Tavi And Age-Milestone Anxieties

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

This week’s New York Magazine cover story is further affirmation that Tavi Gevinson – still a teenager! – has accomplished more than you ever will. Writes Amy Larocca:

As even casual prowlers of the internet worlds of fashion and style are aware, there’s been quite a lot in Gevinson’s life so far to separate her from her peers, from everyone, really, because she became famous at 11 years old, when a friend’s older sister told her about fashion bloggers and she began walking to a fancy bookshop that carried i-D and Lula magazines and taking pictures of herself in her backyard styled in the spirit of her hero, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. When Kawakubo released a capsule collection at the mass retailer H&M while Tavi was in seventh grade, she wrote a nerdy rap tribute (“Rei Kawakubo for H&M / Rei Kawakubo, can I be your friend? / Rei Kawakubo, stalker fan letters I will send …”) and posted it online. The indie queen Miranda July saw it and showed it to her friends Laura and Kate Mulleavy, who design the art-fashion brand Rodarte, and then everyone saw it.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2010 - Rodarte - Front Row And BackstageGevinson was flown (with her father) to London to make a zine for Pop magazine, but then Dasha Zhukova, at the time the editor of Pop, liked her style—which, at that point, was an avant-garde-granny kind of thing—so much that she ended up on the cover. Next she was in New York at a Fashion Week party at the Gagosian Gallery while Cindy Sherman complimented her self-portraits and Björk wandered by and then Richard Prince did too. …

In anticipation of everything new, she broke up with her boyfriend “totally out of love and respect. You can’t stay with your high-school sweetheart forever,” she says. “People do, but you shouldn’t.” They’d broken up once before, but it didn’t stick. “I flew straight to New York for a wedding,” she says, “and then I visited Taylor Swift at her home in Rhode Island. I hate being heartbroken, but who better to discuss it with than Taylor Swift?” Next was a visit to her friend Lena Dunham on the set of Girls, then it was back to Oak Park, where she and the boyfriend reunited. But it didn’t last.

If you’re over 18 and have yet to cry on Taylor Swift’s shoulder about lost love, you may need to rethink your life choices. While you’re doing that, you may find yourself elsewhere in NYMag, specifically Ann Friedman’s celebration of the age 29:

My 29th year was when things started to click for me, personally and professionally.

I finally found the courage to quit a job I’d long hated and leave a city I liked even less. I was still working really hard, but felt like I was finally gaining some traction. It was around age 29 that the number of fucks I gave about other people’s opinions dipped to critically low levels. Which freed up all kinds of mental and emotional space for the stuff I was really passionate about.

I don’t think I’m the only one. The late 20s and early 30s seem to be a turning point in many modern women’s lives. For a while I’ve been taking note of creative women I admire who come into their own and start producing amazing work on the cusp of 30.Margaret Atwood and Joan Didion published their first books at age 29. Patti Smith recorded Horses at 29. Tina Fey was 29 when she was named head writer of Saturday Night Live. bell hooks published her first major work, Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism, when she was 29.

Friedman clarifies that impending-30-ness doesn’t necessarily equal stardom:

[E]ven for women who realize they still have a lot of things to figure out, around age 30 a sense of acceptance begins to settle in. It’s when many of us experience our first big career payoffs, and allow ourselves to exhale a little because for once it doesn’t feel like we’re building our lives from scratch. On the cusp of 30 — in stark contrast with prior milestones like college graduation — you’re set up to finally start living your best life, or at least a realistic approximation of it. You realize you’ll never be a wunderkind, and you’re okay with that. In general, you give way fewer fucks.

Like probably most women over the age of 25, I’ve read my share of ’30’ pieces, of which Friedman’s is one, even if it’s technically about 29, as a nod to the recent, highly scientific finding that we – and that’s men and women – peak at 29. What women-oriented 30-pieces seem to have in common is that they’re about providing a silver lining to the presumed over-the-hill status of women no longer in their 20s. And that silver lining is always some variant of, you may not be nubile, but you have your life together! You may get called ‘ma’am’, but you’re past the point of caring about such trivial matters!

The trouble with these pieces is that, while it’s of course possible to generalize about any population, the individual women reading these stories are unlikely to relate – a problem because being relatable is their very purpose. By any age milestone, most of us are going to have exceeded some of the markers and fallen short of others. And the ones we’re going to worry about are the ones we haven’t met. If you’re single and wish you weren’t, advice along the lines of, now that you’re 30, your dating life is in order, and you’re so over caring what you look like? Not so helpful. So, too, if you’re reading about how established you surely are in your career, but you’re unemployed, staying home with kids, or in your fourth – or fourteenth – year of grad school.

The reassurance, in other words, always ends up provoking still more anxieties. It’s strangely more reassuring to read about Tavi – at least there, there’s the solidarity shared by all of us who are not as accomplished as she is.

(Photo: Blogger Tavi attends Rodarte Fall 2010 during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City on February 16, 2010. By Paul Morigi/WireImage)