In this edition of Chit Chat Tuesday, The New Story founder Beck Marshall shares the joys and challenges of mothering teenage girls, what we can expect from her creative team post-Papier Mache, and diversity and inclusion in kid’s fashion.
Junior Style: You have two teenage girls—how’s it going lately on the motherhood front?
Beck Marshall: Teenage daughters bring unique challenges and joys. Holding them in a safe space through massive growth, changing feelings, as well as bursts of independence—but the inability to control it—is quite a rollercoaster.
A few years ago we made the decision to leave Sydney and come to Byron Bay, exchanging our tiny apartment for life in the country. At first, my eldest daughter absolutely hated it; no buses, no public transport—she was suddenly forced to rely on her parents far more than usual. After a year, however, she grew to love it. Unlike in the city, socializing here means sitting by a fire at someone’s house, parties in the bush, or bonfires at the beach. Sure there will be experimentation with alcohol and whatnot, but I keep lines of communication very open. Sex, alcohol—it’s going to happen and I want my girls to be educated and more importantly, empowered to be able to say yes or no with agency.
JS: You said in your interview with Linda McLean of Smudgettika that the new story represents a more authentic progression from Papier Mache. Can you elaborate on your concept of authenticity? Will Papier Mache continue or is it over?
BM: Papier Mache is over; everything we did in that magazine was very beautiful but my place in it was altered—the pursuit of beauty ceased being enough for me. I want to say something, tell deeper stories, and help others, especially women, through the platform that I have built. You could say Papier Mache ran its course. With the new story, I want to re-jigger people’s idea of beauty, reverse course, take it all down, make it raw. The feelings of inadequacy that can result from social media, the way women feel badly about real life and real motherhood after their feeds have been saturated with this ideal of the white linen family going to Portugal for the 6th time. It’s just fake. No one really lives like that, it’s not reasonable to aspire to that for the majority of women.
JS: Let’s talk about social media. Is it fair to say that the new story is a reaction against social media and the tyranny of influencer marketing?
Absolutely. The whole concept of influencers is really a seductive stream of below-the-radar advertising. Social media can be so toxic for young mothers, and it makes me feel so sad. I’m almost more interested in seeing the shittiest moment of your day because chances are, your struggle is universal, I can relate, and we can have this shared experience that is authentic. I don’t like how social media uses women to make other women feel insignificant. We need to lift each other up, inspire, take action. I see women on the beach in Byron Bay with their cameras in front of them, living life for Instagram; it pains me to see that.
JS: When I scroll through my feed I am aware that so-called influencers are just advertisers, and I tune them out. I don’t get sad…of course, I am not a young mother either.
BM: Exactly! Just think back to when you first enter motherhood. You’re not at work, you don’t have the same social life as you used, you’re at home a lot, you’re inhabiting this very small world where you’re sitting on a lounge, breastfeeding your child, your body is going through a lot. And what are you doing? You’re scrolling through your feed, being fed impossible images by influencers. I was influenced by my mom, my mum in law, and my friends. New motherhood is a funny, lonely time, you’re in a space in between, and now the instinct of motherhood is being taken over by a beep beep of a phone. When I had my daughter at age 23, I had to go on my own intuition. I’m glad I didn’t have those distractions— they would have fed into that part of me that was already confused. As a creative, I don’t want to play a role in that.
JS: So, social media is no bueno?
BM: No, of course not, it’s much more nuanced than that. I cherish the international community I am a part of—and which is only possible through social media. I think social media is a neutral technology and it can be used for good or nefarious purposes. My youngest daughter attends a Steiner school, and at a parent’s meeting about social media, I was probably not the most popular person after I shared my opinion, which is that social media is a powerful tool for young people. I mean, look at what Tavi Gevinson has accomplished through Rookie—if I had had access to social media, I would have been like that. Tavi was from this tiny town, she had access to social media and was able to meet like minded people. Social media this way is a blessing, it helps kids know that they are not the only people in the world like themselves.
JS: You mentioned new motherhood as being ‘a space in between’…I recently attended the Rei Kawakubo exhibit at the MET and they describe her work as ‘the art of the in-between’, which is a reference to Zen Buddhism, the void and the space invoked by architectural forms. For the debút issue of the new story, the theme is ‘the space within the space’. Can you elaborate on that concept?
BM: It was a really difficult concept to express but I was trying to draw out those tiny moments in motherhood, for example, a moment of calm when you notice a billowing curtain and perceive it as the breath of the Earth. The inspiration came from my eldest daughter who studies comparative religion. Through her, I got turned on to the world religion scholar Huston Smith’s work. He was a master of teaching people to understand rather than fear other people’s religion, and a proponent of the idea that the more educated you are the more understanding and less fear you have towards others. In a world where there is so much distrust between peoples of different religion and culture, this gave me hope for the future.
JS: Let’s talk about diversity and inclusion in the kid’s fashion industry.
BM: This is a huge issue. The broader fashion world is starting to make strides by casting more diversity on the runway and in print campaigns and it’s definitely a goal for the new story to push the envelope in this regard for kids fashion: we want to cast more boys and cast for more racial diversity. I believe that an obsession with ideals or traditional aesthetics causes blindness in this regard—even if it’s unintentional. Another issue the kid’s industry needs to address is cultural appropriation and where to draw the line. I got schooled when Papier Mache published a picture of a little boy with a paper-cut, Native American style headdress and it made me feel sick that I had been so tone deaf. I received over 200 emails from readers explaining that ceremonial headdresses are imbued with sacred significance and that it’s inappropriate to use them as a styling prop. In the end, I was happy to have received the criticism, because I learned from it.
JS: On a lighter note, what are you reading or listening to right now?
BM: Right now I am reading the Dharma Bums, by my favourite author Jack Kerouac. I love his cadence and I’ve been re-reading him a lot lately. Otherwise, I am trying to focus on going to sleep the instant I feel tired, and not slogging it out, which ironically, creates more work for me the next day. You know, it’s not fun when you wake up to a bunch of half-written emails the next day.
JS: Totally. I think we can all relate to that! Thank you Beck Marshall!
To keep up with Beck Marshall, head on over to the new story; the debut issue is now available for pre-order.
Beck Marshall and the new story are on Instagram here.
Interview with the new story’s Beck Marshall by Jennifer Irizarry.
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Images courtesy of Beck Marshall.