Spicebag up your life: How to be massive

The Dublin Hun’s first book pays warm tribute to feisty working-class women, along the way giving tips on perfecting a Hun Bun and keeping trainers ultra-white with toothpaste

The Dublin Hun. Illustration by Aoife Dooley

The Dublin Hun. Illustration by Aoife Dooley

 

“This is not about taking the piss; it is about celebrating where you are from. At least it is for me.”

Aoife Dooley, originally from Coolock, but now living with her nan in Santry, has been getting her five a day. This is a woman who took the spicebag from the ghetto into common parlance. Her Dublin Hun Instagram brought the combo of spicy chicken, chips, peppers and onions from people’s local Chinese takeaways to a hungry nation and everyone’s dirty little snack secret became a cause célèbre.

Now, the graphic designer and illustrator is giving her super-feisty leading lady, Nikita, a moment in the sun in her first book, How to Be Massive.

She is proud of Nikita, who emerged from Dooley’s encounters with her boyfriend Karl’s cousins in Dublin’s north inner city.

There are elements of Dooley in Nikita, too, but Karl’s cousins brought so much to the party. “They are very family-oriented, and if they were going out at the weekend they wouldn’t wear the same thing twice; they would go out and buy something new because they wouldn’t be seen in the same outfit on Facebook. I always feel terrible when I go out with them because they will be dressed up to the nines and they look lovely and I will be wearing something I already have.

“The first diagram that I did would have been based on Karl’s cousin Sarah Jane. The character of Nikita drew many things from Sarah Jane: the way she stood and the way she held herself. She would go into the Ilac to get her stuff for the weekend.”

Karl’s cousins also put Dooley in touch with her feminine side. “I would have grown up a tomboy and I was into a sport [she played basketball]. I would hang out with lads, which was good in a way, because that has made me so open today. I don’t really give a shit.”

Dooley has given Nikita some of her devil-may-care attitude. Nikita “does her own thing. She is also really into looking well. She is more of a girly girl than I would be, but she is based on people I would know.

In How to Be Massive, Nikita moves seamlessly between ultra-girly and no-nonsense survival mode. There are super-handy make-up tips that work in real life. Dooley had very good teachers, she says. I admire Dooley’s perfect eyebrows. The eyebrows are untouched by Karl’s cousins’ hands, she says, but she has been at Karl’s nan’s house, where all the cousins descend to get ready for a night out, “so I would watch and learn”.

Readers of How to Be Massive can watch and learn, too. They will also laugh – a lot. Among the LOLs, there are take-home moments of personal grooming advice.

We talk hun buns, which Dooley has relinquished for a short elfin bob, thanks to her “very fine hair”. But her 19-year-old sister and many of those famous cousins wear buns with pride.

We talk runners; she is wearing gorgeous gold ones, which put my black Pharrell Williams for Adidas efforts in the ha’penny place. She tells me that city people would never go out in runners with a mark on them. Dooley’s book contains advice on how to keep your runners box-fresh using toothpaste.

We move on to fake tan. For Dooley, fake tan is a rite of passage. Just your legs? “No, everywhere, and a lot of people do sunbeds twice a week, too.” Dooley’s claustrophobic tendencies tend to militate against them, but she will get a spray tan “when I’m going out”. The only bad thing about getting a spray tan, we agree, is that you go on holiday brown and you come back white.

How to Be Massive comes from a good place. “People may have a perception that working-class women are not smart and are all about how they look, but for me that is not what Nikita is about. She has a pretty strong voice and she has some good tips in the book as well. She is feisty. If someone tells her she is wrong and she believes that she is right, she is able to stand up for herself and I find that with a lot of working-class women.”

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