For Ione Gamble, the founder and editor of Polyester zine, tackling sensitive subjects was never a calculated plan, but one that developed naturally during its three years as a publication. “I think mental health is a big part of women’s, especially our age, life, for better or for worse, it’s something that a lot of us live with,” she tells It’s Nice That.
“It’s not really an enforced editorial agenda, it’s just something that naturally comes up,” she continues. “My strategy of Polyester in the first place is if a lot of people share the same issue it make sense to put that forward, in some sort of visual or written way.” These issues are represented in numerous forms, from being visualised through a photography in a series on anxiety, to a personal essay on “what sex means to those who have been sexually exploited”.
Topics are also represented both between the printed zine and online, which uploads content three times a week, “because we don’t want to overcrowd it,” Ione explains. “It’s definitely important to get things right when we post and that’s something we’re considerate of. I think that most of the team have had their battles with mental health as well, we’re in a emphatic position to deal with those pitches in a sensitive way.”
Exploring subject matter around mental health with a emphatic approach is a technique Polyester has mastered by being sensitive, but not coy. “Well personally, I’m extremely erratic and not closed at all,” says Ione. “I will just talk about things all the time and I think that can translate to journalism quite well.” It also transfers well to her commissioning approach too, applying the rule that “if we’re going to do something on mental health then the person has to have experienced it, or had a close relationship with mental health to do it justice”. As a result, Polyester’s pages are filled with representative artworks, for instance a series by photographer Nicolette Clara Iles on borderline personality disorder, work by Rachel Hodgson “who does great illustrations that are like overshares, but in the best way,” and a series with Emily Cole that tackled anxiety, “but in a fun way because obviously anxiety can feel really dramatic sometimes”.
Commissioning these pieces is often for the printed version of Polyester, whereas the online edition is largely filled with submissions. Going through these pitches is the publication’s online editor, Georgina Jones, who “is really good with dealing with mental health topics, and editing in a sensitive way,” explains Ione.
Being an editor while looking through a highly personal essay or topic is a difficult position to suggest amendments within but for Ione, “a good editor can tell the difference between changing simple things like grammar, spelling or even tone, than hammering someone’s story and remoulding it into what you want”. She adds: “There also needs to be a good amount of respect, both between the writer and editor mutually, so if you respect who you’re working with the edits aren’t that hard.”
The breadth that Polyester covers within the mental health sector has no limitations. “Obviously it’s important to have straight articles about what depression is like, or the more common disorders. But it is also really important to explore mental health in other areas of your life,” says Ione. “What does mental health mean if you’ve had an experience in life that not a lot of people have read? I think that’s the most important stuff to cover because we’re not used to speaking about it yet.”
As an intersectional feminist fashion and culture publication, Polyester only takes work from female, fem or queer people for the site. “I would say generally that female culture — if such a thing exists — does maybe facilitate these conversations a bit more,” Ione explains. “Especially if there’s a space that’s comfortable for other women, knowing that they’ll contribute to it and be treated right, then it may feel the same as having a chat with someone you know. I’ve felt those barriers don’t exist as much for other women our age as they do for other generations.”
Polyester has been covering difficult topics since its inception, part of a larger group of “zines and smaller publications that deal with mental health in a really good way”. The problem comes Ione explains, “when larger publications broach mental health,” she says. “Often the writer comes from a really good place and a place of experience, and that’s great. But, it can feel quite tokenistic if it’s not dealt with properly or seen through. If it’s one feature every six months that doesn’t relay into the editorial code and maybe they don’t treat their staff that well. Representation is one thing, but putting up a nice series that deals with depression doesn’t maybe deal with your staff, and if you’re shitty to them, what’s the point in covering it in the first place?”
Ione explains how in simple terms covering these issues “should never be used for clicks,” and that approach to mental health is where a larger problem can develop from. “There’s not really a good infrastructure or support for people in the creative industries or media that suffer with mental health problems,” she expands. “Obviously, a lot of us work freelance or away from an office, and when we get into an office then you’re supposed to run on extremely high standards that not everyone can all the time. I think that’s the bigger issue that needs to be addressed, more than just featuring or covering these issues within our publications.”
This Friday, Polyester launches three zines in celebration of its third birthday. To time with the anniversary, two of the three zines are based on the themes of birthdays, include an essay zine and a fully illustrated one. The third, a photo zine, explores different stereotypes and arcs of femininity through out history. To launch the latest edition, Polyester will be holding a four day birthday party at Protein Gallery, alongside an exhibition of work from the last three years and last six issues in a Birthday installation.
1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem every year, and in England, 1 in every 6 people report a common mental health problem – like anxiety and depression – each week. But only 1 in 4 people in the UK reporting mental health difficulties receive ongoing treatment. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in today’s coverage, if you would like to find out more or to donate, please contact Mind or CALM.
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.