Polaroid by Petra Collins.
hen I spoke with Tavi Gevinson she had just come back from a driving lesson with her dad. The day before, she had seen an invitation-only advanced screening of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom. These two tidbits contextualize the fascinating paradox that defines Tavi, the unnervingly accomplished sixteen year old behind the Style Rookie fashion blog and Rookie Magazine.
Tavi started Style Rookie when she was eleven. At the time, her fashion blogging attracted widespread attention, gaining her praise and admiration from plenty of high-ranking fancy people in the fashion world. Rookie Magazine covers a broad range of feminine subjects and incorporates the work of many new writers and photographers, including sometimes contributor to The Wa and Toronto's own Petra Collins.
Rookie Magazine is particularly impressive to me as it aptly captures the multifaceted quality of what it is to be a girl (or you know, a person!) in a way that seems unparalleled in today's pop media for young girls. I talked to Tavi about her transition from Style Rookie to Rookie, the importance of the individual voice, and the difficulties of staying true to self in the midst of stylistic evolution.
I feel like Rookie avoids assessing things in black and white terms. It's socially conscious and sentimental without being cloying but it also doesn't give in to pure cynicism, which is always a tempting route.
Thank you. The other day I was talking to my dad and he was like "when did you get a dark sense of humor? Because when you were a kid you were so happy" but when I was a kid (I mean, I'm still kind of a kid) but when I was a really little kid I was a total smart ass and then I discovered Daria and Ghost World and Winona Ryder movies. That, combined with middle school. You plunge into cynicism and then at some point you realize there's a difference between having a dry sense of humor about how much things can suck and then just making things harder for you and uncomfortable for the people around you.
Yeah, and it can be sort of a crutch. Being negative about everything protects you in some ways but it also sort of inhibits you from progressing.
Sometimes I look at magazines that have these models looking all frown-y and cool and I think "oh it's more subversive to just be happy" and then sometimes I'm looking at magazines and everyone looks really happy and then the subversive thing would be for girls to just look deadpan or whatever. It really depends on my own mood, but that's why we try to have both on Rookie. I like to think there's a comfortable mix of plain positivity and then also trying to be a little more discerning and critical of what's around us with a dry sense of humor.
I have to ask, how do you maintain your focus and drive during a time that can be associated with volatile emotions, speaking from my own experience being an angsty teenage girl?
It's hard, but when I'm stressed or angsty, Rookie never feels like a source of that. It feels like more of a relief and a way to work through all of that. Part of it is that I'm a perfectionist and I just refuse to not pay attention to details of the website even though I should probably be sleeping more. Part of it is that, I often find myself going back to Rookie and rereading advice posts and being like "alright, that's what I need to do". Relax or whatever. I also think in a weird way it helps that I have become less cynical and hating everything. I don't look at the Internet as much anymore. I mainly look at Rookie, email, Facebook, sometimes Tumblr, a few series I keep up with. I read all the Girls recaps on Vulture and I look at The Hairpin and stuff. It's not that I think that everyone on the Internet is an idiot but you become more aware of people's opinions when you really look at that stuff all the time…
There are a few communities where people stay level-headed and that's why I mention The Hairpin. I guess I have my own comfortable corner of the Internet I stick to that makes it easier to work on Rookie. I feel like we're putting out content that is good and don't want it to pander to whatever hype other websites are into at the moment.
Speaking of the Internet, what would you say are some of the strengths and weaknesses of using the Internet as a tool to educate yourself?
People talk about how they miss the days of tangibility, and yes it's a shame that people don't write letters like they used to, but you can still write letters. And people don't make mixtapes like they used to, but you can still make a mixtape. The Internet is a good way to discover stuff you like. If you really want to be obsessed with something, find out all about it, find interviews, find out the things they reference.
After seeing Moonrise Kingdom, for a day after I was like "ahh I hate the Internet, why can't I run away and go into the 60s with a boy" but I don't know… It is what it is right now and a lot of good things have come from it.
Why do you think there's a grace period between today and appreciating the aesthetic of the present as beautiful?
I think that it's just hard to feel that way about your own time. When I obsess over a scan of gum packaging from the 60s it's like, yeah, everything looked like that during the 60s and nobody thought anything of it.
There are things I can appreciate now, there's a lot of good current music and movies that I like now. I think it's just that it's hard for people to recognize their own era because you only remember the good things about, say, the 60s. People talk about how shitty movies are now, and I do think that movies are especially shitty now, but people made bad movies in the 60s too. They just weren't the ones people remember. It's very easy to get nostalgic and be unhappy with where you are now. For someone like me whose knowledge of the 60s is all from movies and books and pictures on Tumblr... of course it's kind of romanticized.
What's the hardest part of being a girl, day to day, for the average female reader of "Rookie"?
Obviously body image is really messed up right now. It's so alarming to sit in front of the computer for hours and figure these things out and write about them and talk to the writers about them and then actually go to school and see a friend that has bandages on her arm. It's so strange to make that connection and figure out how to remedy it. There are a lot of urgent problems, but you have to figure out where your passion lies because it's probably those feelings could be best executed. In a lot of ways it's kind of about this universal sadness and trying to seek it out as much as you can. It comes in chunks and sometimes the sadness is about eating disorders or relationships, and sometimes it's about your family. So I think we try to get all those issues. We are not the official voice or authority on what's the biggest problem in feminism or what the most urgent problems for women are right now.
But by giving voice to the individual you can do the best you can.
Exactly. I have gotten into arguments with people at my school over why Rookie isn't about incredibly dire situations in underdeveloped countries. I feel like we're just trying to do another thing. It doesn't mean that other people can't do that. I think we're good at what we're doing… To take that utilitarian view and just insist that anyone who's trying to do anything about feminism or trying to improve the world a little bit has to go to the most urgent issue. I think that's a little unrealistic, because we're writing from our own experiences and I wouldn't feel comfortable speaking for people in underprivileged countries. I also think that what we're doing is more about trying to help girls build a strong foundation.
We can all sit around and say "that person isn't doing enough" and they're not focused on the right issues. There are times when I see feminist writers online picking apart really small [offensive] details of a single article in one magazine and I don't think that it's the most effective use of time but I also don't think that it's the best use of my time to wag my finger at other feminists and tell them that they're doing it wrong.
The Internet is really why I got into feminism but I'm also really glad that I took the time to read books. If you read a bunch of feminist blogs you become confronted with a kind of wave of terms and technicalities and they're all about small things that are happening in pop culture right now. I think it helps that I got the background information and read blogs that talked about making feminism something personal, and learned about second-wavers and the idea of the personal being political. Rookie tries to encompass experiences, and girls write to us, and there's a comment section and email. I'm sorry if that sounded really defensive, I know you weren't accusing me but I thought about all these critiques we've gotten about being too first world. But, self-esteem and people looking at your body when you reach a certain age…those things are pretty universal and that's what Rookie deals with.
Originally published in Summer 2012, Issue 6.2