What Tavi Gevinson Did For Me
Cover Art by Madeline Brice
"What do you do? For a living, I mean."
"Oh, I'm just visiting."
In Nicholas Roeg's 1976 film The Man Who Fell To Earth, David Bowie plays a magnificent creature who has been trapped on earth. When I first came across Tavi Gevinson through her TED Talk Still Figuring It Out, I had a sensation quite similar to the one I experienced when I was watching that film. How she was the only one of her kind; how she was, without any effort, outshining everyone around her the way Bowie did.
In her TED Talk, her blue eyes were gleaming through heavy kohl and she resembled a real life cartoon character who had an unmatched passion about anything and everything. I wouldn't be surprised at all if she finished her speech by saying, "Oh, I'm just visiting."
I don't have the specific details about the way I discovered Tavi and her magazine, Rookie. I'm assuming it was through Tumblr, as it always was back in the day. I watched all the other videos that were at my availability about her and felt like I saw her as the person she really was; I didn't blur my perspective with any obsessional input for once. Why would I? She was a teenager who journaled religiously and color coded Stevie Nicks lyrics.
In one video, a then 14-year-old Tavi tackled a subject as taboo as fangirling with such ease, as if it was the only acceptable way of going through life. She dominated a room filled with adults who were probably Wall Street bankers, investors, CEOs, and other people with distinguished job titles. She made it seem as if they were the ones who were crazy if they didn't understand the depth of Taylor Swift's lyrics. In my technicolor world of obsessive fangirling and going mad over literature and music, what she said resonated with me to my bones. She was a shapeshifting sprite in my eyes: a relatable teenage girl who talked about her love of magazines and, in turn, became a well-educated activist in the blink of an eye. She knew what she was talking about and, most importantly, she knew what an adolescence experience was worth.
She created Rookie Magazine, a publication about teenagers by teenagers. I remember asking one of my friends who was going to New York for the Rookie yearbook, all three if possible. I didn't want Victoria's Secret body mists that smelled like cotton candy or an Anastasia Beverly Hills eyebrow pot. I knew what Tavi created was a completely different world of its own where like-minded teenagers had a safe space to share their art and their stories. I needed an entry pass for that world I knew was ornamented by Petra Collins' glossy suburban photographs and thought-provoking articles. Each piece sparked a new revelation within me even though I couldn't quite tell what I was going to do with all the inspirations that came my way as I was browsing through their huge catalogue.
Well, I created Tonitruale.
The biggest reason that we have our beloved communal platform (for people who have loud opinions!) is Tavi Gevinson herself. She was, and is, the voice of our generation, though she believes that it's too much weight to carry on her shoulders. Don't tell her that I said that! She showed a whole generation of teenagers that we can be fifteen and have critical opinions on activism and that it isn't some grown-up discussion subject solely reserved for pretentious wine parties.
I thought I was too young to comprehend the intricate details of feminism. Tavi stood on a huge stage, without showing any kind of insecurity that would be brought on due to her age, talking about what feminism was and how women were made to believe that they should live up to their beliefs. She explained what feminism stood for way better than all the other documentaries that were forced down my throat when I was a little girl.
She went to multiple fashion shows, the milieus we consider to be the most distant and cold and outplayed. She brought playfulness into an industry which that was predominantly ruled by snootiness. She had many inspirations and references of her own, which makes it even more fascinating that she was truly one of her kind without imitating any other public figure.
Patti Smith had written, "An ageless nymph, an old man in Normandy," in a gym subscription paper under the part where she had to write a brief description of herself. I think those words relate to Tavi more than anyone else in this world: a teenage girl who inspired multiple generations with her outspoken ideas. In her Ted Talk, Tavi says that she believes that what makes a strong female character is a character who has weaknesses, one who has flaws. Who is maybe not immediately likable but eventually relatable. I believe that she was in a way, unconsciously talking about herself and manifesting the incredible woman she would grow to become.