A wave of independent magazines that cater to today's younger set are on the rise, following in the footsteps of Tavi Gevinson's Rookie and countering traditional media that tends to misrepresent women and teenagers. By giving readers a platform to express themselves, showcasing more authentic narratives and building communities for global youth, these print and online magazines are changing the face of publishing. While Teen Vogue and Nylon have had to shutter their print issues and adjust their business practices in recent years to adapt to youth culture's content consumption habits, these publications seem to be winning with today's teens by involving them closely or letting them run their own production processes. Read on to learn more.
With contributors and readers from every continent except Antarctica, Teen Eye is an international online magazine created for teens, by teens. Founders Em Odesser and Zak Cannon initially met on Tumblr when they were 14 and 15, respectively, and though they'd never heard each other's voices or even been in the same state, they became instant best friends with a mutual drive to create their own content.
Both Odesser and Cannon loved magazines such as CR Fashion Book and i-D, but found themselves fed up with the lack of teen representation and the limited opportunities for them to get work as young people. "Despite our surplus of free time, passion and burning ideas, most people didn't see past our lack of experience and formal training," says Odesser. They decided to launch Teen Eye with a focus on art, culture and fashion from the perspective of teenagers, as well as give themselves and others a platform to share their perspectives and build their own portfolios. "We wanted to be just as grand as other leading publications as a testament to the creativity we knew existed in our peers," says Odesser, who funded the initial launch with money from her Bat Mitzvah, while Cannon took money out of his college fund.
Teen Eye's first issue boasted 102 pages, with no ads and more than 20 articles. Now, three years later, the magazine has released six editions with its seventh coming soon. Though Cannon has since left the publication, Odesser runs Teen Eye as editor in chief, overseeing 12 editors and two interns, all of whom are female or identify as non-binary. While pitches in the past focused on the shortcomings of the fashion industry — how it was becoming increasingly influenced by capitalism instead of art, or how it was aiding and failing young models, for example — Teen Eye's culture section is now leading the way with activist-driven content since the 2016 Presidential Election. "I would say that almost every other email I receive has the word 'identity,' which is something that excites me," says Odesser.
Moving forward, Odesser wants to bring more of a wellness angle to Teen Eye's content. (She's been working on personal passion projects with Sad Girls Club, Period Movement and sex-positive organization Unbound Babes.) Odesser hopes to bring that perspective to the magazine, as well as provide the education that schools have failed to give teens today, which she believes will "empower our generation to feel more comfortable in their bodies and less alone in the world."
Founded by Zai Nájera, Superhero began as a Tumblr in 2013 and then launched as a full-blown website in 2014. Nájera says she created Superhero "because no matter how many websites and platforms are on the internet, we still need the be the voice for young creatives around the world." The site focuses on showcasing emerging creatives and documenting youth culture and style from around the globe through special issues and blog content. For Nájera and her team of contributors, documenting the time they're living in as young adults is important because it's a means of showing other generations how society is evolving. Some recent stories include a photo shoot inspired by the underground punk scene in San Diego and a visual diary of Pride Month in Milan.
Over the years, Superhero has evolved a great deal. While Nájera began running the publication herself and then worked with some contributors — Maria Pizzeria, Hannah Grunden, Donnika Anderson and Ahida Aguirre — based in London, she now resides in Mexico and is working on staffing up her own team, including model and content creator Maria Malo, illustrator and photographer Luisiana Flores, model Valeria Salas and Arturo Rico, who manages social media. Moreover, the platform has partnered with brands such as Nike and ASOS on campaigns and shoots.
Remi Riordan, a teen who was raised in suburban New Jersey, always loved fashion, art and culture magazines growing up. (Every weekend, she'd trek into New York City and spend her allowance on magazines.) After learning that i-D had once started as a zine — and having her photography work get rejected by several publications around the same time — Riordan came up with the idea to bring her friends together to start their own platform, Crybaby Zine, in late 2014. Nearly four years later, Crybaby's mission "has always been and continues to be giving a space to people who want one," says Riordan.
With close to 19K Instagram followers, Crybaby has become an inclusive community for Riordan and her friends to have a permanent place to share their work. The online platform and bi-annual print publication focuses on art, culture and political content made by marginalized folks, including women, queer people and people of color. When Crybaby first launched, most of the contributors hailed from Riordan's hometown and New York, but now the platform boasts creators from across the U.S. and all over the world, including Pakistan, Scotland, England, Brazil and Canada.
When it comes to stories specifically about teen girls, Riordan believes mainstream media has improved greatly in recent years, but their experiences could be portrayed more diversely. "So many adults think teen girls just read Teen Vogue, and while there isn't anything wrong with Teen Vogue, I haven't read it in years," says Riordan. "I read the New Yorker and The New York Times daily. [Adults] should probably just talk to us more!"
