Wacky Zine. The Artist’s Story.
By Heather Waterfield
Heather aged 8 and sister Elsa Waterfield aged 3, A Teddy Bear Picnic, taken by Melanie Benn, 2003.
What does the word eccentric mean to you? If someone were to call you 'weird', 'quirky' or 'eccentric', would you be offended? If you answered ‘yes’, have you ever thought about why? One day in 2019 someone said to me 'I love eccentric people, I want to be eccentric.' No one had ever placed eccentric people in a good light in conversation before, let alone as something to aspire to. Growing up people around me used words like eccentric or quirky to describe people who had lost their mind, ‘the local eccentric’. So, when that person used this word so positively, I initially laughed, thinking they were joking. But it got my mind whirring, I began researching endlessly.
My father sadly took his own life aged 49, never telling anyone but my mother while they were together about his dark thoughts and feelings of despair. I knew from my mother asking him ‘why don’t you talk to anyone about how you’re feeling?’, his reply was ‘Because I don’t want anyone to think less of me’. I knew that if my father could have cared less about how society would view a man struggling with his mental health, maybe he could have opened up and sought help. But this new epiphany connected the dots in my mind. Perhaps if my father had been able to cultivate his eccentric side, view his differences and inability to conform as positive rather than negative, he could have saved himself.
Something I’d believed my entire life was negative, I suddenly realised I’d been so wrong. It stuck with me, and I realised how warped my idea of eccentric people had been before that moment, therefore my entire view on anyone ‘different’ to the rest of society was also fundamentally wrong. Off-centre, unconventional, eccentric people although ‘considered by other people to be strange or unusual’ (Oxford Dictionary), were (mostly) completely content, because despite their differences, they didn’t care what others thought of them, and just lived their life however they pleased, free spirited, choosing a way of life and attitude to living that wasn’t tied up in society’s expectations and limited definitions of a ‘real man ‘or real woman’.
I’d often admired people who were truly authentic and unapologetic about who they are. The most inspiring and interesting people I knew about, didn’t have a care in the world about what other people thought of them. To my frustration, 'being myself' had not always been as easy as it sounds in many social situations. Everything I did (or didn’t do) would be overshadowed by a crippling fear of what others would think of me. Afraid of ridicule, judgement. So, like so many of us, I suppressed my true self in many interactions, especially when meeting new people. I would hold my tongue instead of speaking my mind or cracking a joke, hiding beneath a mask that monitored my every move, word and opinion.
Often I was left with a huge FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) after I talked myself out of walking up to a group of strangers and making conversation. An eccentric person simply doesn’t have this fear of judgement or ridicule, and therefore the world is open to them. They do, wear and say what they want, living their life as they please. Who wouldn’t want that? So I started wondering why this word 'eccentricity' had such negative connotations attached to it. Some of the greatest minds of our time would have been labelled eccentric nowadays. So, surely if we free ourselves from society’s expectations, thinking and acting based on our own values and desires, wouldn't we become the best version of ourselves?
"People tend to assume that eccentric means weird and wacky. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. The first definition offered by my Chambers dictionary is 'departing from the centre ... out of the normal course ... not conforming to common rules’…Some are weird and wacky, others immensely serious - all are true originals." David McKie, journalist and historian, of his book ‘Bright Particular Stars: A Gallery of Glorious British Eccentrics’.
I was lucky to grow up in a household that encouraged creativity, laughter, silliness, weirdness. My father taught me the importance of loving myself early on, even though the concept was difficult to grasp as a child. My parents allowed me to express myself however I liked, even if it meant I wore a red wig made out of tinsel, or insisted on wearing my favourite multicoloured wellingtons every day, even in the summer. I never liked school too much. I was ripped away from teddy bear tea parties in the garden and endless drawing, painting and crafting. The only school lessons I truly enjoyed allowed me to escape into my very own creative world once more. This nature loving, art making, curly-haired creature showed up in the playground, sneaking in toys even after the teacher told my mum I wasn’t allowed to.
