As the groundbreaking women’s lifestyle magazine and website enter their 26th year, the nation lurches toward some dystopian sexist right-wing fantasy. Happily, the same hip, humorous and honest spirit that has kept BUST going still prevails. PKM’s Amy Haben speaks with BUST co-founder Laurie Henzel.
In a time where Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale feels terrifyingly capable of becoming a reality, we need strong women and understanding men to represent. Alabama just passed a law banning abortion, even on rape survivors; doctors face up to 99 years in prison for performing the procedure. Our president has spoken about grabbing women by their genitalia and sex workers are considered non-human by certain pockets of law enforcement. At the same time, gender equality has become an on-trend topic with our youth. This battle for respect has been a constant since Adam and Eve.
In the early 1990s, Anita Hill stood up to Clarence Thomas during the latter’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing while Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” was being blasted on every angsty girl’s stereo.
Fittingly, BUST magazine, based in Brooklyn, was conceived in 1993. After meeting her feminist, co-conspirator Debbie Stoller, while working at Nickelodeon, Laurie Henzel began the journey of creating a new kind of magazine for women. It’s not the one that tells you how to drop the weight, or please your man. There are no features about the $5,000 skirt that you MUST have or the rules of manipulation that will trick him into proposing to you. Instead, they set out to empower women, whether it be in the workplace, mirror, or bedroom.
Every issue of BUST is fun, quirky, cool and artistic while also sending a strong message. The premiere issue featured essays on social injustice, including one that mentioned New Jersey punks kicking a homeless man during a moment of failed humanity.
BUST in now published six times a year in print and maintains a blog that is constantly updated. These days, you will find an eloquent article on body acceptance next to a quiz on Chloe Sevigny’s favorite beauty aids. Over the years, BUST has morphed from a D.I.Y. zine into a glossy lifestyle magazine featuring musicians like Erykah Badu, Iggy Pop, and Gary Clark Jr. as well as major actors and comedians. How could you pass by an article which asks, “What Kind Of Slut Are You?,” or resist diving into the images taken by a photographer who snaps them with her vagina? It’s impossible.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Bust magazine.
Amy Haben spoke with BUST co-founder Laurie Henzel.
“The whole thing about Bust was it was a reaction to women’s magazines. We looked at women’s magazines and felt gross. They made us feel bad about ourselves. They are designed to do that… We wanted to make a magazine that was the opposite of that.”
PKM: Tell me about yourself. Where did you grow up?
Laurie Henzel: I grew up in Ossining, New York, which is in the suburbs. Home of Sing Sing prison.
PKM: Ha ha! Claim to fame.
Laurie Henzel: Yeah. I always knew I wanted to be an artist as a kid. I was pretty smart as a seven-year-old. I knew I totally bought into the idea that artists are poor. I didn’t want to be poor so I thought I’d be in graphic design or advertising or something. I watched Bewitched and, ya know, the husband, what was his name? Darren. He was in advertising. Then when I was a teenager and I found out that advertising was disgusting, I turned to graphic design. I thought, “This is cool. This is where I wanna be.” I went to Parsons School of Design. I always wanted to start a magazine and I said to my friends, “Let’s start a magazine. Let’s start a magazine.” Nobody really knew how to do that, so I put it on the back burner. I worked many graphic design jobs. I worked at some small design groups. I did freelance paste ups and mechanicals, which is what we did before we had computers. It was like production work. I actually worked at Spin for a while and Rolling Stone. It’s funny, when I worked at Spin, it was during the same time that Legs was writing for Spin.
PKM: Oh cool. Is that when you met him?
Laurie Henzel: I met him once then. I don’t really know him though. Anyway, that was in the 1990s. I worked at Nickelodeon. It was a shitty job. I basically just put orange logos on stuff.
I worked with two other women, who were Debbie Stoller and Marcelle Karp. They said, “We have this idea for a zine. We don’t really know what zines are, but we should get all our friends together to contribute and make this thing. Since I was a graphic designer, they asked if I wanted to help them. They were all writers. So the first issue (of BUST) was of all of their writer friends writing one essay each. I contributed by doing some drawings. They actually had a different designer for this one, a woman named Michelle Williams, who also worked at Nickelodeon. This first issue was xeroxed and stapled at work late at night.
