Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sassy: A Different Kind of Teen Magazine

Image via Eli.com
Up until the late 80s, American teenage girls were limited with their choices of lifestyle/fashion magazines aimed at their demographic: Seventeen, TEEN, and the usual celebrity heartthrob rags such as Tiger Beat. Then in 1987, a new magazine was launched--one that made the effort to understand young women and speak to them in a way that made them feel like they were talking to their BFF. That magazine was Sassy, and it broke the mold in how magazine content was presented to young women. Sassy was only in publication until 1996, but its legions of past subscribers remain fervent fans to this day. There are websites featuring scanned covers and articles, a Facebook page dedicated to the publication, and a 2007 book called How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time, by Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer. So what was it about Sassy that made it so special? 

Image via Sassy Magazine LIVES
For starters, there was the "Sassy girl" herself. Those who read Sassy knew that there was more to life than being a cheerleader or acquiring a boyfriend. Sassy set out to inspire young women to shun stereotypes, think for themselves, and get involved with the world. Jane Pratt, one of the founding editors of the magazine, had grown up with the likes of Seventeen, and felt that she couldn't relate to many of its cookie cutter articles, mainly those that revolved around dating and social norms. ("Are You A Bore" was one such article that Pratt recalls seeing.) "I felt completely disinterested in all of the things I was supposed to be interested in," says Pratt in How Sassy Changed My Life. "I held no passionate response to any of it, whether it was pop stars or clothing that I was supposed to love to wear or the kinds of guys I was supposed to date." One of the inspirations for Sassy was Dolly, an outspoken Australian magazine that covered articles on masturbation and suicide written in an non-judgmental tone.   

Be Like Bob: Gender bending fashion feature from 1994. Scan via Sassy Magazine LIVES
That refreshing attitude showed up in the fashion features, where most models were not of the white bread blond hair and blue eye variety, but reflecting a multi-cultural background. Sassy also had a strong slant towards lovers of alternative and indie music; you were less likely to find pull out posters of Kirk Cameron within its pages; more likely to find Michael Stipe of R.E.M. As a matter of fact, Stipe became friendly with Pratt, who worked out a deal to distribute a flexi-disc recording of the band's single Dark Globe along with each December 1989 issue as a special holiday gift to readers.  

"Dopey Fashion Poses" from a 1992 issue poked fun at the modeling industry. Image from Buzzfeed.
The magazine also leaned on its readers to help develop content. There was a section called "Stuff You Wrote" where readers were invited to send in their short stories, poems, artwork and even "one sentence thoughts" (a pre-cursor to tweeting!) "It Happened to Me" published real life stories and even paid its authors $300 if their story was chosen for print. 
Image via Sassy Magazine LIVES
Then there was the fact that from the very first issue, the publication dared to discuss topics that other teen magazines wouldn't; namely, honest, non-judgmental sex education. One of the articles that appeared in that debut issue, "Losing Your Virginity," provided a frank description of the milestone event. According to former Sassy editor Elizabeth Larsen, whose essay about the magazine (Censoring Sex Information: The Story of Sassy) appeared in an English composition book called Short Takes, "The reader response to this article was phenomenal. Sassy and the article's author received hundreds of letters saying that finally someone had spoken to them in a way with which they felt comfortable."

Unfortunately, Sassy's openness for such topics was also partially responsible for its downfall. While many readers and their parents praised the magazine for shedding taboos about sexual topics, a Christian women's group called Women Aglow started a letter writing campaign to get Sassy's major advertisers to boycott the magazine, or they'd boycott their products. In a few months the magazine lost most of its advertising accounts, and was forced to shy away from controversial content. That, combined with increased backstage bickering among the staff, led to its being acquired and absorbed by TEEN (one of the very publications it tried so hard to differentiate itself from) in 1996.

Gone, but not forgotten. Memories of Sassy are alive and well online. Did you read the magazine, or date a girl who did?

9 comments:

Minakitty (Mary) said...

Though I had moved on to adult fashion magazines, such as Elle and Vogue (which were much better then), I'm glad Sassy was around. Seventeen had an uncanny way of making an impressionable young girl like myself feel insecure if she wasn't the perfect, all-American prom queen. I also remember them taking swipes at people who were somehow different, while Sassy celebrated it. :)

My Little Corner said...

That's a nice tribute to the magazine. I remember in high school going to the library and taking out stacks and stacks of Teen and Seventeen - I couldn't get enough of them, I was anxious to lear how to dress fashionable and look pretty - it's nice Sassy was around and too bad that some of these groups destroyed it

Pam@GoRetro said...

Minakitty and My Little Corner - thanks for the comments. I started reading Seventeen when I was 14 but by the time I had graduated from high school I was into Glamour and Cosmo as they covered the more grown up topics. I do remember reading a few issues of Sassy back in the day, though not enough to classify myself as a fan.

Ken Reid said...

I'm not ashamed to admit I was a huge Sassy fan and was (and am) male. I used to buy my sister a subscription for Christmas every year, which was really for me.

I actually really enjoyed the short lived "Guys" spin off magazine "Dirt" as well

42N said...

Never read the magazine but I'm glad that you analyzed it so well. Keep the stories coming!

John said...

This is a very beautiful and interesting magazine
The most glamorous one i have read today!




GED Online

lazlo1988 said...

I want that Free R.E.M. record mentioned in the issue up top.

lazlo1988 said...

Ah... heres a blog on that R.E.M. flexi-disk:

http://devildick.blogspot.com/2009/08/rem-dark-globe.html

Eartha Kitsch said...

Oh god, I loved Sassy! My parents were very conservative Christian Southern Baptists and they thought that the magazine was too liberal and edgy so they banned it from our household. Hilarious.

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