The teen magazines we've been waiting for are already here

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In November 2018, the beloved teen magazine Rookie released its final post, marking the end of an era. To its young, mostly female readers, Rookie felt like an ideal older sister — someone who was cool, wise, a little rebellious, and, most importantly, treated you like an equal. But as special as Rookie was, it was far from unique. Since Rookie’s inception, numerous zines, run by teens for teens, have emerged and still carry on Rookie’s commitment to elevating young, marginalized voices.

Unlike their 1990s predecessors, today’s zines are mostly online and easy for teens to both start themselves and find. Zines break ground by allowing young writers to express themselves without adult mediation. Kathryn Schultz, the former editor of recently closed site Pop Culture Puke, said, “As a teen, when your feelings seem especially big, it’s exciting to be able to unabashedly wax poetic about the things you love so much.”

Zines also offer creators an opportunity to fill the gaps in representation they observe in the media. Chloe Leeson, for instance, founded the feminist film blog Screen Queens at 17 to elevate unheard voices in film criticism. When discussing the importance of having an all-woman and gender nonconforming staff, Leeson says, “I thought that eliminating the voice of the straight man would offer a greater opportunity for young women critics to blossom.”

As Chloe Xiang, who founded the feminist zine Keke Magazine in high school, put it, “I want each girl to feel like they are being represented by Keke and if they aren’t, I want them to share what’s missing with us.”

This sense that every voice matters further allows young people lacking writing experience to feel the validation that comes with being published. Xiang elaborated on how affirming that is, explaining, “I always feel a sense of empowerment and joy, knowing that I am able to share ideas that once only belonged to me.” By cultivating new voices, teen zines become incubators for aspiring writers and artists, offering them a gateway to a professional career. After starting Crybaby Zine as a sophomore in high school, Remi Riordan began freelancing for magazines like I-D and Dazed, both of which had previously rejected her submissions. Riordan credits Crybaby with elevating her career, noting, “It gave me legitimacy when applying for a job. People would see that I had created and done something on my own.”

The movement for more socially conscious and intellectually stimulating teen media, helmed by Rookie and fortified by its lesser-known but equally valuable peers, moved the needle for mainstream publications like Teen Vogue. As Schultz explained, mainstream magazines are “talking about feminism in a way that I never saw growing up. Hopefully, that continues, but at the same time almost all magazines are more informed by capitalism than anything else.” Ironically, indie zines’ lack of financial resources allows for greater freedom and purity in their work. There is no clickbait or sponsored content, but rather a focus on the work itself and the community that work can create between writers and readers. Riordan echoed this view when describing the central purpose of Crybaby as “giving young women a publication where they can be like, ‘Oh, I agree with that’ or ‘I didn’t know other people had that viewpoint.’”

Balancing a sense of intimacy with aspirations to grow a publication, however, is difficult. In her final post, editor-in-chief Tavi Gevinson revealed that Rookie ended, in part, because it couldn’t maintain its creative integrity while being a profitable business. In the case of Lithium Magazine, founder Olivia Ferrucci sees noncommercialization as a strength. “I think that allows for a sort of autonomy with our work because we’re not looking toward any external source for validation.” She continued, “going mainstream has never been the goal because the people that I want to read Lithium aren’t satisfied by mainstream publications.” Riordan, on the other hand, felt differently, saying, “If becoming mainstream while writing what we want means more people learn about things they may not find in another publication, I have no problem with that.”

While outsiders may be quick to write zines off as hobbies, they require intense effort for both the writers and editors. Leeson views her site as an example of how committed and resourceful young people are, noting, “All of our writers are unpaid, but they still turn in industry-standard, college-essay length work.” For Ferrucci, running Lithium is a constant balancing act. She says, “If I have a few minutes before class starts, I’ll just be on my Mac trying to send emails or edit pieces, so it’s a very weird time-budgeting thing.” According to Riordan, the key to navigating these difficulties is confidence. “I know the value of Crybaby and the work I do. Verbalizing that is incredibly important for young women.”

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Sophie Hayssen
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