Some weeks past, I reviewed a couple of issues of Mend My Dress, a personal zine by Neely Bat Chestnut that tells fraught and personal tales of abuse, femininity, and childhood. Reading through so many issues of Mend My Dress, I enjoyed getting a better sense of Chestnut’s strong senses both of morality and of aesthetics, which pervade and shape her zines.
The look and feel of Mend My Dress and Chestnut’s perspective are very consistent. It gives a sense of the thoughtfulness with which she approaches thinking and writing about the (often pretty horrifying) experiences she recounts from her life.
She addresses this a little in an issue where she writes about femme and girl identity. Having been abused— sexualized and made vulnerable— at a young age, as a teenage punk she rejected girliness and its associations with vulnerability. Eventually, she writes, she came back around to riot grrl style reclamation of girlhood. With her own experiences of what girls go through, she appreciates a girlish and femme aesthetic as a tribute to the strength and endurance of girls.
One confession that she makes, which struck me as being such a brave thing for a writer to say, is that she has a tremendous fear of and bad associations with writing— her spelling, her handwriting, her vocabulary. Having a better sense of how the determination it took Chestnut to tell her story only increased my respect for her and for the difficult stories she tells.
Please note that this book deals very explicitly and evocatively with abuse, rape, incest, and self-harm, among many other topics. If you have experience with these things, Neely Bat Chestnut writes about them very well, and reading her writing might very well help you think them through, but it is also very likely to hurt. Watch yourself.