on tavi gevinson’s 20th birthday, 5 pearls of her forever-relevant teen wisdom
‘The only answer is to trust yourself and mix everything up.’
She's interviewed Barack Obama and starred on Broadway, given a TED talk and been counted among TIME magazine's most influential young people. She played mini muse to the Rodarte sisters and held court with King Karl backstage at Chanel couture before beginning high school, and then boldly stepped away from the industry she helped radically democratize to build a thriving youth ecosystem far greater than her wildest fashion fantasies. Tavi Gevinson is indisputably one of the most humorous, intelligent, earnest, original, and urgent voices of her generation. But today, she officially sheds one aspect of her oft-used "teen media queen" moniker; Tavi is no longer a teenager.
Of course, the strength of Tavi's thoughts, feelings, and insights isn't at all contingent upon her youth; she'll still be an inspiration to creative people everywhere when she's the same age as the Grey Gardens spinsters whose style she adopted as an 11-year-old Style Rookie in suburban Chicago. But Tavi showed the world why girlhood is so much more than glitter pens and going nuts for boy bands (while still demonstrating why both of those things are so awesome and vital). She galvanized a new guard of whip-smart, emotionally complex kids to proudly raise their voices and challenge everything around them. She's changed the way teens express themselves. As she celebrates her 20th birthday, revisit five pearls of Tavi's teenage wisdom.
To truly be young, you need to be old. "Your style was quite granny-ish when you were young. Why was that?" i-D asked Tavi in The New Issue, referring to the pillbox hats, knitted chain-link scarves, and shimmery silver hair she rocked in middle school. "My heroes at that time were Iris Apfel, Edie Beale, and Isabella Blow: women who were at an age when -- I'm told -- you kind of stop caring. So I thought, 'If I start not caring aged 12, then I'll be good,'" Tavi told us. "I was trying to combat what I saw at school: girls feeling this pressure to look a certain way and sexualize themselves. Not necessarily for political reasons, but on a personal level, that wasn't appealing to me. It was more fun to go in the complete opposite direction."
But being older doesn't mean you're better. Last year, Tavi sat down with The Talks, the same outlet to which Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist alleged that because of her age (14 at the time of scoring #frow spots reviewing Dior and Comme) her thoughts on fashion were "like a five-year old Michael Jackson singing about love." We'd call her response wise beyond her years, but 43-year-old Schuman sort of invalidates the saying: "That young people don't have valid thoughts about the world because they haven't been alive long enough is sadly a very popular and, frankly, unoriginal sentiment," Tavi explained. "When I think about that time, I was just responding to the world around me. And I was perceptive enough that I felt like I could make connections to things in my life. I don't think it was abstract. And I am basically skeptical of any adults who have those kinds of things to say about young people because it seems to always very transparently stem from fear and insecurity."
Elitism is boring and outdated. "I think it's time for cultural gatekeepers to give up these illusions of who 'deserves' to be famous, be heard or have influence, based on old-fashioned ideas about success," Tavi told i-D in her New Issue interview. "When I wrote my blog and went to fashion week, I got a lot of shade from older editors about paying my dues and educating myself. I get where they were coming from, but it's also weird now to see their institutions scramble to use the internet in a way that's not savvy, but genuinely effective and exciting to people. I've been doing that for years."
It's okay to still figure it out. Back in 2012, Tavi gave possibly the only TED talk accompanied by MS Paint slides -- a frank and funny primer about the importance of Freaks & Geeks' Lindsay Weir and My So Called Life's Angela Chase -- complex female characters who aren't sexy super women with their lives in perfect order. "A misconception of feminism is that girls think that to be a feminist, they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in your beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all of the answers," Tavi explained. "This is not true, and, actually, reconciling all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I understood that feminism was not a rulebook but a discussion, a conversation, a process."
Embrace the unknown, but believe in your vision. "What's the best thing about being young today?" i-D wondered in The Activist Issue. "Living in a weird post post post modern apocalypse where most institutions are crumbling and almost every opinion is moot," Tavi explained, "and the only answer is to trust yourself and mix everything up."
Text Emily Manning
Photography Petra Collins
Styling Tavi Gevinson