PKM: At Nickelodeon?
Laurie Henzel: Yes.
PKM: Ha. Cute.
Laurie Henzel: There used to be a little zine store called See Hear, on 7th Street I believe, or 6th Street. So we brought some issues there and the guy was like, “This is cool but you really have to have something more substantial, you can’t have just a xeroxed copy. You need to get a real printed thing.” So I researched some printers and found one out in Queens. The second issue is actually printed properly. Two pieces that are folded with a little bit of color. Each issue we would put money into the next one. We would never make very much money on these. We didn’t have ads yet, so the one you are looking at is a reprint. We had a 25th anniversary party in August. It was really fun.
Laurie Henzel: Thanks! Erykah Badu was the DJ and she was amazing. I love her.
PKM: I love her too. She’s beyond this world. A very spiritual being. So did you grow up going to punk shows where kids were selling their zines?
Laurie Henzel: No. I didn’t have that experience. I was into comics in the 1980s. I had lived in France for two years and they are really into comics in Europe, way more than here.
PKM: What were you doing in France?
Laurie Henzel: I had spent one year of school there and I was dating a French guy and ended up staying longer. I went back after I graduated and lived there for a year. I couldn’t really work there, so it didn’t last. I was really dying to get back to New York and start my career. I was just hanging out. Hanging out with French people is really fun. Goofing off. I never made zines before making this. When we made this, zine culture was very popular.
PKM: It definitely was. What kind of comics were you into?
Laurie Henzel: I was into Peter Bagge [Hate] and the Hernandez brothers [Love and Rockets]. Some French stuff. Comics weren’t a huge influence on me but they were the closest thing to zines that I was into back then. I was never into women’s magazines so much.
PKM: Yeah, because what would you get out of it? Weight loss tips?
Laurie Henzel: Yeah. The whole thing about Bust was it was a reaction to women’s magazines. We looked at women’s magazines and felt gross. They made us feel bad about ourselves. They are designed to do that. They are designed to say, “You really need to buy this make-up, or else you’re shit.” Or, “You really need to buy these shoes because they will make you look sexy to guys.” We wanted to make a magazine that was the opposite of that. Where girls could say, “This is cool. I’m interested in this music (or this writer or this concept.)” More than just fashion or beauty. Which is what most women’s magazines are doing.
PKM: I’m so glad you started this because while I was growing up, many of my girlfriends would talk about wanting to start something like this, but it never came to fruition. I would get jealous when I picked up a men’s magazine like Details, which had cool articles about music or ideas. They didn’t have articles shoved down their throat called, “How to please your woman.” Or, “How to have six pack abs.” They were treated like human beings with interests. These days women’s magazines are just one huge ad. It’s worse than it used to be. Much less content.
Laurie Henzel: Right and that’s sort of the business model too. We were actually inspired by Sassy magazine. Did you like Sassy? You seem like you would. How old are you?
PKM: Yeah! I’m thirty-nine.
Laurie Henzel: Yeah, it was around during the 1990s. It was for teenagers. We were in our late twenties when it was popular. We thought Sassy was pretty cool. It didn’t talk down to girls. So we thought we should do something that was kind of like Sassy, but for older women.
PKM: And maybe a step further than Sassy.
Laurie Henzel: Yeah. Sassy was still kind of a fashion magazine.
PKM: Would you say that BUST always made a point of putting a female on the cover?
Laurie Henzel: Yes and no. The magazine is obviously for women and by women. The writers have almost always been women. Occasionally, we have a guy write for us. We used to do a Men We Love issue every now and again. We haven’t done one in a while and I actually love those issues. That one would be all guys. It’s sad with the Me Too movement, there really hasn’t been any guys we wanted to put on the cover. We almost always have at least one guy per issue, it’s called the Boy Du Jour page. We used to do entire issues on men. Usually it’s a lot of comedians or music people. We had Tim and Eric in there. I interviewed Iggy twice for the magazine because I love him.