After moving from the outskirts of London to the Kent countryside aged 5, I found it hard to make new friends. I never felt like I fitted into any particular group. Once when I was pestering my mother to buy me a purple, sparkly body warmer because 'Everyone at school has one', she asked me 'Why do you want to look like everyone else?' I didn’t know why. The question must have stuck with me, as my mum said later that night I dreamt I was at school, and all the students were clones, wearing the same body warmer. I didn’t try too hard to 'fit in' after that.
I learned the hard way that fitting in isn’t easy, especially at school, with so many rules and things you had to change about yourself to do so. Popularity meant being (or trying to be) a certain type of person that would fit into the mould the other students have of you. Surrounded by students who were more concerned with boys and the latest athleisure wear than grades. My family weren’t able to afford the latest Nike trainers or clothing, so I was already an outcast when I started secondary school. Teased relentlessly for my tight shorts I wore in P.E. I was called ‘Speedo’ for most of the time I was as school - even after I saved up and bought new trainers and shorts from JD sports. I enjoyed learning, most lunch breaks I spent getting a head start on my homework in the library, in order to have more time to play with my younger sister after school. I was in no hurry to grow up, and staying out of trouble wasn’t difficult for me. So, obviously I was in the 'nerd' category. I was a 'boff' (boffin), previously 'geek', not 'cool' or 'fit' (good looking) enough for popular students to bother speaking to, other than to ridicule for entertainment.
I never cared about impressing people, I had my head too far up in the clouds to care about saying the 'right' things. I was innocent, childlike, no makeup, train-track braces and hair slicked back into a ponytail because I had no idea how to style my mop of curly hair. I found myself alone, becoming shy and underconfident, eventually teaming up with a couple of other shy girls. So, those of us ‘unpopular’ kids went through school life always aware that the others would pick you to pieces if you dared ever speak up, or do anything other than sit there quietly. It was easier to remain invisible, not stand out, blend in. I had to stop riding the school bus because a boy from my year would sit next to me, pretending to flirt to make all the other kids on the bus laugh. All I wanted to do was listen to Vanessa Carlton and Jesse McCartney on my iPod and look out the window.
One day aged thirteen, I’d been to the hairdresser for a new haircut, it was short and curly and I was very pleased with it. For once I had felt confident in my appearance. That was until I gave my hair a shake to bring out the volume as the hairdresser had told me to do… of course, instantly everyone in class started laughing their heads off as they imitated me. The confidence went away in a second. Back then I hadn’t learned how to stick up for myself, so it was easier just to say nothing and shrink away into the background. After that I started straightening my hair like all the other girls at school. I was able to be my full self with family and friends, but any other situation with a larger group of people, I froze up and just didn’t speak, frightened of public ridicule, a fear that has been subconsciously ingrained within my mind ever since. At fifteen years old I got my braces off, and finally put down the straighteners and set the curls free once again. I began to embrace my natural hair (with the help of some bleach), and my confidence started to grow again. I never went back to trying to look like all the other girls at school, part of me never wanted to conform, I realised that it was too difficult to change myself and it didn’t make me happy to try and be anything other than me.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to leave school at sixteen for art college. I was finally able to wear what I wanted and express myself fully without judgement from others, because everyone around me was creative and doing the same. I made friends who liked me for who I was, and I spent my days doing what I loved, being creative once again. I was able to spend my days making art, which was all I really wanted my entire life. I stopped shopping in trendy mainstream shops in Bluewater and started collecting funky clothes from charity shops, vintage and thrift shops. The feeling of looking different to everyone else was empowering. I was finally able to express myself however I wanted, exploring myself through my style and art practice.
However, in the years that followed I realised as much as I had become confident in my outward image, I still didn't have the same freedom of expression with my voice. The fear of saying or doing the 'wrong' thing remained - most likely from my school days – was affecting my ability to speak my mind and trust my own opinion. I still had this lack of confidence, which held me back in social situations. In recent years, working in a challenging sales environment, surrounded by extroverts, helped me start to work through a lot of these issues, taught me to stop holding myself back for fear of judgement. I began cultivating my extroverted side, which has continued to grow and blossom. I was twenty-four when I started out in the advertising industry. After a short time my line-manager told me I had no confidence. I cried buckets as soon as I was out of his sight, I hated him for a long time for what had felt like an attack on my sense of self. I realise now he was trying to push me to be better, he was sure I could become a bigger, better version of myself. This person is now my friend with whom I’ve collaborated with, and little did I know at the time, this experience was a huge milestone on my journey towards believing in myself. Honest criticism that causes one to reflect on oneself can be painful, yet looking back at this experience I can see it forced me to reassess myself. It was a fight or flight moment, that came from someone who saw the potential of someone trapped in the confines of her mind, and lack of confidence crippling me.
