For many women of Generation X, Sassy magazine served the same function that "Sex And The City" did for Generation Y; that is, inspiring them to move to New York and work in publishing. (Fortunately, Sassy magazine did not also promote Brazilian waxes, $600 stilettos and total self-absorption). For other women, the magazine simply helped to get them through their adolescence. Anna fits into both categories, and so she sat down for an email interview with Marisa Meltzer and Kara Jesella, the authors of the new book How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter To The Greatest Teen Magazine Of All Time.
Q: Tell me how you first found out about Sassy.
Marisa: A friend's mom had gone to Hawaii and, in the airport on the way back, had seen Sassy and picked up a copy. I remember reading the issue over and over and feeling like Sassy was going to be the answer to all of my problems—my total absence of coolness, my pre-adolescent ennui, my lack of friends—and I immediately got my mom to buy me a subscription.
Q: And did Sassy end up being a solution to all your problems?
Marisa: In some ways, Sassy was a solution, or at least a defense mechanism. Do I love being able to say I went to go see Bikini Kill and Team Dresch instead of going to my prom? Yeah, but now I look back on the disdain I had for everyone who didn't share my Sassyfied paradigm and I realize I must have been kind of a bitch in high school.
Q: I want to talk about Kim France and Andrea Linnett. Both of them now head up Lucky magazine. Sassy, of course, was about teaching young women to take themselves - and the world beyond them - seriously. Lucky, on the other hand, is about unrelenting, conspicuous consumption. What are your feelings about this discrepancy?
Marisa: Lucky is a lot like Sassy—obsessive attention to detail, not
making women feel bad about their bodies, and joyful about buying things. I mean, Sassy was incredibly excited about shopping! They pushed product, too. I still use Clinque's City Block because of Sassy's recommendation. All Andrea had to do was rhapsodize over baby tees and Urban Outfitters starting making them.
Q: Did your feelings about the magazine change over the course of working on the book or did they simply become easier to articulate?
Marisa: My feelings about Sassy were more visceral as a teenager; I really think I relied on it in order to negotiate the horrors of adolescence. So, in terms of shaping the teenage me, it was hugely meaningful. I still love Sassy, but the way I love it now has probably changed a bit. Now that I've had all this time to think about Sassy, talk about Sassy, meet Sassy's creators, and meet its fans, I think I can see the big picture, and how important it was not just to my life, but to—and forgive me if I sound grandiose—a generation.
Q: What story would win your personal award for "best article in Sassy"?
Also, were there any things in the magazine that didn't quite work out for you?
Marisa: They are legion. The Working Our Nerves column about The Patriarchy is emblematic of everything that was so strident and awesome about Sassy. What magazine, let alone one for teens, would say that now? I loved the 90210 paper dolls, the story about girl gangs in Echo Park, the Sonic Youth interview, and all riot grrrl coverage. It's also scary how I can still remember all the outfits
from the grunge prom story. I even have a certain affection for the stories that didn't work out for me. There was a natural beauty story that suggested deep conditioning your hair with butter. I of course neglected to rinse my butter-covered hair in cold water, which resulted in my head smelling, as my mother suggested, like a yak for several days. I'm sure that episode really didn't help improve my junior high awkwardness at all.
Q: Marisa you mention loving the stridency in Sassy. Who in the mainstream print media has that sort of willful self-possession and the personal-is-political take nowadays?
Marisa: Mainstream magazines don't flaunt the word "feminist" the way Sassy did, but there's plenty of evidence of it, sure. I was a fan of Teen Vogue before I met Kara because their health stories would quote, like, Susan Bordo or Liza Featherstone or Jennifer Baumgardner would write an article for them. I thought that was amazing. I think Elle runs a lot of great politically-tinged, feministy articles. But I'm also biased and have written for both magazines.
Q: You both have worked at/written for teen magazines. Do you think you might want to start your own magazine, either in print or a web-only version?
Marisa: I think one of the lessons I learned from writing the book is that working at Sassy was often an uphill battle. Launching a Sassy-like magazine, whether in print or online, doesn't tempt me. But I know there are people whose dream it is to do it, and I'd love to see what they come up with. I would hope it would cover issues like the so-called "boy crisis" or all the endless talk about the sexualization of girls. I would want, like, Kathleen Hanna to write an advice column and do photo essays on girls rock camps. But getting the tone right would probably be the most important part. Sassy was pitch-perfect.
Q: What/who are the worst influences for teen girls nowadays and what/who are the best?
Marisa: I have a hard time labeling any teen girl influences as simply "bad." As a teenager I had Sassy, but I also read "The Baby-Sitters Club" series religiously and never missed an episode of "90210". I think I turned out fine. Of course Paris Hilton worries me, but I also think teenagers are smarter than we often give them credit for being. They have such highly-developed senses of authenticity, that I think it's fine for them to watch "Laguna Beach" or read US Weekly. I just hope someone also buys them a subscription to Bitch or Venus, too.