The Tavi Problem


It’s taken me a long time to gather my courage to address the Tavi Problem.   As her celebrity increases, I keep wondering why nobody brings up the subject of autism.

Aspergers Syndrome is a condition on the autistic spectrum, often characterized by a high IQ and an intense preoccupation with a specialized field of interest. In children, Aspergers can be especially endearing. A young person animated by a passion for learning, even if it’s about vacuum cleaners, is a pleasure to be around. As the mom of a kid who attends a special needs school, I’ve come to recognize signs of Aspergers from a mile off, and I’ve come to appreciate the quirky brainy kids that my son hangs out with.

Tavi strikes me as a kid with Aspergers whose obsession dovetails perfectly with the zeitgeist, i.e. the burgeoning influence of bloggers and the fashion industry’s desperation to appear ‘fresh’ and appeal to new markets.   Her extraordinary knowledge of fashion is mind boggling and she clearly has a prodigious memory for details. Gregory Evans has a similar understanding of vacuum cleaners, a gift that has earned him some notoriety but unfortunately not the same outpouring of love that Tavi has received.

Here is what Rodarte sister Kate Mulleavy says of Tavi: “When spending time with Tavi, I am always astonished by her observations. Tavi is a writer in every sense. Her way of interacting with the world comes from a sensitivity and madness that belongs to poets and bank robbers.”

My goodness! Poets and bank robbers?! I worry that Tavi is the Flavor of the Month, and that when the fashion world grows tired of her it will be a difficult transition. I hope her parents know what they’re doing.

My purpose in this discussion is not to diminish Tavi’s achievement but to suggest that using the term Aspergers Syndrome or even autism would help to dispel the notion that those on the spectrum are retarded or stupid. It would encourage other gifted kids to pursue their interests, full steam ahead.

I’m prepared to be scolded for daring to label everyone’s little darling, who is only thirteen. But it’s a label I use with affection and admiration. I’d like to see more kids and adults identify themselves as being on the spectrum. I’d like to see the end of the stigma that persists. As for the Rodarte sisters, I’m pretty sure they have Aspergers too.

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84 Responses to The Tavi Problem

  1. tin lizzie says:

    Okay a boatload of eccentric thrown in.

  2. Bevitron says:

    Sister Woof your blog is always so interesting. And such erudite readers! And I’m not being sarky, neither (it’s easy to read sarcasm where there is none, or t’other way around, in print, seems like). I didn’t know who in the hell Tavi was, either! Never heard of her! I’m too busy taking vacuum cleaners apart and cataloguing my metronome collection. As far as Asperger’s or autism goes, I don’t care. I mean I REALLY don’t care – people with issues, conditions, ailments, whatever, are just some of the most amazing and interesting among us. But I do see your point.

    I just love all this fashion talk. I know nothing! Except that learning about it this way, reading these seasoned & jaded opinions of the fashion savvy, is kinda like starting to learn algebra or something in the middle of the book. Hey, is there such a thing as a fashion style that just looks like you haven’t done your laundry in a month? If there is, how would somebody know that I’m doing that or that I haven’t done my laundry? I ask because I haven’t done my laundry.

  3. Sister Wolf says:

    tin lizzie – I didn’t read or see Atonement, but I love me a true eccentric!

    Bevitron – It’s comforting to know you’re still here, Bevitron. In a horrible twist of fate, my clothes dryer broke tonight, so no laundry for me either.

  4. hammie says:

    I want to read all your comments but I have to take my 2 AUTISTIC KIDS to school.

    sis; singularity and focus are tools for the good of all mankind.

    I prefer to see it as a superpower – I use my Aspergers and Hyperactivity to achieve without being aware of the nuance of politics or what people are really saying when they are not.