Heather age 20, at Trosley Country Park, taken by Dion Ngute, 2014.
Heather age 21, at Great Yarmouth Beach, taken by Dion Ngute, 2015.
Aged twenty-five I left the working to study a masters and start the mental health magazine that was later to become ‘Wacky Zine’. While studying I attended a Contemporary Dance class at ‘Siobhan Davies Studios’. I had been attending choreographed contemporary dance classes for a few months through a university society, but this one was different. This was an Improvisational dance class. The class was popular so the friend that was going to join me didn’t get in. I was in a room filled with strangers, and instructed to move, with no music, guidance or routine. We simply needed to move our bodies however we liked, which seemed so simple. Yet I found myself unable to let go and allow my body to move freely. With or without my eyes closed, I couldn’t let go of the feeling that everyone’s eyes were on me, judging my ability to dance. I was struck by the realisation that I was still very self-conscious about how I appeared to others. I still cared what people thought of me, even if they were only strangers. Until that moment I had thought of myself as someone who did what I wanted regardless of what others thought of me.
I was overcome by emotion for the rest of the evening. Feeling tears trying to escape on the crowded tube journey back home, I averted my eyes to my phone to write about the experience and try to keep the tears from falling, and avoid the embarrassment of a public outbreak, but writing only brought on more emotion. My intuition was telling me the experience as tied to my past - to things I hadn’t dealt with as a young woman. I was thrown like a javelin back to the weird, awkward, shy kid at school once again. I had held myself back from being my authentic self yet again, even though I'd come so far. I had a strong feeling that this self-consciousness was largely related to feeling constantly observed and judged by the opposite sex. I believe as women we've been conditioned by society to always be aware of our appearance. That our true purpose in life is to aspire to be as attractive as possible for a man's gaze.
I became suddenly aware of this subconscious belief that I wasn’t complete without the love and validation of a man, that seeking and finding a partner was the only thing that would make me happy. Even the term 'other half' indicates that we are not whole individually. This realisation was eye-opening and difficult to come to terms with and admit to myself, as an ambitious person I was in no way consciously aware of this idea that now seemed to permeate my life, and I’m certain many other womens’ lives also. I knew this wasn't truly how I perceived myself deep down, I saw myself as a strong, independent woman driven by passion and ambition. This belief could only have been given to me by society, and the media, and it was going to take hard work to unpick.
“A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another..."
John Berger, Ways of Seeing (pp. 46-46, 1972)
This project emerges from a need to understand why we shrink ourselves to fit into what we think society expects of us, or dull ourselves down to make others feel better. It comes from a desire to be more authentic to my own needs and desires in every aspect of life. A wish to learn to let go of caring how I'm perceived by others, and fear of judgement, fear of anything for that matter. If others are intimidated by your personality, or they like you less for sharing your opinions and emotions, then it's time to remove yourself from that situation. Seek the company of others who respect, love and appreciate you, but first seek your own company, taking time to learn who you really are.
Learning to be comfortable with oneself in any situation is a slow process. At twenty-six I began this project, I’m now twenty-eight and still discovering many things about myself, learning to tell the difference between my own conscious values and desires, and those passed on to me by others, family, society, television etc. I'm trying to be open to change, but also remembering not to get angry with myself when I come up against these moments which challenge me, my confidence and make me question myself. I'm learning that cultivating my own self love is enough, and the importance of validating and affirming myself without needing it from others. I have by no means achieved this yet, but I hope that by sharing my journey I can help you on your journey to find your own forms of self-love and to start giving yourself permission to be a more authentic version of yourself.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” - Bernard M. Baruch (1948)
For me, an ideal world would be a place where each individual feels confident to express themselves in any form, living their lives as they please, doing things they love, while expressing kindness, love and appreciation to all. There would be no negative judgement, and therefore no need to fear the opinions of others, enabling us to cultivate real, true and strong relationships, forming deep connections with one another. Everyone would feel included and valued as part of a rich and diverse society.
