Trust No Aunty, and listen to Hatecopy instead

The Insta-famous artist wrote a guide for girls, but she's no "Aunty in Training." Hatecopy talks about her new "satirical guide book," Trust No Aunty.

The Insta-famous artist wrote a guidebook for girls, but she's no 'Aunty in Training'

Trust No Aunty, the first book from Toronto's Maria Qamar, a.k.a. Instagram's Hatecopy, arrived August 1. (Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

Most people aren't qualified to write a guide to life. Maria Qamar didn't think she was, anyway — though we'd take notes on whatever the 26-year-old has to say about cultivating some serious Instagram fame. The Toronto artist is known to her 106K followers as Hatecopy, and since early 2015 she's been drawing and painting gags about growing up Desi, tackling everything from over-protective parents to casual racism. (More on that in this CBC Arts profile from Season 1 of Exhibitionists.)

A collection of her pop art panels — including a bunch of all-new originals that have never been seen on IG — appear in her recently-released first book, Trust No Aunty, but it isn't just a collection of Hatecopy's greatest hits. When a publisher first approached her in October 2015, that's what she thought they'd print. "I just thought it was going to be a nice coffee table book, with some drawings or whatever," she says, something you might grab in Urban Outfitters check-out along with a bottle of glitter nail polish. Instead, her publisher pitched the idea of a girls' guide to life — and Qamar just laughed. "I told them, 'Who's going to read this? Like, who cares?'" she recalls. She was under 30. She was recently unemployed. These things do not a GOOP-esque lifestyle brand make. Then, they pointed to her ever-growing Instagram community. They would care.

This book is for girls like me — or my friends or my cousins. Stop second guessing yourself. You're doing great.- Maria Qamar, author of Trust No Aunty

Born in Pakistan, Qamar moved to Mississauga, Ont. with her family when she was nine, and her humour mines the teen (and twenties) travails of growing up between two cultures. Despite her massive fanbase, features in Vogue and props from Mindy Kaling (who's included a few Hatecopy x Babbu the Painter originals in The Mindy Project's set) — Qamar's said in the past that she thinks of the project as a sort of in-joke between friends. Her life was already in the art. The book just ups the word count.

Inside, she shares anecdotes ranging from teen dating mishaps to racism in the workplace. (There's a section called "Actual 100 Percent Totally Not Made Up Things a Brown Person Has Heard at the Office.") She even kicks in some recipes for the "Desi Campus Girl on a Budget" and some beauty DIYs, which ups the book's chatty teen mag vibe. Mostly, though, it's packaged as a field guide for identifying — and avoiding — aunties. They're defined in the opening pages as older women: "a cross-cultural phenomenon that isn't limited to a family member." Whether they're neighbours or random strangers, they're the well-meaning meddlers who'd like to see you married off, skinny (but constantly gorging on home-cooked meals) and making bank as a doctor, engineer or similar. And Qamar's written and illustrated a variety of case studies for dodging their dodgy advice on love, beauty and being a "good" girl. It makes the book a sort of Pokedex for smashing patriarchal values.

"It's less about the aunties, and it's more about young brown girls trying to avoid bad advice — or trying to get away from people who are constantly trying to interfere in their business," Qamar tells CBC Arts.

"I've defied the advice of my aunties almost every step of the way, and I've turned out fine. Fantastic even," she writes in the intro — which makes the idea of her sharing an entire book's worth of life advice a little funny. Still, she explains she's no "Aunty in Training."

I'm not telling you how to live. I'm saying this is what I've been through.- Maria Qamar, author of Trust No Aunty

"It's more of a satirical guide book," Qamar says of Trust No Aunty. "I'm not telling you how to live." (That would be the aunty move.) "I'm saying this is what I've been through and maybe, you know, you're going to encounter similar things. And if you do, this is how I would deal with it." She was living through plenty of the book's scenarios as she wrote." I had zero dollars when I first started writing this and so it was like I was taking my own advice as I kept going," she says.

"The biggest lesson I've learned is not to second guess myself and to believe in my work." As a kid, Qamar wanted to be an artist. If she'd only listened to what her aunties had to say, that'd never have been the case.

"This book is for girls like me — or my friends or my cousins," she says. "Stop second guessing yourself. You're doing great."

"If you feel like you're alone in dealing with racism, or in dealing with your parents who don't want you to be in a certain career — whatever it is — read this and realize that the person who wrote this was also in this situation. You're not alone."

Check out pages from Trust No Aunty.

Who are aunties? From the book: "She could be a neighbour, a family friend, or just some lady on the bus who wants to throw some casual black magic your way. […] They are at family parties or friendly get-togethers with your mother, finding ways to make your life difficult, trying to get you married to their sons, and telling you to lose weight while simultaneously trying to feed you a second dinner.” (Hatecopy/Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)
From Trust No Aunty: "If hyperbole was a person, the Bollywood aunty would be it. She has learned all of her mannerisms and dialogues from pop culture. Anything and everything will be blown out of proportion, so don't take it to heart." (Hatecopy/Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)
From Trust No Aunty by Maria Qamar. (Hatecopy/Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)
Maria Qamar on aunties who give bad advice: "There’s weird patriarchal advice that’s kind of designed to keep women down, it doesn’t really come from the women, it comes from the patriarchy. This weird part of our culture that’s designed to get women married off at a young age or keep it within the race, all this stuff which I find peculiar and that’s what’s in the book.” (Hatecopy/Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

Trust No Aunty by Maria Qamar. Touchstone, 178 pages, $26.99. www.hatecopy.com

About the Author

Leah Collins

Leah Collins is the Senior Writer at CBC Arts.

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