What is ‘Rookie Magazine,’ and Why Should You Care?

‘Rookie Mag’ is aptly named — there is a tinge of irony to the fact that the magazine so expertly communicates teenage rookie-ism.

The+Rookie+Yearbook+contained+a+round-up+of+the+year%E2%80%99s+best+content+from+the+website.+In+the+preface+to+the+first+yearbook%2C+Tavi+Gevinson+said+%E2%80%9CDespite+how+well+this+%5BRookie+Mag%3B+online%5D+has+worked+out%2C+our+staff+has+a+knack+for+creating+work+that+is+more+timeless+than+articles+online+typically+get+to+be%2C+and+more+beautiful+than+photos+and+illustrations+can+look+on+a+computer+monitor.+And+so%2C+we+created+Yearbook+in+an+attempt+to+do+justice+to+our+very+best+pieces+from+the+September+2011+-+May+2012+school+year.%E2%80%9D%0A

Edie Fine

The Rookie Yearbook contained a round-up of the year’s best content from the website. In the preface to the first yearbook, Tavi Gevinson said “Despite how well this [Rookie Mag; online] has worked out, our staff has a knack for creating work that is more timeless than articles online typically get to be, and more beautiful than photos and illustrations can look on a computer monitor. And so, we created Yearbook in an attempt to do justice to our very best pieces from the September 2011 – May 2012 school year.”

When I was around 11 years old, I visited an older, cooler friend (my dyed hair-unique style-bibliophile friend whom I had always looked up to), and as I walked in the door, she barely looked up from her laptop screen to say hi. Certainly, I was curious about what was capturing her attention. But as I approached her laptop set up on her living room floor, I found a mere YouTube video of a teenager filming a retro beehive hair tutorial in poor lighting and a funky bathroom. I was confused — or, intrigued might be a better word. What made this young teenager so captivating? 

I would come to learn that the girl in the video, Tavi Gevinson, was capable of capturing many people’s attention — she had the quirkiness, passion, and niche interests coalescing to form an incredibly enchanting figure. Better yet, she had none of the vacuous pretense that a public figure usually does.

The online magazine that Gevinson started in 2011 (when she was just 15 years old) — Rookie Mag — portrayed these same values. Gevinson intended to create a digital space that was welcoming to all voices and that was not precluded by the censorship and mass-market dilution that a normal online publication would have. Rookie writers did not sacrifice authenticity for accessibility to the masses. Rookie Mag was created to be a living space for teenage girls (and, as the space evolved, for all teen creatives who needed a venue for their expression) to explore their worlds, feelings, confusion, anger, angst, love, and questions. In essence, it became a community for outcasted teens to find somewhere they belonged. 

Rookie Mag was the first of its kind, a digital publication that was collectively contributed to, community-oriented, and submission-based. It is one (colorful and DIY-seeming) website with posts ranging from interviews with Amandla Stenberg, Cyndi Lauper, Dolly Parton, Kathleen Hanna (the list of big names who agreed to be in the magazine is endless, yet Rookie never succumbed to selling out and kept its quiet power), advice on shaving legs, essays about teenage burnout, self-care, how privilege obscures perspective, to a how-to on creating your own “detachable peplum skirt.”

I quickly learned that Gevinson was a prodigy, of sorts — Rookie could not have been executed so meticulously and effectively by just anyone. As an 11-year-old, she started her own fashion blog, Style Rookie, that landed her both with roaring success — finding herself styling her own shoots and attending fashion week shows all over the world — and condescending reviews from disgruntled and jealous adults who discredited her fame and work due to her age. Even big names like Anne Slowey of Elle described Tavi’s hiring at Harper’s Bazaar at age 13 to be “gimmicky” and disbelieved her legitimacy as a voice in fashion.

Gevinson was a naturally controversial figure, sheerly by voicing her unique opinions and executing her visions at such a young age. Rookie Mag always followed suit. They would not cater to some corporate-derived template for pleasing teenage girls. In the first-ever editor’s letter for Rookie Mag’s first monthly issue, titled Beginnings, Gevinson wrote, “When I started thinking about the possibility of Rookie a year or so ago, it seemed like a good venue for pure aesthetic enjoyment and smart, fun writing. As my freshman year of high school progressed, I found myself needing something that could be more than that.” 

She began to expand her idea of what Rookie Mag should be, especially and largely based on what it should not be. She did not want this to be the typical teenage girl publication. “I don’t want to even think about what makes someone ‘just your average teenage girl,’ or whether I fit that mold, or if that’s who will read Rookie. It seems that entire industries are based on answering these very questions. Who is the typical teenage girl? What does she want? (And, a lot of the time, How can we get her allowance?)” Gevinson rejected these constricting notions and built her own space. Rookie Mag is, she said, “quite simply, a bunch of writing and art we like and believe in,” as simultaneously simple and revolutionary as that may sound. 

I sought out advice and compassion from Rookie Mag throughout my high school years, just like so many others have. When I found myself needing inspiration for a creative project, seeking sound and teen-led advice on starting my college essay and application season, or simply when I wanted to enjoy an imaginative and especially niche photo essay, I turned to Rookie Mag

When Gevinson announced that Rookie Mag would be shutting down for good in late 2018, she wrote her last conversational, fun, strictly-and-uniquely-Tavi editor’s letter for the magazine. “In one way,” she wrote, “this is not my decision, because digital media has become an increasingly difficult business, and Rookie in its current form is no longer financially sustainable. And in another way, it is my decision — to not do the things that might make it financially sustainable, like selling it to new owners, taking money from investors, or asking readers for donations or subscriptions. And in yet another way, it doesn’t feel like I’m deciding not to do all that, because I have explored all of these options, and am unable to proceed with any of them.” She wrote with a heavy heart — one filled with love for the insurmountably creative community that had been built underneath the Rookie name. 

“It will take a long time for me to process the rareness of this connection and the feeling that it’s over. But it’s not over,” she capped off the letter. “The changes people create in one another do not go away. The people you grow up with stay with you forever. You made Rookie with us, and its spirit will live on in whatever comes next for us all.”

Tavi Gevinson said that Rookie is “quite simply, a bunch of writing and art we like and believe in,” as simultaneously simple and revolutionary as that may sound. 

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