Tavi Gevinson’s online teen publication, Rookie, is launching today. It promises to be the sort of teen mag that every indie-minded twenty-something wishes had existed in 1997, back when they were, like, deep in the throes of their teenage angst.
Heck, I wish that.
Tavi loves the nineties, albeit the side of the nineties that rarely made it onto the pages of the decade’s teen magazines. No, I doubt that her nineties nostalgia will extend to multiple choice quizzes to establish which member of the Backstreet Boys would be your dream date. Nor can I imagine her styling a shoot of “citrus brights” from Tammy Girl and Clockhouse at C&A.
Whilst Rookie will be undoubtedly right-on, there’s something to be said for the achingly un-hip teen magazines that I grew up with. Yes, they filled my adolescent mind with ridiculous ideas (I seriously believed that there were a lot of people in the UK called Anon who wrote into magazine problem pages). Yes, I never used the free stickers, nail polish, inflatable photo frames or lip balm. But it doesn’t matter, these magazines contributed to shaping the outlook of my generation.
UK teen magazines were once deemed “really bad” by Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of US Teen Vogue. Astley criticised their “smutty” nature and “focus on sex” which, in all honesty, was what had me and my friends handing over our hard earned paper-round cash in the first place. I remember reading an imported copy of Teen Vogue as an adult and being shocked by the overwhelming materialism of the publication and unrelenting focus on shopping. Tips on snogging or a 12-year-old with a $400 Kate Spade handbag? I’m not sure which is the most problematic.
Such dilemmas didn’t really enter my head as teenager, I just wanted to discover the favourite foodstuffs of Hanson and what French kissing really involved. Here are the magazines that shaped my youth – from my first tweenage brush with the magazine machine to the alternative glossy that prompted me to start writing:
The entry-level mag for UK proto-tweens. There was lots of pink, pictures of puppies and free stuff like pink puppy stickers. The emphasis was very much on friendship and photo stories about wanting a pony. There was a regular feature in which readers shared their horror stories of public embarrassment; things like “I was drinking juice and I laughed and juice came out of my nose” or “I did a cartwheel and flashed my knickers. Cringe!”. How these young ladies ever regained their composure and returned to face society is beyond me.
Printed on flimsy paper, Shout was for times when the pocket money funds were running low, normally due to the essential purchase of Heather Shimmerlipstick and Impulse body spray. The content was training for the generation who would go on to worship at the altar of Heat magazine. Celebrities reigned supreme along with scandalous gossip and shocking secrets. I used to feel slightly dirty reading it, though that may have been because the ink rubbed off on my hands.
Admittedly, these are two distinct magazines but my memories of them have seeped together to create one homogenous publication. They were my first ever glossies and the first magazines that I found myself wanting to keep and collect. The cover models were interchangeable and had invariably perfect teeth. Sugar was always the more risqué of the two, with cover stories promising sex and scandal. The fashion pages were, on reflection, pretty hilarious. I suspect that these magazines were responsible for the unfortunate nineties trend of skinny fit t-shirts declaring oneself to be a “Babe”.
This magazine was my mother’s bête noire. She thought that if I read it I would go out and shag boys in bus stops. Sorry Mom, I read it. Relax; I didn’t shag boys in bus stops. It was a great sex education resource, though I never understood why they considered Brian Harvey from boy band East-17 to be a “heart-throb”. In fact, I never got the whole “boy crazy” editorial stance. It made great sleep over-reading and knowing that I wasn't meant to be reading it made it all the more appealing.
After years of boy band posters, saucy smut and flow-chart quizzes, I picked up my first copy of Nova on my way to school in 2000. It was completely unlike any magazine I had ever read. It featured stunning retro-tinged photography, sketchy illustrations of Hoxton hipsters and witty and fearless commentary on fashion, music and life. It was also unashamedly feminist. This was the magazine that made me want to write. Nova showed me a world beyond my small town upbringing and also showed me that being a woman didn’t have to revolve around pleasing men, celebrity worship or shopping.Nova didn’t last long; closing less than a year after it hit shelves. I still have every issue stashed away in my parent’s loft.
Image via Kate Bingaman-Burt's Flickr