PKM: Oh really? Did those interviews exceed your expectations?
Laurie Henzel: Yes. He’s a lovely person. I love him.
PKM: Looking through your magazine, I love all of these articles so far. (Both flipping through BUST)
Laurie Henzel: Oooh, this is so fucking cool. I met this lady at a photography thing. She makes a tiny… A pinhole camera. It’s an old-fashioned way to make a camera. You get a piece of cardboard and stick a hole in it and the reflection comes in. She makes a pinhole camera, sticks it in her vagina and takes pictures of her lovers… with her vagina! (Slams table) This is the most fucking cool, feminist thing I’ve ever heard of in my life. You win the prize. How amazing is that!
PKM: Yeah, this had to be in BUST…
Laurie Henzel: It reacts to light, so the lights are off, she sticks that thing in her vagina, turns the lights on, opens her legs… Then develops the film.
PKM: Wow! These are so artistic as well.
Laurie Henzel: They are super abstract. Take this and read that article. Her name is Dani Lessnau.
PKM: Supposedly, there are eight women to every man in New York City which is a great thing for feminism because these smart, young women moved here after college to start their careers. Yet, it’s a bad thing for dating. This is why you see many twenty-something women everywhere. The opposite is happening in California due to the tech industry, which is male dominated.
Laurie Henzel: I’m also encouraged that more women are getting into government. That will be a game changer for laws.
“I have to say that one great thing about getting older is that I don’t get cat called anymore. I feel more invisible now, which is kinda great… When I was younger, I would yell back or spit at them.”
PKM: Have you ever thought about running for city council?
Laurie Henzel: Hell no!
PKM: It’s a lot of work. You have to get a lot of money together. The ideas are the easy part. I thought about it.
Laurie Henzel: There are ways to get involved on a lower level. I have a friend that does it on the side of his job. You work your way up. You could make more money than I do if you do it. Haha!
PKM: Even though it’s 2019, I’ve had friends say to me, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a feminist or anything…” I told them, “You’re a woman. You should believe in women’s rights.” I can’t believe people still think it’s a dirty word.
Laurie Henzel: You’re like, “Back up…” When someone says that to me, and they do all the time, all I say is, “Do you believe that a man should be paid the same amount as a woman for doing the same job?” If they say, “Yes,” I say, “Congratulations, you are a feminist.” It’s that simple.
PKM: That is a great way to break it down simply for people to understand.
Laurie Henzel: “Do you believe that there is sexism in the world?” They answer, “Yes,” and I say, “You’re a feminist.” For some reason, I think in the 1970s, it was painted as a terrible thing. It meant that you hate men.
PKM: Right. A bad connotation was attached to the word.
Laurie Henzel: That’s not our thing. That’s why we always have a man in every issue.
PKM: You love men.
Laurie Henzel: Haha! We love men too.
PKM: My friends that said that are also female tattooers. I wanted to tell them that they themselves are helping women and breaking down barriers by working in a male-dominated industry.
Laurie Henzel: And if it wasn’t for feminism, believe me, they wouldn’t be allowed to have that job. We kinda wanted to make feminism cool and I believe we succeeded. Usually, when people pick up BUST, they feel like, “This is what feminism is? Cool.” I love producing historical pieces. It’s very interesting to look back at what women were doing so long ago. This article we put out on Female Satanists was really interesting, I think it was an interesting take. You know taking it back from Christianity.
PKM: In 1993, three people were working on the magazine and you sold it to your friends. When did you get it into stores?
Laurie Henzel: Early on we got it into that zine store. We didn’t get it to a distributor until the mid-to-late ‘90s. It was a gradual, organic growth. The second issue was on newsprint. Inside was black and white, and the cover was magenta and black. We could only afford two colors then. For the third issue, we did four colors but still only black and white on the inside. Eventually, we got to where we are now, full color. We are very conservative. The reason why Bust still exists is because we don’t spend a lot of money. If we can figure out how to do something on our own, we will. We didn’t blow our wad. The paper is high quality now.
