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Tavi, via Style Rookie
For those who haven't seen Rookie magazine's series "Ask a Grown Man," it's well worth your time to check out. Rookie readers send in their questions ("Should I change myself or do I have to wait until I'm out of high school to meet someone?" "Do boys gossip," and the like) and "grown man" guests like Judd Apatow and Jon Hamm answer them from home via computer camera. The series is endearing because it's lo-fi, and because the subjects are so honest. It's essentially impossible not to crack up while watching an unshaven Jon Hamm give advice to teenage girls on how to feel if you accidentally fart in front of your significant other.
In May, not long after the aforemention John Hamm video blew up the internet, Seventeen magazine launched a similar series called "Ask an A-Lister." The differences are that Seventeen series plays up the celebrity angle, tapping pop stars like Cody Simpson and Diggy Simmons to answer questions such as, "How can you tell if a guy is into you?" (these don't appear to be reader-submitted). Episodes are filmed in the Seventeen offices with the stars styled and coiffed in full photo-shoot regalia.
Tavi Gavinson, Rookie's creator, tells us she felt that Seventeen's video concept was too close to hers to be an accident, and she wants to start a dialog about that. Yesterday, we spoke to her about the similarities between the two series, how Rookie fits into the teen magazine landscape, Seventeen's controversial "Body Peace Treaty," and how she thinks that magazine is failing to speak to teenage girls. Read on to see what she has to say.
Racked: When you started Rookie, was it as a response to magazines like Seventeen that dominate the media options for teenage girls?
Tavi: I don't want us to be extremely alternative or not accessible. I just sort of saw a void that was there for girls and wanted to fill it. I didn't feel like it was a direct response to what's already there for this demographic, just an addition.
Racked: Do you read Seventeen for pleasure? Did you ever?
Tavi: I check in every few months, sometimes I get pleasure out of it if I like someone who is featured, but then I just wish they asked them more interesting questions. Mostly it's in the same way I am fascinated by and read Tiger Beat and feel somehow obligated to keep up with that world. I took it more seriously when I was in elementary school and my older sisters read it. They do have stuff about self-esteem and gossiping that I think has a positive message, but I don't see the need to reward gold stars for like, the basics of how to not bully.
Racked: What magazines do you read?
Tavi: Lula, RUSSH, i-D, Dazed and Confused, Teen Vogue, various Vogues, Bullett, a few more.
Racked: So where does Rookie fit into the landscape of media for teenage girls?
Tavi: I don't think of Seventeen as competition because I think we want different things. For example, we try to just feature people whose work we think our readers might like, instead of playing up their celebrity side. I'm not saying we're saving the world, but because we are independent and online, we don't have to be as business-minded, and are able to do a bunch of features just because we like them and think our readers will, too. It's probably different at Seventeen because it's a larger business, owned by a publisher, so our goals probably differ.
"Ask a Grown Man" featuring Jon Hamm, via Rookie
Racked: With your personal blog Style Rookie being such an influential force on the internet for years, you're a bit of a veteran when it comes to online publishing. Is this really first time you've felt your content has been repurposed by someone else?
Tavi: This is the first time that I've felt that something I've done, or Rookie has done, has been copied.
Racked: So why do you think Seventeen did it?
Tavi: I feel like this is Seventeen's attempt to reach people in a certain way that Rookie succeeds at, but they kind of missed the point about why Ask A Grown Man is celebrated by making it about asking an "A-lister." They wanted to repurpose this feature because they saw that people like it, but they missed the point of why people like it, and it's the same quality that's missing from the rest of their magazine, too.
Racked: Like what?
Tavi: I feel like if I followed their articles about boys and truly believed it was as important to do certain things or avoid certain things as they say, I would probably go crazy. Sometimes their "embarrassing" stories are literally about boys finding out that you have your period. I'm just tired of stigmatizing totally normal body stuff like that, which is already a little scary and weird to some girls.
Racked: What are your thoughts on the recent Seventeen photoshop petition, where a 14-year-old girl got 84,000 signatures behind a petition asking Seventeen to include one unPhotoshopped spread a month?
Tavi: I think it's great that these girls are taking action. I don't know, however, that Photoshop makes a huge difference with the kind of models they use, or that there aren't other parts of the magazine that contribute to the same issue. I'm sure most people don't think as obsessively about stuff like the wording of a headline as I do, but the effects of headlines under the "health" section about your back-to-school body are still there. It took me a little bit once middle school started to realize that if I didn't read Seventeen, I didn't feel obligated to watch what I eat. Language is powerful, along with photos.
Racked: Do you think Seventeen's response was strong enough?
Tavi: No, because I don't know that they changed anything. They said in their "treaty" that they vow to never change girls' body or face shapes, but then say, "(Never have, never will.)" To me, that sounds like they just published a self-serving statement that made them look good, but they're not taking into account the intentions and concerns that were really behind the petition. Again, it's not just about Photoshop—all kinds of components of a magazine help contribute to the feelings that might leave a reader with a negative body image.
Racked: Some of Rookie's content, especially your "Ask a Grown Man" series, resonates with readers who don't happen to be teenage girls. Is that a priority for Rookie?
Tavi: It's nice to know that adults don't look at this and think it's stupid just because it's for and partially by teenage girls, the way so many artists are dismissed because their fanbase consists of teenage girls, and the way adults are used to not caring about whatever teenagers are into. It's cool to me that Rookie can be considered of quality to adults. But ultimately what is most important to me is that the girls we're actually trying to reach like it.