In reality, many of us are afraid of standing out or being perceived as not ‘normal’, ‘quirky’, ‘weird’ or ‘eccentric’. As we leave childhood, we become more and more self-aware, self-conscious, critical of ourselves and others. Our desire to be liked, validated and approved of by others often limits our exploration of true authentic, creative self-expression. It’s no secret that Western society is deeply-rooted in conformity, following the herd and ‘fitting in’ – to the extent that we rarely even realise we aren’t living an authentic life. To be ‘normal’ means to camouflage, to become a collective mind, maybe even disappear into the background, or worse. We end up living our whole lives wearing metaphorical masks to hide our true selves from others. We might even forget who our real selves once were, forgetting to search for our own unique purpose, losing ourselves and our own unique thought patterns in the façade. It’s easy to lose sight of our own values and what makes us happy when we don’t even realise we are conforming to society’s rules and expectations. Often, we fall into the habit of comparing ourselves and our lives to other people’s. Instead of focusing on our own unique forms of authentic self-expression, we follow blindly, blend-into a superficial world without a fight.
I believe trying to be someone you are not for an extended period of time would surely lead to a life that no longer holds purpose for you. If we don’t express ourselves, creatively or otherwise, over time this can be hugely damaging to our mental health and sense of self-worth. You could be surrounded by people, but if you can’t speak to any of those people honestly about your feelings and opinions, feel truly understood and heard, it stands to reason that would lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation and hopelessness. If our life lack’s purpose, we might question if we ever knew what it was that makes us truly happy. We are all such diverse, beautiful, imperfect individuals, and the more we can learn to be inclusive, removing judgement and not only towards others, but towards ourselves, the closer we come to the ideal world I envision. We must understand and unpick of our unconscious biases, and let go of the collective unconscious belief that different is bad.
Allowing space for any shape of human in our world I believe is the cure for the many types of depression and anxiety that many of us across the world are dealing with. It has become clearer to me now more than ever, that creative, authentic self-expression in whatever form that may take could quite possibly be an antidote for many sufferers of mental illness, anxiety, grief, depression, mania, body dysmorphia etc. There is also theory that unexpressed creativity can sometimes turn ‘toxic’ if given no outlet to escape. Through ‘Wacky’ I hope to encourage more people to be true to who they are and escape from societal pressures and stigmas, through exploring what it means to be the most authentic version of oneself.
The name ‘Wacky’ addresses its purpose: to challenge stereotypes surrounding mental illness. ‘Wacky’, ‘Eccentric’ and ‘Quirky’ are all words that have historically been used to describe people in negative or derogatory ways, even alluding to mental ‘illness’. ‘Wacky's mission is to redefine, reclaim and celebrate these words, acting as a reminder that being different is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. ‘Wacky’ promotes not hiding the things that make us different, but drawing attention them, owning to our ‘flaws’, our diversities, encouraging open and honest conversations abound emotion, mental health and societal constructs. To be truly authentic is to know, show and embrace all parts of oneself, bringing previously hidden parts of ourselves out of the darkness and into the light.
Discover your unique forms of self-expression.
Find your voice and communicate your opinions, values and interests.
Explore your mind and body through creativity, style, art, movement.
With Wacky Love, Heather Clara Waterfield, Founder of ‘Wacky Zine’ x
The mental health magazine that challenges societal norms, celebrating eccentricity, creative expression and authenticity. This zine aims to delve deeper into what eccentricity really means, by speaking to people who have the ability to express themselves more fully and authentically than many of us. ‘Wacky’ explores the effect creative expression has on mental well-being and overall happiness. Through interviews with the 'black sheep', the people who 'go against the grain' and don’t conform to society’s expectations, ‘Wacky’ attempts to uncover more about the lifelong journey towards self-acceptance we all face. Let's reclaim the word eccentric, a label which is so often used negatively to describe people who are strange or crazy.
Being different is nothing to be ashamed of.