I don’t know where I would be without the comfort of a magazine or two thrown somewhere within my proximity – my purse, my car, my bedroom floor. Who else would I turn to for anonymous advice? For every stage of my young life there was always a glossy-paged sister not too far behind.
Back in the fourth grade, my best friend and I fawned over her older sister’s Seventeen magazines as though they held the clandestine clues to womanhood. Seventeen made us feel sophisticated and provided me the comfort of an older sister; one I didn’t have. It seems so silly now, but Seventeen became required reading for my friends and I. We were a class of first generation American pre-teens growing up in suburbia without an understanding voice in our conservative homes and we found our escape while pretending to be 17.
In junior high, I worked at a local library because it was the only place I could find with an excuse to spend hours sifting through magazines. And there it was, amid the Science Todays and the Smithsonians – my first introduction to Sassy.
The magazine for iconoclasts had expired four years before it landed in my lap for the first time that afternoon back in 1998, but it proved to be as timeless as young girls coming to voice.
She rocked my world with her tongue-in-cheek humor, which was a far cry from Seventeen and what else was out there for pre-pubescent teens at the time. She introduced me to grrl rockers like Sleater-Kinney and got me hooked on babydoll dresses à la vintage. Although Sassy had the traditional features of any fashion magazine, her editors broke rules at every corner and were never afraid to humiliate an uninspired
Hollywood siren or two – imagine that today! She encouraged her girls to be as daring as the boys that loved them, and like a good older sister, she dared me to speak my mind. (I’ll never forget when I got too sassy with my mom and she decided to throw out my magazines with the evening trash!) But most importantly, Sassy didn’t tell me what was cool; she only reminded me that I already was.
I eventually ran through my library’s archive of Sassy, but it wasn’t long until a new breed of teen zines inspired by Sassy came along. Teen People applauded local heroes and promoted real teen models in its pages. Cosmogirl! launched their 2024 campaign to empower young women to take on leadership roles. And perhaps, no other magazine exuded more Sassy-ness than ELLEgirl, which dared girls to be different and ditch prom if they felt like it. (I know I did!) ELLEgirl continued Sassy’s indie music obsession and Dear Boy column among other things, but also launched her own campaigns like Fashion for a Cause, integrating fashion with social activism. (Both Teen People and ELLEgirl discontinued print versions of their magazines earlier this year.) With its witty articles and alt-style, Jane, Sassy’s founding editor’s eponymous title, is a staple among the alternative glossies I cherish now in my twenties. Though some of these magazines may have walked the line with some questionable cover girls that would have caused Sassy to raise an eyebrow, it’s always been clear that even though Sassy was gone, her followers weren’t.
During her short-lived existence Sassy inspired a generation of other women, like myself, to join the ranks of the sisterhood. Sassy not only sent her own ladies out into the world when its doors shut in 1994, she raised a legion of women who went on to inspire others along the same veins. (All the magazines mentioned, except for Jane, are little sisters to larger magazines.) With thin bans being enacted on runways and shows like “Ugly Betty” placing a critical mirror in front of the fashion industry, it’s hard not to believe that maybe Sassy was just too far ahead of its time. How would things be different if Sassy
were still around or if there were more magazines like Sassy out there? How might I have been different if I hadn’t found her when I did?