Throughout the pandemic, I’ve relied on podcasts for entertainment, mental stimulation, and a sort of parasocial comfort. One relatively new show which checks all of these boxes is Nymphet Alumni, a series of conversations about fashion and cultures between three twenty-something years old women, who identify themselves simply by their first names: Alexi, Biz, and Sam. “Nymphet,” a term for a young girl who is sexually precocious, or who is an object of desire for older men, was popularized by Vladimir Nabovok’s novel Lolita. Currently, it is closely associated with fashion and online aesthetics which fetishize girlishness. While Nymphet Alumni is not focused on the contemporary Lolita subculture, the show is rooted in an interest in the ways in which youthful femininity has been glorified and commodified by the fashion industry and its surrounding media apparatuses.
So far, the trio has posted episodes on American Apparel, Rookie Magazine, the appeal of preppy fashion, the future of style blogging, and the latest aesthetic iteration of Billie Eilish. They discuss their own histories with each topic, as well as its broader cultural significance. The episode on Rookie (“The United States vs. Rookie Magazine”) stands out to me as their best. In it, they chart the rise of teen fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson in the late 2000s, and her online publication Rookie Mag, which ran from 2011 to 2018. (Their website is still up, but it is no longer being updated.) As a fashion-minded Gen-Z girl, Rookie reached me, but I was a little too young to grow up with it as the hosts of the show did, and so I was eager to hear their thoughts.
The podcast includes enough overview and context to make sense to people unfamiliar with Rookie, but the hosts also examine in-depth the role the magazine played in their lives as teenage girls in the mid-2010s. Sam, Alexi, and Biz explain how the publication served as “an oasis” for teenage girls across and even beyond the US, and how it introduced them to a culture they would have otherwise had little or no exposure to. They break down Rookie’s specific brand of feminism and the way the magazine idealized a certain vision of girlhood. They also talk about the attitudes the magazine encouraged its young female readers to adopt about their sexualities, and the unintended consequences or harms this may have caused, especially in light of an essay Gevinson wrote earlier this year, revealing that she has come to understand one of her formative relationships as sexually abusive. In accordance with the name of the show, Alexi, Biz, and Sam explore how Rookie played a role in their former identities as self-styled “nymphets,” and whether that approach to girlhood and sexuality may have been misguided. Ultimately, they consider whether Rookie’s successes outweigh its shortcomings. The podcast feels like a special kind of oral history — a document that is both definitive and personal.
You can find more about Nymphet Alumni on Spotify or on their website: https://nymphetalumni.transistor.fm/.