PKM: Yeah, this is very glossy and slick. When the internet came about, did that help you or hurt you?
Laurie Henzel: I would say overall the internet has hurt print a lot. This is where people used to get their news from: newspapers and magazines. You went out and you bought one every day.
PKM: I still like a physical copy. Maybe it’s because I’m older.
Laurie Henzel: Yeah, me too. It’s tough. It’s not a sustainable business. People need to write this stuff, people need to take photographs, people need to make the illustrations. These people need to get paid. Giving it away for free on the internet doesn’t help. The ads don’t bring in much revenue. I think a lot of the websites that are popular now are just running on investor fumes.
PKM: When the three of you started hiring other people, how did that process work?
Laurie Henzel: It was all volunteer in the beginning because we weren’t making money. We all had day jobs. I also have two kids, so this was what we all did on the side. It wasn’t until the year 2000, when we were bought by an internet company, that we were able to get paid and get insurance. We had a lot of interns. As soon as we got money, if they were good, we hired those interns. Emily Rims, who was our managing editor, she’s been with us for 19 years, was an intern. Meredith, my art person, was an intern. Cali was also an intern.
PKM: That’s the way it should be because they were formerly devoting their time for either nothing or a little bit of money.
Laurie Henzel: It’s the best way to get to know someone. You see how they work and you think about how amazing they are.
PKM: As far as the creative process, do you ladies sit around that one big table you have in the office and throw around ideas?
Laurie Henzel: Yes. We all pitch, so even the art department is in their pitching. Then we all vote. Who wants so and so on the cover? Then they raise their hands and then we make a list and reach out to that person. Then we have to ask their publicist if they want to be on the cover and most times they say no. Eventually, you get someone. Like, we can’t get Beyonce and she’s our number one. Haha!
PKM: The Broad City ladies were into it, though, right?
Laurie Henzel: Yeah, they were into it. We have different slots. We have the real life section, the craft section, the newsy section, and the fashion.
PKM: I love your fashion section. Vegan leather jackets. That’s right up my alley. I’m all about animal rights. What’s also cool about this magazine is that I love fashion, but I don’t have millions of dollars to buy what’s in the pages of Vogue.
Laurie Henzel: Right. Even if you had that kind of money, you don’t need a $4,000 handbag. Buy a $200 handbag, and if you have that extra money, do something good with it. People will probably kill me for saying that, but I just think it’s wasteful.
PKM: It’s wasteful and I just think people don’t think about the fact that there are starving people in the world. Give the rest to charity.
Laurie Henzel: Right. I also think it’s sort of sad when I see people who don’t make a lot of money at their jobs wasting money on expensive stuff. It’s like, “Girl, you’re gonna have to retire someday. Put that shit aside.”
PKM: I know a few women like that. I love a cover girl of yours, Aidy Bryant. Her new show, Shrill, is so funny and honest. The female trainer who body shames Aidy in the show is so real.
Laurie Henzel: Yeah, the writers on that show are amazing. I’m sure that experience really happened to Lindy, the woman who wrote the book.
PKM: The comments about how there is a skinny girl trapped inside her fat body and Aidy is just trying to be nice (as most of us are trained to do) but then finally has enough of the woman hounding her and tells her off. This happens to people often. Being judged and evaluated by perfect strangers.
Laurie Henzel: Yeah, its terrible.
PKM: Many of the models in this story, “Let’s Get Physical,” in BUST are beautiful and plus-sized. I think many women can identify with these models. We go to the gym every day but we are still an eight instead of a size two.
Laurie Henzel: An eight and even a six is considered plus size in the modeling world. When we have to get clothes for people, the easiest sizes to get are two and four. There are more plus labels coming out, thank god, but it’s hard.
PKM: My friend Alexis opened a store called Plus Brooklyn and it’s super trendy, fun clothing. There are only a few plus size boutique stores in all of NYC, yet over seventy percent of Americans are overweight.
