After school, 17-year-old Em Odesser, the editor-in-chief of Teen Eye Magazine, plops down on her bed to video chat with her three teenage girl editors for their weekly meeting. Above Odesser’s left shoulder hangs a hand-scrawled note in red marker that reminds her to "Stay Angry!" with a crude doodle of a mad face. It's one of dozens of flyers, sketches, mantras, and Post-its pasted helter-skelter on her walls like a dorm room bulletin board. The straps on her overalls double as backpack buckles, and her false pointed nails from Duane Reade are painted a blood red, because she once read in a magazine that if one wants to feel confident, one should pick out a "good outfit" and rock red polish. Now she owns seven shades of red.
Emily Odesser, editor-in-chief of Teen Eye Magazine, at her home in Westchester, New York. | (Laura Baker/Courtesy Narratively)
On the agenda today is zines, the alternative self-published pamphlets popularized during the 1990s. The flimsy D.I.Y. booklets, often assembled and stapled at the kitchen table, would be a shift for Teen Eye, a quarterly magazine with an international readership of 810,000. It started in 2014 as a place for teenagers to publish works about art, culture, and fashion, as well as feminism, politics, and social justice. Teen Eye's latest Autumn "Icon" issue, the cover of which features a girl looking fierce in dark shades, a lavender fur, and azure wig, has 166 pages of Fashion Week coverage, photos of striking purses, musical interviews; essays on street style, black models and Barbie, and poems by people of color.
After almost dying out in the early 2000s, zines are back and now "super hot" in the library world as a way to engage teenagers, according to Julissa Ayala, an information assistant at the New York Public Library. They exist in abundance online, covering topics from Armenian transgender people and cross-country friendships to queer foodies. Even a Brooklyn laundromat now houses a zine pop-up, harkening back to their roots before the days of the internet. Because zines are self-published, it's difficult to track how many exist, but Ayala estimates millions worldwide.
A collection of images from Teen Eye, along with images that Em uses for inspiration, hang on the door of her closet. | (Laura Baker/Courtesy Narratively)
Since the 1990s, teenage girls have written zines as a way to solidify their stance in society. Today's publications might look like playful art projects, but behind the scenes the work is laborious, germane, and in part, a response to social pressures. Remi Riordan, the 18-year-old founder and editor of Crybaby zine, says seeing others' perfectly curated Instagram feeds often results in anxiety, stress, and self-doubt. "There's a lot of pressure to be Instagram famous," she says.
Some veteran zinesters, like Cindy Crabb, the author of the well-known Doris zine from the '90s, scrutinize today's zines for being platforms for self-success, a function at variance with their original objective, which was to renounce mainstream culture.
"Nobody I knew in the '90s that were writing zines were using it as a stepping stone," says Crabb, who began Doris when she was 23. "Now I see some of that, people trying to sell them for a lot of money, especially the art zines as a way to showcase their art for greater recognition. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's kind of against the zine ethic of the '90s, which was more, 'We don’t have to live by mass cultures.'"
Odesser sees nothing wrong with using zines as a launching pad, and in fact, her main goal is to propel her writers toward recognition.
"I definitely think it's attractive to get your voice out to a lot of people," she says. "It helps with the weird confusion about growing up in the world."
Read the rest of this story at Narratively.