Rookie, Tavi Gevinson & Why We Need More Teenage Role Models

As someone who was an awkward, quiet teenager, I rarely look back at high school and think, damn, I really wish that could happen again! However, lately I have, and it’s all Tavi Gevinson’s fault. A month ago, I had no idea who she was. I might have heard of her online magazine, Rookie.  I might have even read it. Once I found it was being run by a teenager, I read it more appreciatively. Aside from making me feel insanely unaccomplished, reading Tavi’s work made me realize how lucky teenagers are today.  Especially the weird ones.

When I was a weird teenager who read my European History textbook for fun on a Friday night instead of going to parties (no regrets, the Russian Revolution was way more exciting than a kegger) I was sure I would never be cool.

Instead of bonding with other kids, I would write existential diary entries. Spending so much time alone helped me figure out who I was, and I love who I am today. It was also incredibly painful. Would things have been different if I had someone to look up to? Someone who was quirky and smart, but also popular? Someone who also wore glasses?

In a post on Tavi’s earlier blog, StyleRookie, she wrote something that gave me chills:

You can’t grasp your legacy when alive, and it makes no difference in death. What if I leave behind no record? What if I let every day vanish? If I don’t archive anything, am I free to change?

My immediate thought was: how did Tavi find my high school diary?

My second thought was: where was Tavi when I was in high school?

Oh, right, she was in middle school, about to become a fashion-blogging prodigy. Still … would Tavi have been my role model?

I’ve always discounted celebrity role models because we don’t seem to set the bar very high. The ideal, parent-approved role model is a young singer/actress who has not been to rehab and weighs more than 90 pounds.  Extra points if they were on the Disney Channel. Taylor Swift, Miranda Cosgrove, and Selena Gomez fall into this category of “celebrities who are role models just because they are not train wrecks.”

Teenage role models seem much more important to adults than teenagers, anyway. At any given moment, the people getting most worked up about Miley’s twerking or Jennifer Lawrence’s healthy body are adults. They’re the pearl-clutchy mothers watching re-runs of the VMAs, or writers for parenting websites who compose lists of approved role models. Most teenagers are too busy being teenagers to consciously think of who inspires them.

Society’s fixation with role models seems to imply that young girls (and guys) can’t possibly figure out who they are on their own.  What I love about Tavi Gevinson is how she’s not promoting a certain way of life; she’s just living her own. It’s inspirational to watch another person find their passion and express their identity. Lorde is another example of this. I’m not crazy about her music, but at least it’s different from what every other young, mainstream singer is putting out. Some of her lyrics make it clear she’s in high school. I love that. She’s not trying to write about things she doesn’t know, like falling in love or having her heart broken. Her songs may be about relatively lighthearted things, but at least she’s lived them. That’s why she can sing with such confidence and emotion.

Lorde, like Tavi, makes growing up look easy. If anyone in my high school wore what Lorde wore to the Grammy’s, they would have been torn to shreds. Despite critics calling her a witch (and I think some of them mean that endearingly) Lorde’s thousands of fans praised her wacky ensemble. There’s never been a better time to be goth.

I don’t know if Tavi would have been my role model in high school, but it certainly would have made things easier to know that there was someone else my age who knew who Joan Didion was.

I’m happy for the weird, quiet kids of 2014 who like to read or wear black lipstick.  It’s nice to see two of the most popular girls in the world identifying as feminists. Young girls don’t need a perfect, polished role model.  They just need someone to make them feel less alone.

Lisa Divenuta
Lisa is a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn. She is currently working on her master's degree in nonfiction creative writing (a bit of an oxymoron) at the New School. Her poetry can be found on Follow her on Twitter @lisadivenuta
  • Jennifer Robnett

    i liked this one. i think tavi is awesome, and rookie is awesome. there were always a ton of smart, weird girls in high school but they were never given the same time, attention and funding as say….star football athletes. i was a writing super-star at my high school, but the furthest that got me was EIC of my literary magazine and a column in the paper. i think tavi took something she was naturally good at and ran with it all the way to the bank. good on her.
    the first comment i saw on/about this site was about how “over their heads” the editors here are, trying to start an equivalent site. but hello? a 16-year-old girl did it just fine.