With Crybaby Zine, Riordan hopes the platform will capture the breadth of interests and concerns of today's teenagers, as well as show how intelligent young people are. The site publishes sex-ed columns with questions from readers in addition to essays about the situation in Palestine. "We aren't only into the pop culture, which I very much love, but we also love art criticism and are politically engaged," explains Riordan. The site's most successful stories to date have been interviews with the cast of Eighth Grade, Sophia Lillis of "It" and "Sharp Objects" and Shannon Purser from "Riverdale."
Riordan is now studying journalism and photography as a sophomore at the University of Southern California, but managing Crybaby is a full-time job and a full-fledged business. The publication established a long-term partnership with Adolescent Content, a Gen-Z advertising and marketing agency, which helps fund the magazine and allows Riordan to pay contributors. While she could've never imagined the idea behind Crybaby would go this far, she hopes this is her "forever job." Crybaby is currently sold on BigCartel and the upcoming issue will be sold via Depop and, potentially, on the Urban Outfitters website.
For Ami Komai, a writer living in Los Angeles, having a young daughter forced her to reflect on her identity and her challenging relationship with the media. "Every woman in my life suffers from the same feeling of 'not being good enough,' and the thought that my own daughter might one day suffer from that was something I could not let happen," says Komai.
She realized that the opinions she'd formed about herself — the good and the bad — stem from her pre-teen years: "I remember growing up and thinking there were no role models who looked like me, or anything representing my experience," says Komai. "This made me feel like nothing I did mattered." Upon further self-reflection, she realized the media and content she was exposed to from a young age had caused her to see herself in an imperfect light.
The realization inspired Komai to launch Bright Lite, a magazine and platform that — instead of focusing on "cool" trends or false narratives and lives young women might aspire to — would highlight the stories and things young readers wanted to read and share. In this way, she hopes Bright Lite will show girls that their voices matter by giving them a place to share their own stories and interests. Now in its seventh edition, which was released in late August, the print magazine is sold online and in stores such as The Strand and Barnes & Noble; the online platform will launch at the end of September, along with video content. While contributors mostly fall in the pre-teen and teen age group, hailing from across the globe, Komai hopes to make Bright Lite's platform will be bigger than a magazine, ultimately serving as a community for girls everywhere.
In 2017, founder Chloe Xiang launched Keke during her sophomore year of high school after realizing that the media she was consuming often portrayed women within certain stereotypes and manipulated them to become "impossibly beautiful people." "I realized: What better way to combat the issue of women's representation in media than to create media myself, but with my own lens as a feminist and teen?" says Xiang. Keke was born out of this desire, serving as a space in which feminism can educate and inspire people, while also celebrating their diverse identities and perspectives.
A year later, the online and annual print magazine explores feminism through narratives, short stories, informative articles, interviews, photos and art with female, teen contributors from all over the world. Many have been scouted through Instagram, while others have found the magazine on their own and submitted their work.
"There is not enough content that reflects the true adolescent experience for teenage girls," says Xiang. "A big problem is that the writers and people creating content for teen girls are older women, so they aren't necessarily able to capture the essence of a teen's experience and life. There needs to be more teen journalists and writers published, so that we can help one another and relate to their voices as fellow teen girls."
Olivia Ferrucci was 15 years old when she came to a single realization: "Very few publications were amplifying authentic young voices without the motivation of monetization," she says. Ferrucci, who grew up in New Jersey, recalls articles that she'd read seeming fake — as if the writers were trying to sound young and relevant. Ferrucci launched Lithium Magazine in Dec. 2015 with the mission is to "create a safe space for teens and young adults of all races, sexualities, classes and religions to express themselves freely and in the most creative means possible."
Three years later, the publication has published 29 online and four print issues, each with a distinct theme and comprised of written work, photo series, short films and art by a team of 94 contributors from 17 countries and 25 states. Ferrucci believes that having a diverse team is what makes Lithium unique. For example, one writer used to ride a camel to school and another just moved from Taiwan to Amsterdam for university, while some of its artists and photographers reside in South America and Europe. One of its most successful stories, titled "Can You Delete That? I Look Really Asian In It," follows Julianna Chen as she grapples with her self-image as a young Asian woman.
Ferrucci hopes that the platform will show teens how whatever they're experiencing is normal and common, aiming to capture the teenage experience — beyond football games, first dates and studying — as holistically as possible, even if it involves things that are uncomfortable.
Similar to Crybaby Zine, Lithium is now partnered with Adolescent Content, which has allowed the magazine to pay some of its contributors, while all of its semiannual print issues are sold independently through the magazine's website.