“Feel everything always”
Born in 1996, Tavi is six years my junior.
There have been countless times that both myself, my immediate peers and public figures have sought Tavi’s guidance on so many things that laughably feel out of our depth, but for her are like splashing in a particularly shallow paddling pool. From an early start, she has been compulsively collecting images, literature and music that inspire her and scrapbooking them into an impressive culture bible, which she is now able to share with a wide audience. Her accomplishments are not age-defying, she just proves that we put far too restrictive limitations on what we expect people of her age to be doing.
For me, the most impressive thing that Tavi has done so far is to create Rookie Magazine, an online magazine and book series founded in 2011, essentially reframing how girls are spoken to and inviting them into the conversation. She’s created a mass dialogue with young women, compelling them to be creative and get involved. Rookie is a compendium of thoughts curated by young women for young women. It’s far removed from the pamphlets instructing girls how to behave like so many of the magazines perpetually circulating.
If you’re not aware of Tavi’s history, here’s a very quick run down:
Age 12, she had exploded as a respected fashion voice, impressing the likes of Anna Wintour.
At 14, she was profiled in The New Yorker.
Age 15, Rookie magazine was founded by Tavi, who received mentorship from industry giants including This American Life‘s Ira Glass.
Age 16, spoke at The Economist’s World in 2012 Festival
Age 17, Tavi’s Big Big World talk at the Sydney Opera House on depression, creativity, and giving yourself a break. She’s also spoken at TedxTeen.
Age 20, She’s added some acting credits, acting alongside Ben Whishaw and Saoirse Ronan on Broadway in The Crucible, amongst other projects.
Her rise to the public eye did not occur without criticism. Rookie caused alarm for some critics, mainly for being penned by a writer on the cusp of adolescence and appearances at high-end fashion shows rang alarm bells for many old hands. Rumours spread that she was puppeteered by an older family member and that her presence at haute-couture fashion shows was detracting from her schooling. Surely this child tour-de-force would plummet back to reality without the safety net of a proper education? In her profile of Tavi in The New Yorker, Lizzie Widdicombe wrote : “Like a clever child who is paraded around at a party, Tavi charms and repels adults in equal measure. And it’s not clear if the fashion world will want its prodigy once she’s grown up.”
Not the most assuring thing for a child of 14 to read about herself. But, She’s done little to prove them right so far.
Tavi’s response to general negative commentary about the interest surrounding her: “A lot of people on the Internet have a problem with a young person doing well.”
Her croaky voice gives the illusion that her words are imprisoned in her throat, bursting out in spurts of freedom, it makes what she has to say appear resonant. Though to her credit she has an unwavering adolescent energy; she appears both precise and giddy. Her manner is symbolic of her age. When she spoke at the Opera House at 17, she looked, sounded and acted 17. She detoured from slinking around with the fashion pack, deciding that actually creating things with her peers was what most inspired her, providing a space for sharing creativity. It’s encouraging to see a young person embracing their age rather than fitting in with the grown-ups too soon. Does this make Tavi peculiar , or is it just that adults have been sculpting the narrative, making assumptions that young people are growing up before their time?
In fairness, her personality could have been crafted by Woody Allen, she could easily converse with any Allen character in his canon with ease. And though she was raised in Illinois, one could easily mistake her as being a native New Yorker who’s lived in the city for decades soaking it all up. In some ways, Tavi’s tastes and personality seem to transcend society’s expectations of someone her age. As well as being inspired by artists making work now, she also has a strong connection with some of the greats: Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, Judy Blume. It’s exciting to see women from previous generations become part of the staple intake of younger generations too. My guess is that the models of young women that we’re offered in pop culture are generally too restrictive and this is why Tavi seems like an anomaly. It’s not about saying it’s wrong to just want to listen to Rhianna and watch the Kardashians, it’s just that there are other ways to be a teen which popular representations sometimes forget unless they’re trying to place young people within a clique formula.
Her rise to the top has not come without self-doubt. According to numerous interviews, the necessity to rely on the internet to achieve her goals makes her feel like a phony, and she often contemplates whether any of her work is unique. She also doesn’t shy away from spotlighting her own difficulties in growing up and getting by as a person in the world. In Tavi’s Big Big World talk at the Sydney Opera House, she spoke about being diagnosed with depression and trying to use her heartache to create art.
“I had nothing to say.I didn’t feel inspired. I didn’t feel special. I just felt at a total loss for words and completely overwhelmed. Trying to make anything just made me feel twice as sad, because not only was my heart broken, not only was I depressed, but nothing I was writing about it was any good.”
Tavi has inhabited a world of expectation for most of her life. The blogging pool was much quieter when Tavi started putting content out, allowing herself to rise before the noise came and assert a position for herself. It’s one that the fashion and journalist industries question, and one she clearly questions herself. Regardless, having a young voice in the mix is valuable, and her ascension has not yet been tainted.
At 20 she’s still both a voice of youth and a cavernous well of wisdom for teens and adults alike.