Lit Thursday: "The Girl Issue"
Lenny recommends magazine articles of yore.
We're trying something new for Lit Thursday: Instead of recommending books every week, we're going to be recommending some memorable magazine articles by and about women. This week, Lenny's deputy editor, Laia Garcia, writes an ode to Spin's entire "Girl Issue" from 1997.
It is not unusual for a person to describe a book they particularly identified with, or learned something from, as "my Bible." And although at different points I have definitely done the same (Catcher in the Rye in my teens, I Love Dick in my late 20s, etc.), the one true constant publication that actually functioned as my de facto guide to the world was the November 1997 issue of Spin. The one with Fiona Apple (of course) on the cover. The one dubbed "The Girl Issue."
I very clearly remember buying this issue at our local Walgreens. It was Fiona's relentless, "over it" gaze that attracted me like a moth to a flame, and I am still so glad that when I brought the issue to my mom, who was standing at the check-out line, she agreed to buy it for me.
In 1997, much like today, there was a surge of feminism, except back then it was called "Girl Power" (thank you, Spice Girls!), and this issue is pretty much a collection of articles, interviews, and lists on the state of Girl Culture at the time — starting off with Ann Power's essay about the state of feminism now (the '90s), titled, very aptly, "Everything and the Girl." Reading it again this week was a wild ride, as I simultaneously felt all the same things I did when I first read (and read, and reread) the magazine that I did when I was thirteen years old, but also because I realized how much of it could've been about the state of feminism now, even though it's two decades later.
There's, of course, a profile on Fiona Apple, with iconic photographs that I was disappointed were taken by Terry Richardson but remain too iconic to be damaged by his trash-ass self (she is burying herself under a couch cushion). It's funny because now I am older than she was in those pictures, but when I see her, she still seems like a strong woman to me (as opposed to when I see pictures of a young Kurt Cobain, and all I can think about is, Aww, he was such a baby!). It's weird to read all the adults' takes on Fiona and see how much they differed from my view of her as a kid.
The real pièce de résistance was "Girls! Girls! Girls!," a piece edited by Maureen Callahan and Kim France (who later founded Lucky magazine). It became my literal guide on what things to seek out and get involved with. Reading back through it, I now realize the list was a little tongue-in-cheek, but also, it wasn't wrong? And growing up in Puerto Rico, with spotty access to whatever rudimentary Internet existed back then, and no older siblings to guide me through the world of what was cool, it really didn't matter if they were snarky about shit.
Among the most important things on the list were: witches, Kurt Cobain, Daria, bare midriffs, Drew Barrymore's lower-back tattoo, Jordan Catalano, body glitter, and snowboarding; a list of books every girl should have on her book shelf (The Bell Jar, Go Ask Alice, Weetzie Bat, Scum Manifesto); a list of CDs every girl should own (Elastica, The Breeders, Salt-N-Pepa, Stevie Nicks); a sidebar on important moments in girl history (Nadia Comaneci scores the first perfect ten at the Olympics, Amy Fisher commits murder); and a sidebar on important movies (Clueless, Times Square, Heathers). It remains the most formative listicle of my entire life.
Elsewhere in the issue, there was a fashion shoot with Chloë Sevigny, an exposé on the weird trend of young girls who were murdering their newborn babies, an article on a young model whose reputation went to shit after her image was used next to an article titled "I got trashed and had sex with three guys," a look at the other all-lady festivals (including Michigan's Womyn Music Festival, which definitely introduced me to the word womyn). Finally, there was an essay about the allure of the teenage Lolita, and a photo shoot with up-and-coming female artists — the blurry photo of Mary Timony remains a favorite.
I have read this magazine so many times in my life, that even the ads, and the photos for other articles that maybe I was too young to understand, remain heavily laced with nostalgia (did I love Kids in the Hall when I finally watched their TV show years later because of the tiny picture of their movie Brain Candy on an article about the overmedication of Americans? I'm not saying yes, and I am not saying no).
This issue remains so important that it survived all my collaging adventures of high school and college. A couple of years ago, I bought a copy on eBay to give as a gift to one of my friends, and a couple of months ago I bought another copy, because I decided that I needed to have the physical object of it again, despite the fact that my original is still at my mom's house, in a plastic bin that she knows holds all my sacred items.
It seems weird that one magazine issue could be responsible for so many facets of my life and my personality, but "The Girl Issue" was a window into so many different worlds that I may have never known about (or at least would've taken me a lot longer to find out about). I also wonder if my love for magazines and decision to work in media came from knowing the direct impact it can have on just one person, how it can be a little lifeline. This magazine was, and will always remain, my Bible.
Laia Garcia is the deputy editor at Lenny, and she really loves magazines from the '90s.