    Just as long as Everybody ELSE can learn acceptance and tolerance of eccentricity – then we Aspies can get on with saving the world. xx

  5. Constance says:

    I think it’s dangerous to label people, with absolutely no background information. All we know for a fact is that she’s indeed a very smart kid, but that’s it, a kid.I do not like her blog, because for someone that likes and understands fashion so much, she seems completely unaware that those adult clothes she covets so much, look perfectly awful on her. It’s like a kid playing “grown ups”. Plus she knows she’s different so she decided to see herself as a quirky teenage character of some indie movie . It’s forced and uninteresting.

  6. Chip Smith says:

    Sister Wolf,

    Have you seen the documentary “Waiting for Hockney,” about the portrait artist, Billy Pappas? Watching him speak and interact with others, I got the sense that he was a high functioning case. The possibility is especially interesting given his unique anti-gestalt approach to portraiture.

  7. Jill says:

    I’m glad to see you back on my big-boobed blog. I missed you!

  8. aine says:

    hey, i really like tavi’s blog and have been reading it for close on a year, but i clearly haven’t been paying a huge amount of attention. I missed out on her extraordinary memory for fashion and prodigious attention to detail evident in her blog. I’ll admit she’s extremely well read on fashion but not to some uncanny degree, it doesn’t seem like it couldn’t be learned from google. That’s not to denigrate her achievement, she’s obviously a bright kid with an immense amount of passion and focus. But maybe not the fashion savant she’s made out to be by the press and other bloggers

  9. Iron Chic says:

    Okay, is a Tavi “backlash” really necessary?

    This is getting a bit ridiculous….
    Also, you should see Atonement! Beautiful and haunting….

  10. hammie says:

    Read this Natasja

    And no, DSM-IV-TR (expected 2012) will include Aspergers in the autism spectrum surely???? it will just be part of the huge range of diagnosis rather than specified. I mean Kanner, And Hans were kind of working on the same thing at the same time were they not? xx

    ps. Jenny McCarthy is a stupid dangerous cunt.

  11. caitlin says:

    I’m not sure whether I agree with you or not. Part of me thinks that Asperger’s would make a lot of sense in her case, but I also get the feeling that it might be… premature to actually say with any kind of certainty that she has it. I am roughly Tavi’s age, and I feel like more & more people I know seem as though they are a little bit autistic. I think it’s a side effect of being so surrounded by technology. As a generation, we’ve lost our ability to relate to people, and the stigma of being intelligent or having a strong interest in a particular subject is fading.

  12. Oh i love that kid. But sometimes one forgets how to be just a kid. When i was 13 i don’t know anything about how to dress myself. My focus are mainly cartoons, seeing my cousins on the weekends and hating all adults.

    Tavi is a genius! But i think she’s growing up too fast and too early.


  13. Anonymous#2 says:

    Ok, ok Natasja you can win if you want to. I”m surprised you didn’t end your comment with ‘oh snap!’

  14. I’m just relieved to hear that you also hate Jenny McCarthy, Sister!
    And I’m a big fan of armchair diagnosis. If anyone needs their mental illness diagnosed, I’m happy to oblige.

  15. anonymous says:

    This is just one big argument.
    Let’s count to five.
    5 caaaalm
    This post is ridiculous, let’s go have some pudding.

  16. Sister Wolf says:

    Hammie – Amen.

    Constance – Agree about the self-irony thing.

    Chip Smith – I will check it out, thanks! xo

    Jill – xoxoxo

    aine – Well, to me her references like “It remonds me of the bla bla bla spring 05 collection but less architectural” strike me as WTF?!?

    Iron Chic – what goes up, must come down. A backlash isn’t fun for anyone, her parents are not on the job!!!!! (I’ll try to see Atonement)

    Hammie – complete cunt.

    caitlin – Well, autism is a spectrum, after all. I think that people having kids in middle age is also part of the rise in autism (just a theory…dads over age 40 have a very elevated chance of having autistic kids)

    Denise – Hating adults, yes! She is totally missing out on that!

    anonymous #2 – Natasja has gone back to her corner.

    Iheartfashion – HAHAHAHAHAHA!

    anonymous – Let’s see you write a better post!

