J-Source: What’s the future for the magazine?
Sampath: I’d like to find a way for us to get paid for our work. That’s one thing I want to do before I leave Shameless, is to find a way to pay staff and contributors. Being run by volunteers, it limits the kind of people who can contribute to the magazine. I think we have a really diverse group, but there’s a class imbalance when you’re limited to people who can afford to work for free. For me that’s a huge priority, which is part of why we’re doing our 10-year fundraising and our gala on Friday. We don’t have a lot of advertising because part of being a political magazine is being mindful about who we advertise with. Other goals are to reinstate a youth advisory board and create lesson plans, so Shameless can be used as a teaching tool in schools.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.