Meet Isabel Bagsik, creator of Brown Papaya: a project/magazine focused on "dismantling toxic beauty expectations for Filipinx womxn and non-binary folks." Having started our own digital zine, as apart of Camp Cadmium, we were super excited and honored to talk to Isabel about her process ideating, organizing, and publishing Brown Papaya. Naturally, our conversation focused on community and the value in real life interactions.
She also inspired us to reconnect with our original intentions for Camp Cadmium--which in turn motivated us to start working on some new, exciting projects...coming soon!
Let's start off easy! Do you mind introducing yourself, along with Brown Papaya, to our community?
I’m Isabel! I’m a graphic designer and my day job is as a designer at a media production studio in San Francisco. At this studio, we work with different YouTube creators and celebrities to create digital content to promote our clients’ product and/or service. Outside of work, I am really involved in the Filipinx American community as well as the larger Asian American community.
I’ve been able to engage in these groups through my side passion project, Brown Papaya, which is focused on the Filipinx American community. Brown Papaya focuses on dismantling toxic beauty expectations for Filipinx womxn and non-binary folks. It started off as a magazine and has extended to different event experiences. Another organization that I’m involved in is The Cosmos, which I am the San Francisco ambassador for. The Cosmos creates experiences and serves a community for Asian American womxn. Every month I host events, guest speakers, and panels for The Cosmos. Through this group, I have been able to meet and collaborate with a host of wonderful people.
(SIDE NOTE: We met Isabel through The Cosmos! How cool is that!)
As for hobbies, some things that I enjoy doing...outside of staring at my laptop for hours on end...include exploring the city, keeping an eye out for different events focused on creativity and community (I love meeting individuals), and exploring new foods places! I also love buying (and spending too much of my money *laughs*) supporting womxn of color business owners.
What inspired you to start Brown Papaya? What’s the significance behind the name ‘Brown Papaya’?
To start off with the name, Brown Papaya is a play on words! Papaya soap is a product in the Filipinx community known to lighten the skin. It’s used in skin whitening and brightening products. I added Brown as a way to reclaim darker skin. Brown Papaya started off a year after I graduated college. I was nearing the end of my first big internship. I had free time commuting an hour and a half to and an hour and a half from work everyday. I had ample time to think and create of something on my own, outside the confounds of my work. I wanted to exercise my creativity in some way.
I was thinking about what topic or idea that I could focus on that I wouldn’t get tired of working on. Something that was calling me was the concept of in-person experiences.
I was largely involved in the Filipinx community in college; the dialogue and conversations I was able to have with this community allowed me to explore my cultural identity. I wanted to bridge the aspect of creativity with a community I was familiar with. At the end, my idea came down to making my own magazine, but I wanted to go a step further and incorporate an interactive quality to it somehow. I decided to make the participants of my magazine’s shoot share their stories with me. This was the start of Brown Papaya!
The ball really started rolling once I announced this project on social media. I wasn’t sure if anyone would see it, but it was also a way to keep myself accountable once people started recognizing what I was doing. Twitter ended up getting the most traffic! I was able to connect to professors, scholars, and other members of the Filipinx community. It was exciting to see interest in my project!
I put out a callout for models/participants in Brown Papaya. There were so many people who messaged me who wanted to participate. I got an overwhelming amount of messages and I thought “wow this is amazing!” I ended up creating a google form and had people apply to the project. I had over 80 applicants and picked 37 of the womxn. We photographed over the course of 3 days and we had people volunteer for photography and filmography which was awesome!
After the shoot, I spent the next year having more in depth conversations with the participants and worked on developing my magazine. I wanted to know more about their stories through interviews.
I opened up the magazine to the greater community to anyone who was interested in contributing their artwork and/or writing to the work. When it was completed, it was beautiful to see all the stories, writings, artwork, etc. that was included in the issue.
It was beautiful getting to read and learn more about the struggles that many of these womxn faced and realizing that I had so much in common with them.
In your zine, you beautifully shared the stories of 37 Filipinx womxn. What part of this project/of their stories impacted you the most?
I usually go back to this moment on one of the photoshoots. Before the photoshoots, I had few interactive activities for the participants. One of them involved answering various prompts at an individual level, with a pair, and then with the larger group. With the larger group, I had everyone shoulder-to-shoulder in line and I would read a statement out loud. If they resonated with the statement positively, they took a step forward and backward if negative. The statement response that stuck with me was when I stated, “Take a step back if you have ever felt unsafe leaving your house because of the way you’re dressed,” at one of the shoots and every girl took a step back. It was interesting to know that I wasn’t the only one who thought about what I wear in the morning as a safety measure.
Where do you see Brown Papaya going in the future? What are your goals for the publication?
I never intended for the magazine to have another issue. But, I had so much support and interest for it that I knew that I wanted to do something more. I didn’t really want to put out another issue since that would involve pressure and deadlines. Instead, I wanted to follow what felt right. It started off as a passion project, but I didn’t want to be tired of it. So, instead I developed a retreat! That definitely took a lot of energy and several months of planning. The retreat was a three-day, two-night event earlier this year in June and that was beautiful.
I recently attended a conference for Filipinx female entrepreneurs and creatives which gave me great inspiration, so I’m ready to put more energy back into Brown Papaya fully. I know that I want to collaborate with more people, but I’m not sure in what capacity yet. However, I know that the end product will somehow relate to Brown Papaya’s original intentions and include different media elements.
I think it’s great if one’s goal is to have a consistent magazine and have deadlines for yourself if you want to keep growing your publication identity. But, there is also another side of it, which I always have to remember for myself too, that it’s okay to create just to create--with no end goal, no profit, no deadlines.
We love how the Brown Papaya community derives its passion from its desire to redefine what it means to be a Filipinx womxn! One of our goals with Camp Cadmium is to foster a similar type of passion within our community, ours coming from desires for both creative liberation and inspiration. What’s your advice for forming an engaged and passionate community?
I gained interest when I was showing off my process on my Instagram Stories; I think it’s really exciting to get people involved in the process by doing so. I personally love seeing other creators and artists, so I think incorporating aspects of your project’s development allows people to see what you went through to get to the end product.
On the other hand, it’s also about remembering your original intentions for creating your zine and making sure that others know it too. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the likes, the followers, the numbers...and for that to turn into frustration, but I want to tell you that it’s so much more important to focus on why you started your project in the first place and find inspiration there. You can definitely look to others for inspiration, but ultimately your best work will be derived when you stay true to yourselves.
Lastly, if there is anything else you would like to share/tell our community please do. :)
If you have this creative idea or this project that you want to do whether it’s art-related, science-related, for a nonprofit, etc., just do it. No matter how small, just test it out. See how it goes, scale it up, and see where it can go.
Brown Papaya showed me that I have the potential to create and plan whatever I want to do and more.
Reach out to the people you admire and pick their brains. If you do have an idea, test it out and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Interested or know someone who might be interested in getting featured in our community? Contact us here.