On Growing Up and Leaving Rookie

By Julia Fine ’19

As I was walking into the event “Tavi Gevinson Presents Rookie Yearbook Four” at Brattle Theatre on October 25, I ran into a girl I had met earlier in the year. “Did you read Rookie all through high school?” she asked. “Yeah,” I said. “It was like my gospel.”

It might seem overly dramatic or perhaps even self-indulgent to call this online alternative magazine targeted towards teenage girls my “gospel,” but in high school, that’s what it was. The feminist publication made me feel validated and understood during the ups and downs of puberty, the drama of homecoming football games, the college application process. It made me feel like my beliefs and ideas mattered in a way that no mainstream media outlet was conveying.

But Rookie was more than advice I followed or validation I received—it was aspirational. Living in a suburb that at the time felt homogenous and insular, Rookie gave me a community of confident feminist teenage girls to engage with. Looking at the “eye candy” features on the website, I was transported into a more mystical world—a pseudo-Wes Anderson film in which you could wear whatever style you wanted, DIY new accessories, and listen to Riot Grrrl bands of the 1990s. In my depressive and angst-filled sophomore year during which I (wrongly) believed that everyone in my school was homogenous and no one was interesting or exciting or artistic or anything different, the world of Rookie was my aspiration. If Rookie was my gospel, then a Petra Collins photoset was my version of heaven.

Given the significance of my Rookie years, it was only natural that when Tavi came to Brattle Theatre I had to go. I have always kind of felt that Tavi was who I could be if I was bolder or more stylish or funnier or cooler or more open or any other positive adjective. We were after all, both adolescent Jewish girls from the suburbs who were a little too emotional and a little too invested in popular culture. We are even the same age. But more than that, Tavi was able to articulate exactly the way I felt about being a teenager, about being a female in America, and about being a young girl. Tavi was raw and open and vulnerable in her writing, which made me feel like I knew her personally. Tavi was, I suppose, sort of a quasi-idol/role model/intense girl crush—I could not have been more excited to see her.

The room was filled with teenage girls and their mothers, college students, a few older adults, and some boy sporadically scattered throughout. When Tavi took the stage, every one of them burst into applause. Tavi, who I imagine must be used to this after four years of Rookie Yearbooks being published, seemed flustered—not in the Taylor Swift way of staring out into the crowd, amazed that so many people would want to see her, but just that she was kind of overwhelmed. She started to introduce herself and her voice cracked. She seemed unsure, almost scared as she read three editors’ letters that she had written. Afterwards, she took questions and ended almost every single one with “I hope that answers your question” or “I don’t know if that answers your question.” It was an entirely underwhelming experience.

This is not to say that I don’t love Tavi or that I didn’t find it amazing to hear her speak in person, but in doing so, the pedestal I had created for her in my mind shattered. She wasn’t a whirlwind rockstar confident supermodel; she was 19 years old, and she was tired, and she was a little flustered. The questions that were asked didn’t speak to me anymore because I am no longer a teenage girl trying to navigate the halls of high school. Opening the Rookie Yearbook didn’t give me the same sense of awe or inspiration. This is not because Rookie is getting “worse”—I think Rookie is doing just as interesting and progressive things as ever (though I really don’t like the new website design, but that’s for another time). Rookie may be the same, but I am no longer 14 and discovering my feminist identity and wanting to express myself differently. My life is less compartmentalized: I no longer need a space like Rookie that validates my differences because I feel more validated by a larger community and (more importantly) by myself. Rookie was my gospel in high school because I needed it then, and I am so grateful it was there, but I simply don’t need it in the same way. The event was underwhelming because I know longer believed the Tavi and Rookie Mag and the greater Rookie Community held the answers to all of my problems. It was a typical harried book-signing event, to be sure, but the greater problem I took with the event had less to do wih the event itself and more to do with me—I had changed, not Rookie.

Seeing Tavi grow from a 15-year-old trying to navigate freshman year to a high-profile businesswoman with her own office and staff and who hangs out with TSwift, I wonder whether Rookie will grow with her. She briefly addressed this question during the session but gave no real conclusive answer. I can only imagine what Rookie will be in 2, 3, 5 years— the publishing of Rookie Mag is definitely a constantly evolving process but how does a dynamic magazine and community organically grow without alienating those at the end of the spectrum, the 22-year-old who has now graduated with Rookie or the 11-year-old who just started exploring Rookie. I wanted to ask Tavi this, I wanted to tell her that we should be friends maybe, I wanted to tell her I liked her  haircut and totally agreed about how crazy that one Andrew Garfield interview was, but as the event ended, everyone quickly swarmed around her, forming a snaking line that spread through the whole theater. In high school, I would have given anything for the chance to take a picture with Tavi, but by the end of the event, Tavi was less of a creative genius/idol/superstar and more of a 19-year-old girl doing some pretty cool things in the world. While I wanted to tell her that, I didn’t want to wait an hour to do so. I cut my losses, walked out of the theater, and said goodbye to Rookie.

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