We love small businesses started and run by London mums! This one is brilliant – a beautifully produced independent magazine for parents that explores how to raise boys for a more equal world. We spoke with founder and editor Kirstie Beaven to find out all about the magazine and why she decided to focus on boys.
Please introduce yourself and Sonshine…
I’m Kirstie, I live in Homerton in Hackney. I have two kids, one very nearly 10 and one 7. I’m founder and editor of Sonshine Magazine, and I also freelance as a writer and editor for museums and galleries.
Sonshine is a quarterly printed and digital magazine taking a positive look at raising boys for a more equal world. Each issue follows a different theme and is packed with non-judgemental positive advice and articles, quick recipes, simple crafts, book reviews and a healthy dose of down to earth humour.
Why did you start the magazine?
It began in 2017 when I realised that while I had found lots of resources to help me smash stereotypes for my daughter, I couldn’t find anything to support me as a parent of a boy. I think that to change the world for girls we must change it for boys too – otherwise we will still only get half a change.
What are your biggest challenges producing a magazine now? Do you find there is still a market for print when so many bigger magazines have gone digital?
In the beginning, Sonshine was online only, but during 2020, there seemed to be an appetite for a print magazine, I think everyone was sick of being on a screen! I think there is still a market for print, there’s something really pleasant about holding a really nice magazine in your hands – it’s a tactile experience too. Sonshine is a keepsake, at 80 pages, it’s almost like a mini book.
Subscribers tell me they see it as a moment of calm – and lots of people send them as gifts. As a parent, it’s nice to have something you can pick up and dip into whenever you can grab a minute to yourself. Having said all that it’s a really tricky landscape for independent print magazines right now. Rising energy and paper costs have put a real strain on every stage of the production.
We print only on FSC paper, with a brilliant trusted printer in Wales, and we love the fact that we keep production within the UK, but it’s not been easy, like for so many small businesses this year.
How are things for boys in 2023? What are the main concerns being discussed in Sonshine?
We talk about so much in Sonshine. The newest issue is all about work and careers, and we’ve had so many interesting articles about role models for boys, how ideas about gender in careers are set by stereotypes even in nursery age children and (my personal fave) the mental load of motherhood and how we can change that for ourselves and for our kids.
I do think it’ s hard not to get a bit downhearted sometimes. We have heard so much recently about the crises for mental health and the rise of online influencers like Andrew Tate being possible because of the vulnerability of our boys. And that is definitely part of the picture, but I also think there are many positives.
We see many more role models talking about the importance of emotional intelligence, sharing their feelings, and looking out for your mates. Young people are having conversations we probably didn’t dream of: about racism, consent, online hate, misogyny, climate change, mental health and they are often so thoughtful, and eloquent about how things could change for the better.
It’s becoming more normal to dress expressively, at least those conversations are starting again with performers like Harry Styles being so flamboyant and brilliant in their outfits.
The threads that run through Sonshine are really pointing out inequalities when we see them, whether that’s at home at school or in books and TV. When we see them and talk about them, we can help our children see that these things aren’t ‘just the way it is’, but things we can actually change.
It feels like it wasn’t that long ago that everyone was worried about girls, now I feel that’s flipped a bit and there’s a lot about concerns for boys and how they are being raised – why do you think that’s shifted?
I think there’s been a real change in the past few years. We’re finally acknowledging that problems in our society, like violence against women and girls or sex discrimination at work, are not ‘women’s problems’– they are for all of us to face. I think there’s been a realisation that we cannot begin to fix these issues if we don’t have a holistic approach to how we raise our sons as well as our daughters.
We love all the coverage you’ve done on Instagram recently about gendered clothing. What are your main issues with kids’ clothes? What have you learned after looking into this further?
There are two main things that I find concerning about gender stereotyping in children’s clothing.
Looking at slogans and motifs on children’s clothes, research has found that overwhelmingly, animals on boys’ clothes are predators, while animals on girls’ clothes are more often prey animals. Slogans for boys often use words like trouble, danger, or noisy alongside the girls’ slogans of happy, love, friendship and dreams.
It might seem small, but these subtle messages impact girls and boys, how they see themselves and each other, and how adults see them too – it reinforces ideas that little boys are naughty, dirty, predators, while girls should be passive, smiling, always happy and kind. Worse still, looking deeper, perhaps it suggests the boys are entitled to chase, harass, overpower the girls – that’s just nature.
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Alongside this though, the sizing of clothes for young girls and toddlers on the high street tends to be smaller, shorter and tighter than boys’ clothes for the same age (though children’s average height and weight measurements are broadly the same until puberty). This discrepancy can often lead girls to feel ‘too big’ from early ages, as they have to size up. It can also have an impact on girls’ physical activity – uncomfortable clothes or flimsy non-waterproof shoes often discourage girls from taking part in physical play such as running, climbing and swinging, which are an essential part of child development.
You recently attended a toy fair – do you feel play is becoming more gender-free and toymakers / retailers are becoming more aware?
I definitely think this is the case. I had a lot of conversations this year with manufacturers who said that customers (us!) were asking for more gender neutral colours and motifs and had a few people mention that dinosaurs were just as popular for girls as boys (which didn’t surprise me, but did seem to surprise them!).
A lot of the small world play and soft toy play was marketed with much more inclusive images of children playing with the toys regardless of gender. I’d love to see that coming over into the arts and crafts space too – I think that’s still a bit of a gap in the market for boys. I think we can underestimate how much power we have as consumers, but actually retailers/ manufacturers want to make products that will sell: we as parents are driving this change.
Any future plans for Sonshine?
At the moment I’m loving producing the magazine, we’ve just had a redesign and I feel like it’s going from strength to strength. We are stocked in some really fantastic shops, and I’d really like to see the mag in even more places, including the supermarkets and big newsagents.
I really want to get our message out to as many people as possible. I’m also looking forward to getting back into doing in-person events, I’ve really missed meeting people in real life – doing a talk on zoom just isn’t the same!
I’d love to do a big Sonshine Live event with speakers and unisex retailers all in one space – I’m hoping we can find a way to do that this year!
Keep up to date with Sonshine and Kirstie: