Debbie Stoller is the savvy
older sister I never had, the compellingly cool best friend
I always wanted, and one of my heroes
. As co-founder, editor, and publisher of Bust
(“The Magazine for Women with Something to Get off Their Chests”), she has challenged the minds and touched the hearts of thousands of women (and many Bust-y men) with her inspirational and informative articles, editorials, interviews, and other writings. She has grown from a true DIY zine
ster, photocopying and stapling the first issue of the labor of love
that she started with Marcelle Karp, to a formidable businesswoman heading the mast of an independently published magazine with a circulation of over 100,000.
After paying her way through a state university, Debbie graduated from Yale University with a Ph.D. in the Psychology of Women – a subject formerly without a department at that institution. While at Yale, she and a like-minded feminist friend saw the void and created a "make-believe Psychology of Women department" and arranged to have several speakers visit the school.
Debbie left New Haven and headed to New York City, where she landed a secretarial job at the fledgling Nickelodeon. She eventually moved up in the organization to become an online content producer, but it was in the early days at Viacom that she noticed that she and her 20-something friends were reading - and thoroughly enjoying - Sassy, a magazine for teenage girls; there was no similar publication for her demographic that challenged the cultural mores and empowered girls to speak up for themselves, start their own bands and magazines, and celebrate their femininity while exerting their inner strength. So, in 1993, she and a friend she met at Nickelodeon (Karp) began to pull together what would become the first issue of Bust. Debbie and Marcelle recruited friends to contribute articles, laid the whole thing out on computers at work, photocopied and stapled the publication, and walked it around New York looking for stores to carry it. The zine was wildly successful, and for their second issue, the editors (known in print as "Celina Hex" and "Betty Boob") brought aboard Nickelodeon designer Laurie Henzel (who became "Areola") and spent $1,000 to professionally print 3,000 copies of the second issue. The zine continued to grow, with people sending in cash for copies and subscriptions and independent businesses paying for advertising.
Bust was able to develop from a handmade zine to a full-color publication (with stages involving newsprint, the eventual color cover, and then slick, shiny paper with ink other than black) by virtue of its content (which included pieces that dealt with understanding and reclaiming the word "feminist" in a fun and raunchy way, Celina and Betty’s personal two-column before-and-after accounts of their discovery and use of the Hitachi Magic Wand, an article about how to be "bad" by Courtney Love, and interviews with Thurston Moore, Iggy Pop, Ann Magnuson, and Bjork), its spirit (which is hearty and funky and full of soul, as the editors encourage submissions from readers on the next issue’s topic and respond to both fan and hate mail with grace and wisdom), and the tenacity of its founders in the face of potential disaster.
In August 2000 Bust was acquired by Razorfish Studios, who wanted to boost the publication from quarterly to 10 times a year. A staff of 7 was assembled, and things were looking good for Debbie, Marcelle, Laurie, and crew. A party was held on September 10, 2001 to celebrate the future of the magazine; the next day, of course, everything changed, and eventually the entire Bust staff was laid off by Razorfish. The media studio kept all the money from subscriptions received while it owned the magazine, and negotiations ensued about the rights to the name "Bust". Eventually, Debbie and Laurie were able to buy back their magazine and, with the support of subscribers and fans (some helped organize and attended benefits; others continue to log in daily to the Bust discussion forums at bust.com, both in solidarity and in search of interesting dialog), they were able to reestablish themselves as an independently published magazine for real women, by real women - women who unabashedly love pop culture, crafts such as knitting, and all things "girly" while defining "feminism" for themselves. Debbie serves as Editor-in-Chief and Laurie is Creative director; as publishers, they sell ads and subscriptions, look for investors, and coordinate distribution.
Aside from her work with Bust, Debbie has had a regular column at (the soon-to-be-defunct) Shift.com called "The XX Files" in which she encouraged women to have cybersex (while giving good advice about how to stay safe) and buy sex toys, described "geek girls" who like to play online games, and commented on various aspects of pop culture from an intelligent and refreshing female point of view. She has also written for the Village Voice and Ms., and she co-edited the book The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order, which is a collection of pieces from the early issues of the magazine.
All the Bust girls (and many of their compatriots, such as Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler of Bitch Magazine) have challenged my personal beliefs, introduced me to new ways of thinking and viewing the world, and exposed me to books, movies, and music that are among my favorites. But it’s Debbie Stoller whose voice speaks the loudest to me, and her passion, compassion, intelligence, and wit have given me inspiration, insight into myself, and a sense of commonality with women all over the world.
Note: Most of the information above has been gleaned from years of reading Bust, Debbie’s column at Shift.com, and interviews about her in various other publications. Some of the information came from an interview in the October 8, 1998 issue of The New Journal, which is available online at http://www.yale.edu/tnj/312/312bust.htm.