Happy birthday, Bust! See its founders’ five favorite issues

As the feminist mag celebrates its 20th anniversary, founders Debbie Stoller and Laurie Henzel share their favorite issues.

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Laurie Henzel, left, and Debbie Stoller

Laurie Henzel, left, and Debbie Stoller Photograph: Michael Lavine

When the first issue of Bust came out in the summer of 1993, it had more in common with indie zines than glossy women’s publications. Along with Sassy, Ms., and the assorted riot-grrrl zines being stapled together in girls’ bedrooms, Bust presented an alternative to traditional female-focused magazines (like Cosmopolitan or Glamour), offering smart, feminist-oriented takes on issues like sex, politics and pop culture—and, yes, a little of the fashion and beauty stuff, too.


Now, 20 years—and a few bumps in the road—later, Bust is still going strong: The magazine recently released its 82nd issue (with cover girl Janelle Monae), and will celebrate its 20th birthday on Thursday, July 25, with a blowout at the Bell House, hosted by comedian Julie Klausner and featuring appearances from Cibo Matto, Kathleen Hanna, Jonathan Toubin and more. For a look back at the pioneering publication’s history, we asked editor-in-chief Debbie Stoller and creative director Laurie Henzel—who, along with editor Marcelle Karp, started the mag—to give us the backstory on five of their favorite issues.


  • Issue No. 3: Our Lipstick, Ourselves; spring 1994
    "Back in 1994, the issues were on newsprint and mainly reader-submitted, while most of the artwork was cut out and copied from my huge selection of old magazines, ranging from girlie pin ups from the ’40s through the ’70s, to Ladies Home Journals from the 1930s. At the time, I didn't really care that it was completely illegal to do this—in fact, this is a poorly Photoshopped Playboy cover with lipstick poking out of a gun! Soon afterward we met a lawyer who said, 'You know, you really can't do that anymore.' So we had to start commissioning artists to do drawings and take the pictures. Which of course I enjoy, but it was fun to just dig through the piles of musty magazines to find the perfect images. Another thing that I love about this issue is that we got a lot of really nice letters (snail mail—this was pre-Internet), and we printed four pages—21 total—which seems excessive now. It's hard to imagine a time before fast computers, but with lots of coffee and late nights, we got it done."—Laurie Henzel

  • Issue No. 4: The Sex Issue, summer 1994
    "We were so excited about this one when it came out, because it was our first issue with sort of a shiny cover, which meant that if someone were reading it from the across the room, you'd think they were reading a real magazine. (The inside was still all newsprint.) For the cover, we didn't want to be like every single other magazine and put a picture of a sexy lady on the cover of an issue about sex. After a lot of thinking, we decided instead to put an image of something that can be the result of sex: a pregnancy. Laurie was preggers at the time, so she posed, in a vintage bikini, with the word sex scrawled on her giant belly. The issue was chock full of stuff (31 features!) that dealt with everything from our first experiences with vibrators (err, including mine) to foursomes, erotic stories, weird poetry, and something about a little girl and a dog that was not pervy. And that baby that was in Laurie’s belly? She's in college now."—Debbie Stoller

  • Issue No. 17: Home Girls, spring 2001
    "A breakthrough issue, this was entirely devoted to our feminist take on domestic topics: cooking, crafting, home decorating and so on. Sandra Bernhard was featured on the cover, and to this day I still wish we had used a different image we had of her holding a feather duster (it appeared inside the magazine). We thought putting a big head with a white background was what all the other mags did, so we thought we'd try it. Nevertheless, the issue remains one of my faves. Inside, we had a story by Jean Railla, the godmother of modern-day crafting; an interview with Amy Sedaris that included her cheese-ball recipe; instructions on how to knit (and a pattern for striped, mohair leg warmers—which, unfortunately, have not stood the test of time very well); and a compilation called 'The Bad Girls' Guide to Good Housekeeping' that consisted of recipes, crafting ideas and homemaking tips submitted by our readers. We also had a story about four women who made things by hand and—gasp—sold them online! It all sort of marked the beginning of the DIY movement, and women’s place in it. And that's something that has since remained a really important part of our editorial philosophy."—DS

  • Issue No. 19: Fight Like a Girl, spring 2002
    "This issue is important to me by virtue of the fact that it almost didn't happen. Just a few months before, Laurie and I had been on the front page of the Business section of The New York Times, with a big color image showing us in our office looking over layouts. In the article, we spoke enthusiastically about how the dot-com that had been our publisher for a year was planning to relaunch Bust as a ten-times-a-year mag. It was all very exciting, and it all happened on September 10, 2001. The next day our excitement turned to terror, and sorrow; a month later the dot-com itself went belly-up. We thought that was the end of Bust, but our readers begged us to continue publishing, holding fund-raisers and subscribing in droves. With a lot of work and a lot of help, we finally came out with this issue, under our own auspices. The issue was called Fight Like a Girl—because not only did we have to pull ourselves up by our bra straps to get the company started again, but also because everyone was saying that women would never start a war or organize a terrorist attack. So we had a story about Sri Lanka’s female suicide bombers—the Tamil Tigers— and another about a woman who decided to enlist in the army after September 11. I like going against stereotypes—even positive ones—that way. And the format we established in that issue pretty much remains the same 11 years later."—DS

  • Issue No. 27: The Geek Girls Issue, spring 2004
    "I love this issue, mostly because [of] Tina Fey. She was the head writer at Saturday Night Live at the time, and is just so cool and smart. We did the photo shoot and interview in our office, which is not something we did too often, and she was really sweet and totally up for anything the photographer asked; super chill and mellow. We talked while she was getting her makeup done, and she was totally endearing. That issue also included a historical photo essay about female circus freaks from the past, an interview with the cult director Doris Wishman, [an article about] the writer V.C Andrews and a feature about librarians."—LH

Issue No. 3: Our Lipstick, Ourselves; spring 1994
"Back in 1994, the issues were on newsprint and mainly reader-submitted, while most of the artwork was cut out and copied from my huge selection of old magazines, ranging from girlie pin ups from the ’40s through the ’70s, to Ladies Home Journals from the 1930s. At the time, I didn't really care that it was completely illegal to do this—in fact, this is a poorly Photoshopped Playboy cover with lipstick poking out of a gun! Soon afterward we met a lawyer who said, 'You know, you really can't do that anymore.' So we had to start commissioning artists to do drawings and take the pictures. Which of course I enjoy, but it was fun to just dig through the piles of musty magazines to find the perfect images. Another thing that I love about this issue is that we got a lot of really nice letters (snail mail—this was pre-Internet), and we printed four pages—21 total—which seems excessive now. It's hard to imagine a time before fast computers, but with lots of coffee and late nights, we got it done."—Laurie Henzel


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