Elevate Difference

How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time

Before female adolescents in America had Oakland/Portland’s Bitch or Chicago’s VenusZine for feminism 101, there was New York City’s Sassy. In How Sassy Changed My Life, readers are given a magazine-size book that reads like a nostalgic love letter chronicling one of women’s crucial marks in journalism's history. Known as the 80s lovechild of founder Sandra Yates of Australia’s Dolly and then 24-year-old Jane Pratt, the youngest editor-in-chief of a magazine, Sassy shunned the “come get me boys” themes of teen publications with blonde, blue-eyed, bulimic models. For the first time, two female writers carefully analyze Sassy’s impact on insecure, teenage girls seeking refuge from YM and Seventeen through interviews with former staff members and the many readers that created an online cult following.

How Sassy Changed My Life starts off by answering the frequently-asked question: why would anyone write a book about a teen magazine? While Jesella and Meltzer give a brief, but convincing explanation for exploring Sassy’s rich, cultural history in American media, the chapters remain faithful in giving an in-depth look behind the magazine’s main competitor. With Seventeen’s “Where to Spy Guys” and “Learn How to Be a Secretary” ads, Walter Anneberg, the publication’s owner (who had a gold-plated toilet seat in his private plane), surely wasn’t risking his sales with features on homosexuality, AIDS and premarital sex. Yet, when Sassy arrived at 1 Times Square in 1988, they covered “The Dirty Scummy Truth on Spring Break (or, Where The Jerks Are),” included ads for Doc Martens and featured pixie-haired models with bandanas. Jesella and Meltzer manage to successfully show with crisp, tight language, the staff’s many personalities that collectively provided a voice for those wanting to learn about their inner girl power with “13 Reasons Not to Diet.” Former reader Sarah Kowalski commented, “The magazine was so personal it felt like a community, like people that you hung out with-that was very important. I was kind of an outsider type. I didn’t have a lot of friends in school. You wanted to find your people.”

One of the major concerns in How Sassy Changed My Life was Pratt’s portrayal in the magazine’s birth and downfall. Pratt, initially viewed as “the extremely charismatic leader,” who made her writers “go through as many as 15 story drafts,” was detested by Sassy_ites for the betrayal known as _Jane magazine. Jesella and Meltzer spoke with Jane’s arch-nemesis, Lisa Jervis from Bitch, who retaliated against Pratt’s vision for a more girl-friendly periodical that even included a column by Pamela Anderson. In responding to Bitch’s “10 Things I Hate About Jane,” Jervis explained, “Those of us salivating in front of the newsstand were hoping for something that took Sassy’s early vision of self-confident girl power and critical thinking a step forward.” Ultimately, How Sassy Changed My Life concluded with Pratt being a pretentious publisher whose feud with Bitch magazine seems more appealing than her celebrity-fueled glossy. While the conclusion leaves readers torn, Jesella and Meltzer lets their audience decide whether Pratt should be celebrated for her role in leading Sassy or hated for her false promise in keeping the dream alive.

Whether you grew up reading Sassy or are just discovering its famous April 1992 cover of grunge's Sid and Nancy, How Sassy Changed My Life is a cultural tour de force that embodies the best of modern feminist writing. Readers will finish Jesella’s and Meltzer’s testimonial feeling confident about their femininity and hopeful for womankind’s future, just as Sassy did for six years.

Written by: Stephanie Nolasco, July 1st 2007

This is a really great review. I'm glad the book talks about the Jane/Bitch feud, which I personally find distasteful at best, yet these authors don't come down on any one side of the debate. Sounds well done.