  17. andrea says:

    You know, I was thinking that most of us are pre-internet, where, we had to go to the library or a bookstore, or a museum, or wait for a monthly magazine to come out to satiate our appetite for all things fashion, especially avant garde fashion. Just go online, and if you want to know everything about Comme des Garcons or Rei Kawakubo, it’s all there for you in a split second. I was lucky enough to grow up in NYC, where there was a lot of that on the streets. I can remember turning around to “take in” a particularly interesting style or clothing, when I passed someone on the street. Now, we take pictures of street fashion or go online to see it and learn more about it. Tavi is probably a creative child with a high IQ, and she is using the tools of her generation to pursue her interest. And when you put yourself out there with a blog or a website, you can become a worldwide sensation in the blink of an eye (or the click of a mouse). Could we all just be jealous that we didn’t have that at our disposal? It seems like if she wants a fashion job when she gets older and finishes her schooling she’s in. She has garnered the attention of a notoriously clique-y, snobby, look down at the masses-y group of people. Pretty good accomplishment for a 13 year old kid from a Chicago suburb. But I am still torn about if this is the “right” thing for a 13 year old to be doing. But that’s her parents’ job.

  18. Sister Wolf says:

    andrea – I can only speak for myself re jealousy: I’m not jealous of Tavi. I wouldn’t trade my juvenile delinquent years for anything. Including Rodarte.

  19. andrea says:

    SW- same here! If she has Rodarte $1100 tights at age 12 or 13, and several Comme des Garcons coats that cost about $2000 each, what is left for her to aspire to wearing when she gets older? Not jealous of her, just want the clothes for free!

  20. Lainey says:

    Tavi = old news.
    … and… she looks like a homeless kid who throws shit together.
    I don’t call that style. I can also easily start to obsess over fashion overnight if I wanted to but I don’t because I have a life.

    the end

  21. Tanya says:

    My kid is 10 and he has PDD NOS (Autistic spectrum). High functioning but you know. Regular school but special class. Obsessed with dinosaurs. I’m relieved to see other people’s opinions of Jenny McCarthy. “Oh, I cured my kid’s autism!” Stupid twat!!!

  22. Mark says:

    If I were 13, I’d want Tavi to be my best friend. She could be my chemistry lab partners and we could talk about the virtues of Junya Watanabe. She’s a good writer and seems happy with herself. Her attention could turn from fashion to particle physics at any moment, though.

  23. Aja says:

    I think Tavi’s going to be a okay. She seems to have a good head on her shoulders. I do find it interesting how other bloggers have glommed on to her though, biting at the heels of her youthful fame.

  24. Catherina says:

    I understand and appreciate the point you’re trying to make RE: dispelling the stigma surrounding Autisim and Aspergers, but I can’t agree with the quasi-factual tone of the post.

    You remark in the comments that you “make assumptions”, yet the whole post, aside from perhaps one or two ambiguous statements, seems to assert that there is no shadow of a doubt about the ‘diagnosis’.

    From the first paragraph you assert that the ‘Tavi Problem’ is that Autism isn’t being discussed, and the remainder of the post laments the stigma whilst singing her praises…the ones that just so happen to be indicators of Aspergers…but what if she’s not actually Autistic? What if she’s just incredibly intelligent and precocious and a little bit eccentric (a combination that, contrary to popular belief, isn’t exceptionally rare for teenagers.) Would there still a problem with regards to her supposedly inevitable post-celeb fallout?

    Wait, what exactly was the ‘Tavi Problem’ meant to be?

  25. Dru says:

    ^Aja: what exactly are you referring to? And which other bloggers are glomming Tavi (I have a feeling I don’t understand what glomming is, glomping on the other hand…..)
    Not sure why people are so fussed though, but one of the great things about the Internet is that a smart, creative young person was able to use it to get herself to a place where, ten years ago, it’d have taken a parent’s famous last name to get her in. And it’s not just Tavi, even Susie, Queen Michelle, Rumi et al, they’ve done it despite the lack of initial connections (though they have major ones now), and they seem largely unaffected by the hype.