Laurie Henzel: I believe it.
PKM: I like this article, “What Kind Of Slut Are You?”
Laurie Henzel: Yeah, this one was really fun. The answers are all, “You’re a slut.” But in a good way, ya know?
PKM: That word was made up by a man but women have taken it back and call each other that word playfully, I feel.
Laurie Henzel: Reclaiming it.
PKM: How about ads? What kind of things do you sell?
Laurie Henzel: It’s always a challenge. The only thing we have ever turned down was a breast augmentation and vaginal rejuvenation. We aren’t taking an ad for that. Leave your vagina alone. Your vagina is fine.
PKM: Hahaha! Also a bit opposite of the point, I think.
Laurie Henzel: If someone wants to get breast surgery, that’s 100% fine, but we don’t want to have ads for it. It would just seem like we are promoting it. We have alcohol and cigarette ads, which isn’t ideal. I can’t turn much down because I have to pay the bills. Some music related ads…
PKM: Which one is your favorite issue so far?
Laurie Henzel: I really loved this one (the 25th anniversary issue of BUST) because I got to go to Erykah Badu’s house and spend the day with her and it was a magical day and I love her so much. I also love how this cover came out.
PKM: Where does she live?
Laurie Henzel: In Dallas. I’m not a writer but occasionally if someone that I really love comes along, I’ll try and interview them. I’ve interviewed Iggy twice. I’ve interviewed Marianne Faithful once. She was really funny and very cool. I interviewed Josh Homme, I’m a huge fan. He’s a cool guy. There was an unfortunate incident with him last year where he kicked a photographer, but I don’t think he meant to do it.
PKM: Do you ladies write about the “Me Too” Movement?
Laurie Henzel: Yeah, on our blog. Our blog is more timely, what ever is happening in the news that day. Where the magazine is more lifestyle. We can get a little political in there, but it has more interviews with people. Leading up to the election, we did a bunch of political stuff. I’m sure we will do that again leading up to the next election, because it’s so important.
PKM: Where were you and what happened to you during the last election?
Laurie Henzel: I was with some friends and the night kept getting worse and worse and worse. I was drinking and at one point my friend came out of her bedroom with a plate full of drugs, I think it was Xanax. I just said give me that, I just want to go to sleep. Because I was thinking, “Maybe if I sleep, something is gonna happen in the middle of the night and it’s gonna flip. Then I woke up and it was not better. I don’t think I should get into it, but I’m still really angry about the election. I was very pro Hillary and most of our audience was not pro Hillary and I just thought, “Don’t you get it, Bernie is not in the picture anymore. You need to come around.” A lot of them didn’t and that’s fucking insane. We could have had a perfectly competent person and now we have an insane moron who lies in every sentence. Today he said he never heard of WikiLeaks. Haha!
PKM: Did you hear that the Republicans in Texas are trying to make it legal to murder every woman who has an abortion in their state?
Laurie Henzel: The Republicans are bringing up insane bills so that it can go all the way up to the Supreme Court. It’s part of their gameplan to do this. They want to get rid of Roe v Wade, it’s their number one agenda.
PKM: You have two children correct? Boys or girls?
Laurie Henzel: Yes. Two daughters. They are 24 and 21 now.
PKM: Having raised girls, have they gone through things that made you angry or surprised you?
Laurie Henzel: Sadly, I have seen my daughters deal with the same kind of shit that I had to deal with as a teenager. So that’s depressing because we have had all this feminism, yet that hasn’t changed. I feel like raising boys would be hard too. How do you teach boys to not be sexist pigs? That would be a challenge. I feel like why is it always on us? Why is it on girls to not get raped? Let’s teach boys not to rape. That’s a whole other conversation. Boys are brutal to each other. That must be terrorizing for them. There is testosterone, so you could blame it on that, but why are boys like they are? We are so different.
Do you believe that a man should be paid the same amount as a woman for doing the same job?” If they say, “Yes,” I say, “Congratulations, you are a feminist.” It’s that simple.
