The short, but lasting life of teen magazine Sassy
Once there was a teen magazine that did not idolize dieting and other forms of appearance obsession. In its relatively short life (eight years: from 1988 until 1996) Sassy magazine distinguished itself by affirming teenage girls as never before, with articles like "13 Reasons Not to Diet" ('cause it impairs your cognitive ability).
Once there was a teen magazine that did not idolize dieting and other forms of appearance obsession.
In its relatively short life (eight years: from 1988 until 1996) Sassy magazine distinguished itself by affirming teenage girls as never before, with articles like "13 Reasons Not to Diet" ('cause it impairs your cognitive ability).
Instead of appealing to "the girl next door," as defined by Seventeen and other teen classics (i.e., the blond cheerleader, class president, homecoming queen), Sassy struck a chord with the chick who saw herself as nontraditional in her choice of clothes, hair, music and books.
Sassy covered every aspect of the indie/grunge/punk ethos. Instead of the standard advertiser-driven where-to-shop articles that filled most teen magazines of the time, Sassy's fashion coverage was for girls with less-than-perfect body types who prowled thrift shops. The magazine even risked the wrath of advertisers by including reality-based, positive stories about teenage sexuality.
"That's kind of radical for a mainstream magazine that still needs to sell ads," says Sara Sherr, 37, a Sassy fan who now writes about rock music and books bands.
So, when Sherr heard there was a new book celebrating the long-term positive effects of Sassy, she suggested the authors include Philadelphia on their book tour.
Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer, the authors of How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time (Faber & Faber Inc.; April 2007), liked the idea. The New York-based authors will be at Mew Gallery in South Philadelphia for a reading on Saturday.
In a recent interview, Meltzer laid out her reasons for loving Sassy: its honest, straightforward sex columns, articles that introduced feminist ideas and social action to high school girls, and a feature called "Dear Boy," in which girls wrote in with problems they hoped would be answered by a famous guy (among them: Iggy Pop, Beck, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins).
Sassy was the first magazine in which Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love appeared together - on the April 1992 cover - and copies sell on eBay for upward of $20.
Sassy became such a phenom it was regularly mocked in skits performed by Phil Hartman on Saturday Night Live.
Paige Wolf of Center City, who is 27 now and owns a local public relations firm that bears her name, says she'll definitely be at the reading.
"I was obsessed with Sassy," Wolf proclaims unabashedly. She remembers being 13 and asking her mother, who was going shopping, to pick up some magazines for her.
"I was reading Seventeen and YM at the time," Wolf says. "And my mom brought home those, along with Sassy.
"Sassy had great music coverage. It introduced me to Julianna Hatfield and Liz Phair. It introduced me to books like Girl Interrupted [by Susanna Kaysen, 1994], movies like Pretty in Pink."
The tone was radical too, Wolf says.
"It was written for girls like me who felt a little bit different but not totally out of place - not losers or freaks."
In high school, Wolf says, she made a collage of Sassy clips and covers for her wall. She traces her decision to major in journalism at the University of Delaware, and later to start her own PR company, to Sassy's influence.
Founded by Fairfax Publications' Sandra Yates, Sassy was modeled after another edgy Fairfax-owned Australian magazine called Dolly.
Yates hired 24-year-old Jane Pratt as Sassy's editor, and the editor and magazine soon became synonymous. On published letters to the editor, the salutation was always, "Dear Jane," and Pratt's monthly note, Diary, made readers feel part of her inner circle.
In this, too, Sassy stood out on the shelf. Staffers like Christina Kelly and Kim France (now the head honcho at Lucky), signed articles with their first names. And instead of being treated like gofers, interns such as future actress Chloe Sevigny were lauded as trendsetters.
"Sassy had resonance," says Meltzer. "It was targeted to girls 13 through college, but it had a whole secret readership of twentysomething guys who loved the music coverage."
Sassy didn't become extinct until 1996, but its sale to the owners of Teen magazine in 1994 marked the proverbial beginning of the end. The tone and type of articles changed in noticeable ways, and readers said they felt betrayed.
In Sassy's wake came Jane (by Pratt), Bitch (a quarterly), Bust (every other month) and Venus.
"Sassy really did change my life," says Amy Schroeder, a self-described confused preteen Sassy reader who went on to start Venus Zine, a feminist magazine about women in the arts.
Rachel Robbins, now 23, was a student at Masterman High when she came across Sassy in a list of magazine subscriptions available for a school fund-raising drive.
"I can't specifically remember any particular articles I saw there," she says, "And I don't think I even knew what radical was or what feminism was. And yet, I went on to be a Women's Studies major. I'm sure it influenced me."
Today she reads Bust.
"I can't really stand to read any of the conventional women's magazines like Cosmo or Marie Claire or Self," Robbins says. "I won't even look at them when I'm waiting to get my hair done."
It is, Robbins says, a matter of content and attitude.
"Those magazines all have articles about how to lose 50 pounds, even though you only weigh 130 to begin with. That's their approach to self-improvement."
Molly Goodson, now 24, edits the Web site PopSugar.com, aimed at the same demographic that attracted Sassy.
"I did read Sassy," says Goodson. "I remember it being very cool."
But she says the Internet has made it harder for print magazines to keep up.
"Sassy was excellent," Goodson says, "but that sort of magazine just doesn't exist anymore."
If You Go
Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer will discuss their book, How Sassy Changed My Life, at 6 p.m. Saturday at Mew Gallery, 906 Christian St. For information: 215-625-2424 or www.mewgallery.org.
The free, all-ages event is cosponsored by Sugar Town, a monthly music fete at 1508 South St. organized by Sara Sherr, and will be followed by an after-party from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. at the Latvian Society of Philadelphia, 531 N. Seventh St.