“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.