She doesn't sing. She doesn't act. She doesn't even work for Disney. Or MTV. And despite being just 15 years old, she sometimes dresses like an eccentric older woman. Blogger and founder of
Rookie, the new online magazine for teen girls, Tavi Gevinson is nothing like the kids on TV. And according to the Chicago native, neither are her readers.
Tavi first gained attention at age 12, for her fashion blogStyle Rookie. Preternaturally clued in to fashion's independent emerging designers, her enthusiasm for avant garde style offered a fresh, hilarious and snark-free perspective. Through her eyes, the elusive luxury industry suddenly seemed goofy and fun.
When I first spotted her blog three years ago, I remember thinking: this can't actually be written by a kid. It was right around the time the faux teen author J.T Leroy was exposed as an adult hoax, so I assumed Style Rookie was just another grown-up art project. I should have given Tavi more credit.
Her genius for communicating has earned her the title of child prodigy, and now the burden of being a teen whisperer. She will hate that I wrote that because Tavi doesn't believe teens need whisperers, they just need someone to listen to them. And that's what Rookie is all about. The site, run by Tavi and a team of adult publishing veterans, will post stories by and for teen girls three times a day-before school, after school and before bed. Contributions come from readers as well as cool, Rookie-approved, adult writers: think sex columnist Dan Savage and director Miranda July. Tavi will also do her share of expounding on the site. "I'm a better writer than I am a talker," she told me over the phone, a few days before the big launch. Don't doubt: she's an excellent talker.
Shine: Was starting Rookie your idea?
Tavi Gevinson: I guess it was my idea but I was looking to Sassy [magazine] for inspiration and so many people have helped shape-without sounding cheesy-the vision of the site.
S: Is it wrong to say the site has a feminist vision?
T: Without putting too much pressure on us, the site definitely has a feminist tone. But when it comes to writing about feminism and wanting people to understand what you're saying it's better to show than tell. It wouldn't really be effective if we handed over the guidebook and said these are the rules of feminism. It's more in our tone and just in the general messages we portray.
S: How does '90s nostalgia play a part in those messages?
T: We do have a lot about stuff about "My So-Called Life "and "Freaks and Geeks" in our articles on Rookie, but I don't know how much that has to do with the 90's as it does with the fact that there hasn't been too much great stuff for teenage girls lately, I don't think.
S: I guess I took for granted growing up in a time when Riot Grrrls and Ani DiFranco were pop stars. Your generation doesn't seem to have the same types of "role models".
T: One thing I've learned from Sassy and from shows like "My So-Called Life" is to just respect your audience. I think about how obsessed everyone is with Miley Cyrus' virginity. You see everyone being like 'that's so awful all these girls look up to her blah blah blah' and you never really hear anything from girls themselves. I think you can trust young women to look at something like Miley Cyrus and form their own opinions. But there isn't really a place for them to do that. So I guess that's part of what we'd like to do with Rookie.
S: What else will you be covering?
T: Every month we pick a different issue and shift focus according to our theme. One of the topics we're working on is something like 'slut-shaming'.
T: Slut shaming is basically using words like 'slut' or 'w----' or 'skank'-which there are no male versions of-to shame a girl or woman for being sexual or for doing something people will link to being promiscuous. But on a larger scale, slut-shaming is about people being judgmental. I think that's so prevalent when you're a teenager. One article I have written for the site is called 'Getting Over Girl Hate.' Like when you feel threatened, and the reasoning behind it is 'look at the way she walks, she thinks she's so great'. When in actuality she's just a confident person and that's fine.
S: Right. Knocking down someone who threatens you. That seems like something that doesn't just happen in high school...
T: Yeah. I think snark on the internet, can sometimes be witty. But too much snark comes off as if everyone is stupid except for you. There's so many other positive things you could be writing about.
S: Like for example Fashion Week. Your front row attendance a few years back kind of blew the otherwise exclusive industry away. Are you going to New York for Fashion Week this year, and is it fun or traumatizing?
T: Yeah, I'm going. To me Fashion Week is like Lollapalooza, where you go and see a band you like. It's not about a scene.
S: Well, that's a refreshing take. That's not how the 'Real Housewives' see it. Okay so at 15, you're in the front row at Marc Jacobs , you're profiled in the New Yorker, you spent a year with grey hair. What do your classmates think of you?
T: I don't know. You'd have to ask them. I go to a really big school. I can't really tell which people know about my blog or not. I know there are people who have made judgments, but I don't really care. A few of my friends were like 'I totally expected you to be a b---- '. But we're friends now so I guess they know I'm not. I think it's just my face. I just look eternally unimpressed so I wouldn't be surprised if someone saw me walking through the halls looking super-moody and found out all this stuff I do and jumped to conclusions...But it's just the way my face looks and not how I really feel. I do smile, sometimes.
S: How are you going to handle dating, not as a teenager, but as an editor?
T: I think we give a lot of freedom to readers to make their own choices. Same with talking about drugs. Magazines twenty years ago had to be way more careful because they were the only authorities on what teenagers should do. Now it's just different. People who are reading our site have probably grown up on the internet so I don't think we're corrupting anyone when we're just being honest. But dating for teenagers is different from the way you think about dating for adults. For adults it's thought of as this duty and just an inherent part of being a grown-up. But we don't really talk about it like 'dating'.
S: That right there is proof that adults could learn something from teenagers. Also time management. How do you work full-time on a launch and go to high school?
T: I found the best way to work on Rookie is to be an internet hermit. I work from my bedroom. The launch has been pretty crazy...but, look, I care about doing it. I care about making sure I like and would read and am passionate about everything we publish. So I'm happy to be spending time on it.
S: What does your mom think?
T: My mom? She's cool about it. I mean, she's excited she thinks it's a good thing. It might be one of two websites she actually reads. I'm really to lucky have parents where I can be like 'I'm starting this website for teenage girls' and for them to not only think I'm not ridiculous but to also be helping with the business side of things and all of that.
S: Why would anyone think it's ridiculous?
T: When I tell people I'm starting a website for teenage girls I'm met with laughter so many times because people can't really imagine that existing and not being vapid or something. But you have to respect the intelligence of your readers. Teenage girls are smart and can think for themselves.
S: Is there anything in pop culture now that you think is an off base portrayal of a teenager?
T: I don't know, I guess cell phone commercials.
S: I can see that. Anything that gets it right?
T: I love love love the character April Ludgate on "Parks and Recreation". She's so moody and angsty in the best ways. There hasn't been a good, bored and mildly angry teenage girl on TV in a while.
S: Anything else you love?
T: Well, I mean, I love Justin Bieber.
If you're not already in love with Tavi enough, check out a gallery of some of her eclectic outfits below and then curl up with Rookie, when it launches on Monday.
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