“Sassy” Really Did Change My Life

Sassy magazine changed my life. I know that’s the name of a book (by Marisa Meltzer and Kara Jesella – I highly recommend it), but personally speaking, it’s actually true. I picked up my first Sassy in 1988 and as I cracked the mag’s spine, my world opened up. I always knew that I wasn’t quite like other girls in my grade. I dressed differently, liked different music and got excited about different things. Sassy taught me that liking those things didn’t make me a freak – liking those things actually made me cool.

Now, readers who aren’t of my generation likely see Sassy as a mythical unicorn of a cultural phenomenon. I realize that 30-something feminists tend to talk about Sassy in hushed reverence, making it seem so much more revolutionary than it possibly could have been. A couple years ago I bought a few issues of Sassy on eBay, since I had thrown out most of my own collection when I went to college (though I did save the very valuable Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love issue). With some choice issues in my hot little hands, I was surprised to see that Sassy was an amazing teen magazine, though even more “teen” than I remembered. In other words, while Sassy was clearly awesome, I think I would have scoffed at it if I had been five years older when it debuted.

Flipping through the September 1988 issue, I saw a tutorial on how to turn jeans into really hideous looking jodphurs, an interview with Amanda Peterson (star of Can’t Buy Me Love), an article on racism, and a lot of typical Sassy in-jokes and fashion shoots that involved a maddening number of vintage items that I knew I’d never be able to get my hands on. The tone that it was written in is chummy and clubhouse-y, something that seems a little grating now, but I loved it at the time. I felt like they were talking to me and if only I were a bit older and lived in New York they’d all be my best friends.

four issues of Sassy MagazineSassy taught me about many things: riot grrrls, a hundred amazing bands, zine culture, gay rights, body acceptance and social justice. It taught me that not all boys are jerks or jocks (remember when Ian Svenonius of Nation of Ulysses/The Make-Up/whatever band he’s in now was voted Sassiest Boy in America?) and that it’s cooler to be friends with other girls than to fight with them. It taught me how to dress and how to do my make-up in a way that made me feel like myself and not like a Seventeen Magazine prom queen. It taught me that even though high school can be tough, it gets better.

But when I say that Sassy changed my life, I don’t just mean that it changed my outlook and the scope of my cultural references. With their conversational tone, the Sassy writers made me really believe that I could too be a magazine writer. My absolute favorite was entertainment writer Christina Kelly who got to interview rock stars and write what she really thought about them. I grew up to do just that, though with the current state of the publishing industry, I don’t know if I should be thanking Christina for changing my life or blaming her. (I kid, I kid.)

Christina Kelly, by the way, now has a blog where she talks about her own struggles with the publishing industry, which she largely left a few years back to raise her kids. Which means that in many ways I really did grow up to be a far less famous version of my idol.

Sassy provided a much-needed alternative to other teen media when I was a teenager in the late “˜80s/early “˜90s, and as the mother of a young girl, I wonder if there will be anything to similarly guide her. I imagine that there are plenty of blogs and websites for young budding feminists, but because the Internet is so vast and specialized I can’t imagine that anything is as universally read by young hipsters as Sassy was back in the day. Or perhaps they’re all just keeping it a secret? Help me out, younger Persephoneers, are there any publications around that are capable of changing a young woman’s life?

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Sissy Larue

30-something, mother-of-two, former rock 'n' roll reporter, currently into retro house-wifey things, bad TV and any movie that I can sneak out of the house to watch.

70 thoughts on ““Sassy” Really Did Change My Life”

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  10. As a younger person, I don’t feel that there’s anything out there right now to fill the cultural void Sassy seems to have left behind. It wasn’t until my very late teens and up until right now that I’ve found a cultural space I feel comfortable in, and though Persephone might not be in the NYT and referenced on 30 Rock, it’s done a lot for me in terms of thinking about who I am as a young woman in society. Old Jez did that too, through 2008 to mid-2010.

  11. It changed mine, too. I had a subscription to Sassy by the time I was 13 and read every single one up until they died out. I also tried to read Jane for a while, but it wasn’t the same. I still remember some of their articles and interviews word for word, and I’ll always have a deep-rooted fondness for Courtney Love because of Sassy.

  12. Now I really want to find some old issues. I was a bit younger than the target demographic, I think. I remember that when I was a tween, I wasn’t allowed to subscribe to Sassy. My mom was pretty conservative, and had deemed it inappropriate. What’s strange is that she didn’t just object to it being “too old” for me (read: too sexually explicit) but that it ventured into the dreaded territory of “trashy.” I don’t know what she saw, but it was something that made her WASPy places itchy.

    Ironically, I was freely allowed to read Teen, YM, and eventually Seventeen– oh, such positive influences.

    1. eBay! When the Sassy Changed My Life book came out the prices spiked, but I think you can get most issues for under $10 now. One word of caution: don’t buy any issues dated after 1994 — the editorial team got fired and the mag turned to crap. 1988 – 1992 was really the golden age.

  13. I loved Sassy so much. During a time when I felt perpetually awkward, it made me believe I wasn’t a total freak. It was awesome to open a magazine and see a girl who had braces like me. Smiling. With her MOUTH OPEN. The first issue I remember buying had an article on Claire Danes, who was my hero. Also, Sassy always had badass quotes I could cut out and put on my notebooks for school. I don’t know if there is anything like it now.

  14. I had a subscription to Sassy (I was probably 10 or so when it came out?), and I would grab that thing out of the mail pile and RUN to my room to read it. My Sassys unfortunately fell victim to a collage-making phase I had early in high school, but that magazine was the fucking shit.

  15. Sassy is one of the biggest influences behind Persephone. After spending my early teen years feeling like I wasn’t blonde, thin, tan, dewy or teased enough by Seventeen or YM (which was formerly the unfortunately named Young Miss) Sassy was like a huge, oddly-shaped, breath of fresh air.

    Sassy is one of the only mags I ever remember reading advice for dressing while fat that didn’t start and end with dark colors in classic shapes. It was like an epiphany. Oh! This is why thin girls get excited about clothes!

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