Thank God for Teen Mag Archive @thankyouatoosa
There are lots of fun things about having a website like Haystack Stories. We get to write love letters to our imaginary boyfriends, we get to talk to our ‘90s style icons, we get to remember a world before cell phones. But one of the very best parts of putting something all about nostalgia out into the world is that people are constantly fueling our obsession—by sending us links to the latest TV reboot announcement, by letting us know when a brand we loved stages a comeback, and by tagging us in like-minded Instagram accounts. @thankyouatoosa is one of those. Started in 2018 by Teen Vogue alum and Clover founder Casey Lewis, the account showcases her (seemingly endless) supply of teen magazines from the 90s and early aughts—a.k.a. the era of beloved CosmoGirl and Seventeen editor in chief Atoosa Rubenstein (fun fact: Jenna’s first internship was at Seventeen in 2004). It’s a perfect time capsule of the period and gives us the “oh my god, remember that?” feeling we’re always chasing whenever her posts pop up in our feed. So duh, of course we reached out to Casey to find out why she started @thankyouatoosa, what makes good old glossies so magical, and which ‘90s shoe trend is due for a comeback. She answered all those questions and more, so @thankyoucasey—and enjoy!
Casey, hi! Would you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’ve lived in Brooklyn for almost ten years, but I’m from a very small town in rural Missouri. (To say that teen magazines were my lifeline is no exaggeration.) I interned at Teen Vogue in college, then spent a bunch of years there after graduation. I was also at MTV for a hot minute. Then in 2016, I left Conde Nast to start Clover, a media company for teen girls, with my friend and fellow former magazine editor, Liza Darwin. Now Clover’s actually part of Viacom, where I’m a VP of Editorial.
What made you decide to start the Instagram account?
2018 felt like a particularly bleak time in media—and then Tavi announced the end of Rookie. That was after Teen Vogue and Seventeen had both announced they were largely ending print. Teen media (magazines, especially) were so sacred to me growing up. They are why I studied journalism and moved to New York. The current state of things really breaks my heart.
I was at my parents’ house for a week over the holidays, and kept finding myself looking through old teen magazines and just drowning in nostalgia. All of my issues were 10, 15 years old and it was insane to see how much the world has changed since then (#MeToo, the internet, lowrider jeans), but also how much was the same, especially with all things ‘90s back in style. It was just too good not to share.
We agree, Atoosa Rubenstein rules. What do you think makes her so inspiring?
I spent my entire adolescence worshipping Atoosa. When you think about a lot of the other editors in chief at the time, they were all super polished and ladylike, with shiny blowouts. That was just never going to be me. Atoosa was bold and a little brash. She had wild curly hair and was just not afraid to take up space. She was unapologetic and ambitious. I really can’t think of a better role model for my teenage self.
I actually had the extreme pleasure of hanging out with Atoosa last month, but I can’t remember if I asked her anything noteworthy. Mostly I just gushed about how important to me she was/is.
So, how big is your magazine stash?
By some miracle, my parents never got rid of my hundreds of magazines. Through the years, I’d flip through them here and there and I’d always find something new to appreciate about them. Then when I was home for the holidays, I took a bunch of pictures of different spreads with no real plan. This was before the idea of the Instagram was fully formed in my brain. When I got back to Brooklyn, I started the account—and I quickly realized my little photo archive was going to run out soon. So my mom has been sending me very heavy shipments of magazines, bless her.
What did the magazines mean to you as an adolescent?
I memorized my teen magazines every single month. YM, Seventeen, Teen People, Teen Vogue, CosmoGirl, all of them. I remember coming across the very first issue of ElleGirl at a Barnes and Noble in a city a few hours away and I felt like I’d found gold. I really hadn’t been exposed to a lot of the world, and pre-internet, magazines were it for me. I took every word to heart, for better or worse. If Seventeen told me that low-rise jean skirts from Abercrombie were cool, I was begging my mom to go to Abercrombie (two hours away from me!) for a low-rise jean skirt. If YM told me that low-fat froyo was better than ice cream, I wouldn’t think of touching ice cream.
What's the best advice you ever received from an issue?
Definitely not the advice to avoid full-fat foods. One time, a CosmoGirl reader wrote in to tell Atoosa she looked like a goose. Totally absurd, but she managed to turn it into a seriously great editor’s letter-turned-pep talk about appearances vs. substance. You can read the whole thing here, but my favorite part is this: “Because no matter what I look like—goose-ish or otherwise—my looks aren't in any way representative of who I am. Who I am is what kind of girl I am. And remember that for you too.”
How has the way Seventeen speaks to its audience changed since then?
Seventeen is pretty much online-only now, so the voice is radically different for that reason alone. But I think beyond that specific publication it’s interesting how much teen media, in general, has evolved. Teens are so empowered now. Body acceptance is a thing, and so is gender inclusivity. That largely didn’t exist then. It’s crazy to flip through old magazines and see how boy-crazy everything was. The word feminism never comes up, ever. There’s a lot of "look pretty, be nice, smile big" advice, and I think that could be partly to blame for creating a generation of perfectionists.
Why do you think we're experiencing such a cultural moment of nostalgia right now?
Oh, man! I wish I knew. I’m tempted to say, “because life was simpler back then,” but watching Pen15 has proven to me that life really wasn’t any easier. It was just as awkward...maybe even more so because of AIM. I can’t explain the cultural resurgence of nostalgia, but I love it.
What’s the best Seventeen magazine cover ever?
The most important Seventeen to me was a special back-to-school edition with Daria on the cover . It was the first teen magazine I can remember begging my parents for—we were on a family vacation somewhere, and I remember being beside myself when my mom said I could get it. I memorized it from cover to cover. It feels deeply uncool to admit this, but at the time, I wanted to start a Fashion Club like Quinn.
Besides magazines, who and what were you most obsessed with back then?
Boy-wise, I was infatuated with Zac Hanson. Now he has, like, 7 kids so the appeal hasn’t really held up. I also thought Josh Hartnett was super cute, and, ugh, Nick Carter, too. But more than anything, I was obsessed with the cool girls: Kirsten Dunst, Sofia Coppola, Leelee Sobieski, Keri Russell (she was very important to me as someone with curly hair). And, obviously, MK&A. My biggest teen mag obsession, style-wise, was Frye boots. Around ‘98, ‘99, fashion spreads were always showing Fryes—the classic tan Campus version—with dresses and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I used one of my first paychecks to buy a pair, and I still have them. Since Birkenstocks and clogs have both made a comeback, I think these will be next.