PKM: Being from California, I wasn’t used to catcalling from guys on the street. Living here, I’ve gone from putting my head down and ignoring them to yelling back and cursing. Recently, I’ve been turning around and calmly explaining that women don’t like being disrespected like that. I learned this trick from a professor friend. Now I get apologies because they’re forced to see me as a human being. How do you deal with catcalls?
Laurie Henzel: I have to say that one great thing about getting older is that I don’t get cat called anymore. I feel more invisible now, which is kinda great. If I’m wearing a dress or a skirt, guys will say something, but I mainly wear pants. When I was younger, I would yell back or spit at them. That was my thing.
PKM: Oooh, that’s cool. I like that.
Laurie Henzel: I remember being scared, though, when they’d chase me. You never know. One time I mouthed off at a Hells Angel on Third Street when I was on my bike. He was saying shit to my friend and I said, “You fucking pig!” Then all of a sudden, I hear, “Laurie, Laurie, look out!” I turn, and he’s chasing me down the street with a baseball bat and he whacked the wheel of my bike. I went flying on to the ground and the wheel was bent and I got up and ran away. After that, I thought maybe I shouldn’t mouth off to them.
PKM: Especially, on that street. Haha!
Laurie Henzel: It sucks that we have to be afraid of men sometimes.
PKM: I especially get mad when I see a woman get harassed near me. I was on the subway and an older man started commenting on a woman’s legs and I saw her instantly get scared and put her head down. Then he said, “You have nice legs too.” So I just calmly explained that we don’t want to hear his comments and that it’s actually called sexual harassment. Then I told him that I’m not angry at him but, next time he should think it in his head but not verbalize it. He was very sweet actually and apologized and said he was just trying to give a complement. When I stepped out of the subway, I felt like feminist Wonder Woman, defending those who don’t have a voice of their own.
Laurie Henzel: I’ve already seen sexism happen in the Democratic nominees.
PKM: Oh, really?
Laurie Henzel: I feel like people don’t write about Kamala Harris as much as they write about Beto (O’ Rourke), because he’s hot. He’s the cool guy who was in a punk band. Everyone is like, “Oooh, who’s this?”
Elizabeth Warren is a badass and knows everything, but people are like, “We don’t want grandma, we want sexy punk rock guy.” So we’ll see.
PKM: What’s next for BUST?
Laurie Henzel: We are essentially a lifestyle, pop culture magazine. So we always have a little bit of music, pop culture…I do think leading up to the next election, we will have to do some more political stuff. We just have to fucking make sure people vote, ya know? No matter what. Our audience is mainly young people, so that will be coming down the pike I’m sure. We also have events. We have Craftacular’s. People sell crafts, we have DJ’s, shopping, and people can take classes. There is witchy stuff, new age things, to crafts. We wouldn’t be able to have this magazine without the Craftacular’s. We make enough money to help fund this. When the advertising started to drop, we started doing these events to make up for the loss.
We also have an event planned for July 13, called Zero Waste. http://zerowaste.bust.com/
PKM: Can you tell me a bit about your partner Debbie?
Laurie Henzel: Debbie Stoller is the more academic feminist. She’s really smart. She has a PhD from Yale in psychology and women’s studies. Together we make a good team, kind of a Yin and a Yang. Our staff refers to us as mom and dad.
PKM: Is she dad?
Laurie Henzel: No. I’m dad! I don’t understand why I’m dad. I want to be mom!
PKM: Yeah! Everyone wants to be mom.
Laurie Henzel: I oversee the money stuff. I think I’m cool dad, though. It depends on what kind of family you come from. In my family, my dad was real strict and my mom was more, “Whatever.” I’m definitely more “Whatever.” Debbie runs our website, she’s a coder. She knows math really well and has written a bunch of books about knitting.
PKM: If someone wants to buy BUST regularly, where do they find it?
Laurie Henzel: We are at Barnes & Noble and some cool bookstores. We are at Whole Foods as well. The bigger bookstores carry us. You can also go on www.Bust.com or come to one of our events and pick up a free magazine. That’s a good way to get familiar with what we do.