Tavi Gevinson | Interview outtakes
Mon Sep 17 2012
Tavi Gevinson, the 16-year-old Oak Park resident who, at age 11, became an Internet sensation with her fashion blog The Style Rookie, is now busy being the sensational editor-in-chief of Rookie, a website for teenage girls. She started the online publication in September 2011 out of a desire for a Generation Y version of Sassy magazine. One year later, it has established its own distinctive voice, as well as a seriously devout fan base. (The comments section below most articles brims with lively conversation, all-caps adulation and heart emoticons.)
I recently interviewed Tavi about Rookie Yearbook One, a print anthology of the website's inaugural year. Here's more from our conversation, in which the high school junior discusses great expectations, glitter-specific criticism (Rookie gets that too) and world domination.
Looking back on your first year of editing Rookie, what would you say has been one of the more rewarding things?
This summer was really amazing because we got to do this road trip with Urban Outfitters. We got to go to 16 cities and meet our readers and hang out with them. Once we got to Los Angeles, we were able to create an art installation that included souvenirs girls had brought us from their own rooms and memories on the road. It was very surreal. I feel like for a couple years I had all these interests that I was so obsessed with, sometimes in a very isolating way, and then they went into Rookie and now they're real. The installation was such a solid manifestation of everything I've liked in the past few years.
The most rewarding part was meeting these girls and [hearing] what Rookie meant for them. At the same time, I would like to be less imposing with my own interests. With Rookie, we never try to tell people what's cool or anything—everyone is already cool, and you don't need to listen to us; you can just like what you like—but I still want to make Rookie a little less out of my own head.
Do Rookie's monthly themes come just from you or do you work with your other editors?
Anaheed [Alani], our editorial director, and I, every few months we will figure out the next few months' themes. It's usually just us iChatting or something. We thought of the themes for this fall while we were on the road in the car. Sometimes the word comes first and we're like "OK, what would Transformation look like?" But sometimes I've just known, like, one day we have to do a month that's all animals and science and outer space and maps and Wes Anderson-esque cuteness. Then knowing Exploration would be the theme title came later.
So much of the writing is really hilarious. I was reading the advice for freshmen in the Rookie Yearbook ["Higher Learning"] and wondering if the voice of Rookie was something you had in mind from the beginning.
In the beginning a lot of people had expectations, and a lot of it was based in knowing that it was inspired by Sassy and that many of my references were inspired by teen culture of the '90s. We knew that we didn't want to be precious or underground or "cool." We just wanted to be something people relate to. So I think we tried more actively to be positive. I'm a pretty sarcastic person but I don't necessarily bring that into Rookie. And when I do, it's usually countered with very sincere enthusiasm. I guess we try to strike a balance between general optimism about life and trying to be realistic but not unnecessarily cynical—not snarky or sarcastic in the kind of catty Internet way.
Do you have ideas of things you'd like to do differently with Rookie in your second year?
Yeah. I think there's more diversity we're working to achieve—within our staff, within our castings for photo spreads, within our articles about sexuality. That's probably the biggest thing that's on my mind. It's just because there are details that slip through the cracks that you don't realize, until you've been doing this job for a little while, that you need to pay attention to. Like something like casting, a lot of our photographers—all of them—are teenagers, and they just use their friends and sisters and whatever for casting. Then you realize some people don't grow up in United Colors of Benetton ads and that you need to go in and have more control over something like that. That to me is what we need to work on the most and that's what we are working on.
It reminds me of the conversation about representation surrounding Lena Dunham and [her HBO show] Girls.
Yeah, I think with something like that, we have more of a responsibility than a TV show does because with Girls, you can at least say it's her point of view and it's about her life and her story. But Rookie's part of the media, we're not like an artist, so we have a greater responsibility to make sure people feel represented. And we're lucky to have—I mean, no one writes to Seventeen and says "You don't represent genderqueer people," because what's the point? Of course, they don't. But they have high expectations of us, and I actually think that means that we're lucky.
There is a difference between "I don't feel represented" and feeling "This just isn't my thing because it's not the style I like." I completely understand and agree with something like saying, "You guys are too white. Or you're not enough non-white." But when people talk about representation and it gets into these specifics—we get stuff like "I don't relate to this glitter aesthetic. You guys are not politically correct!"—I'm like, "That's not about being P.C. That's not about representing people. That just has to do with taste."
It seems important that under all that there's this statement that there are many different ways you can be and many different ways you can express yourself.
Right. One thing I do regret is that when I started writing about Sassy and wanting another teen magazine like that, I made it a thing of being like, "I'm a weirdo. There are other weirdos. We don't have anything!" When in fact Sassy wasn't subversive because it had Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain on its cover; it was subversive because it treated young women with honesty and intelligence and respect. I just wish that I had made this less about finding something for the weirdos.
Rookie is not subversive because it's a teen magazine that will have an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson. It's subversive, to the extent that it is, because it's a teen magazine that will have an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson and will also have an interview with Elle Fanning.
When you think of your goals for Rookie, do you have a sense of how you're going to accomplish them?
When we were in San Francisco [this summer], there were these girls who were in college and we said, "Tell us. What do you think we could be better at?" They were like, "You could be more accessible because what's really important is all of the feminist content. If that was presented in a way that was more appealing to a girl who's used to reading Seventeen but who actually doesn't have an interest in My So-Called Life or Weetzie Bat or Ghost World, then that message would be more widespread." At the same time, I feel like now we have this whole community and it would feel rude in a way to try and be more aesthetically mainstream or "normal" so that all of the real subversive content is more accessible to people. You think about it in these big-picture terms, but how do you actually apply that? That's hard. You kind of have to go decision by decision, pitch by pitch, and think about what feels right and what will look right.
And also know that maybe you can't do everything?
That's the other thing that stresses me out. We have done so much lately. We did this tour, and we have a book, and I'm still like, "Dammit! Why haven't we dominated the world yet? We need to be better! " [Laughs] But it's also physically impossible because we have so few editors and I'm in school. But we're doing OK, we're doing OK.