A blast from the Sassy past.
I recently saw Courtney Love on the television. She was not looking great. There was something mildly embarrassing about seeing her on the screen, with the crazy still clinging tightly to her, and everyone in the room politely not mentioning all the ways she’s destroyed her face with plastic surgery. It was like watching your mother get drunk in public and flirt with the waitstaff. I cringed, thinking about all the articles and photographs of her I ripped out of magazines and plastered on my wall in my teen years, even showing up at school at 14 with WITCH written up my arm in red Wet ’n’ Wild lipstick. Just like my favorite guitar hero. Now... well.
There was a similar reaction when I started reading xojane.com, the latest project from Jane Pratt. She is, of course (because she’ll never let you forget it), the woman who was founding editor of Sassy magazine at 24, leading a Manic Panicked rebellion against the whitewashed teen magazines of the era, all of the YMs and Seventeens who would never admit that teenage girls have sex, or want to, and where every young woman is best friends with her mother.
If every person who claims to have seen Velvet Underground perform live actually had, the New York band would have been playing stadiums instead of shitty clubs. Likewise, had Sassy magazine had every subscriber that now claims total devotion, they never would have gone under. I, for one, did not subscribe to the only ’90s teen magazine for the pierced, the dyed, the bearer of bad haircuts and product of neglectful parenting. I was deemed too young for the periodical during its heyday, and I had to wait until my sister was done reading them so I could break into her room and steal them. It’s easy to see why people lie about having been subscribers — in our culture it’s now cool to have been the disaffected, marginalized nerd. Way less cool to have been a cheerleader.
Of course it couldn’t last. Cosmetic advertisers panicked when they saw the content (a great deal of it being instructions on how to give yourself a really bad but authentically riot grrl hair cut) and the money disappeared. Which has, of course, only solidified Jane Pratt’s reputation as a genius. Never sell out! Burning out is better than fading away! She used that cultural capital to first create Jane, a confused compromise of a fashion magazine — they positioned articles about how you should feel good about your body no matter your size next to fashion spreads of stick insects modeling $2,500 pairs of shoes — that also failed. And now, xojane.com, a personal/fashion/lifestyle/music online magazine that brings me back to that feeling of watching Courtney Love, rambling about old feuds with Trent Reznor and pulling out limp covers of her own Live Through This songs.
One wishes your heroes would age well, that they’d get wiser and more sophisticated. Or if they can’t manage that, that they’d Greta Garbo out and move to Bolivia or somesuch. The alternative — aging ungracefully in public with the help of botox, collagen, implants, nips, tucks, stretches, and hormone injections — makes you wonder what you saw in them way back when. So when I came across Jane Pratt’s opening salvo for xojane.com, Yes, I'm Exactly Twice As Old As When I Started Sassy — Want To Make Something Of It?, a rambling mess of self-pity, name-dropping, and desperate pleas for commenters to tell her she’s still pretty, or her account of a recent spa treatment (“When I went into the inexpensive massage place near Chinatown last night, the guy massaging me used his spit instead of lotion. He would just lick his thumb or finger and then re-lick it if my skin got dry. What would you have done? I went with the experience.”), I started to wonder whether Sassy could possibly be as good as I remembered it.
It was. The Internet has rescued Sassy from print purgatory, and archives and excerpts are posted here and there. It’s still funny, risky, and unique. Teen magazines and “women’s issues blogs” still treat young girls like they’re gullible idiots, but Sassy never did. And meanwhile, over at xojane.com, Courtney Love has become a columnist. It’s worth trying to remember that Live Through This is still a really great album, and Sassy saved the sanity of many junior high school misfits. Even if those old versions of themselves would look at the new, sneer, and walk away. • 1 June 2011
Jessa Crispin is editor and founder of Bookslut.com. She currently resides in Berlin, but spent many years in Chicago.
Article photo via Stephen Eckert / CC BY 2.0