  26. Aja says:

    Eh, it doesn’t matter Dru. Just something I found interesting.

  27. alemonhead says:

    hmmmm…how about Tavi is a total frued created by her parents? or some other authority figure in her life? anyone think of that?

  28. firefly says:

    Now this is late, but I think she knows the novelty of fashion. She stated before that she hasn’t made up her mind about what she wants to be as an adult, and she seems very smart and capable.

  29. Ash says:

    Who the fuck do you think you are?

  30. Sister Wolf says:

    Ash – I’m a blogger exercising my freedom of expression. Who the fuck do you think YOU are?

  31. Lexi says:

    This is an old article, sorry for commenting so late, but this post absolutely angers me. Aspergers and autism is becoming a joke, a label for intelligent kids, introverts and people who don’t conform. Autism is a very serious disorder, and instead is seen as a joy or an adorable quirk. This is not to say that autistic kids aren’t a joy to be around. They certainly are. I’ve always had a passion for the mentally ill and the learning disabled, and I love autistic children. However I am starting to notice that autism is becoming a fad that’s labeled towards children who are a bit more intelligent or introverted than average, even if they really don’t have that much difficulty adjusting. People with aspergers and autism have difficulty adjusting to society. It’s not an adorable quirk. It’s a disorder.

    I feel that you slapping the label on Tavi is ridiculous. Tavi is an intelligent girl. She obviously is not like most people her age. She was a feminist at just 14 and seems to have a refreshing but uncanny insight that is rare for her age. She has a very good eye for detail and she’s very quick witted and clever. Yes, she’s different from most people her age. That does not signify autism at all. I also agree with another commenter that she does not seem to be the fashion savant that others hype her as. She just seems to be an intellectual, someone who does a lot of research and has a passion. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

    Autism obsessions are nothing like normal obsessions, but I have noticed that people can’t seem to distinguish the differences between the two. Having a passion you devote a lot of your time to and know a lot about is not always an earmark of aspergers syndrome. I, for example, am in love with animation. It’s the the point where I actually watch cartoons more than live action, know a lot about current cartoons and their characters and certain voice actors and so on. However, it’s not to the point where I lose all sight of other things. It’s not to the point where it’s all I talk about and seem to not be able to tell when people aren’t interested in me. I don’t drive people away because of an interest I bring up during inappropriate times. It’s not autism. It’s an interest I have. Lots of people have interests they know a lot about and can tell you a lot about, but it doesn’t make every single one of them autistic. If your interest actually interferes with your life, it’s autism. If it doesn’t, it’s not.

    That’s the thing with Tavi. None of us actually know her. All we know is she loves fashion, has a blog, and devotes her time to it. Does it actually get in the way of her trying new things? Is it to the point where it’s all she talks about, even if other people are bored of listening to her? Does she lose sight of all other things? Does she have tantrums or get upset if she cannot pursue her interests? None of us know that. All we know is she likes fashion. There’s not enough details to tell if she is just smart and passionate or if she’s bordering the autism spectrum.

    You might not like my opinions on aspergers syndrome because I’m not looking at it in a positive light. It has it’s strengths, but it also has many weakness. You’re only focusing on the positives in a way that almost all children could apply to the autism label. The problem is with posts like this is that you are creating a stigma. You’re creating a stigma that autism is not that serious. It’s something that intelligent, creative children have, and as true as that may be, you are glossing over the issues of autism. Posts like this make people take autism way less seriously because they see it as something highly successful, intelligent people who adjust well in life have and then think “aspergers isn’t real. It’s just a label for intelligent people who don’t fit in”. While aspergers kids are very intelligent, they have a lot of problems and setbacks and struggles. If they didn’t, then aspergers syndrome wouldn’t be a disorder that requires treatment. Sadly way too many people are seeing aspergers as not an issue (I see many people say it’s not a bad thing and that it’s not a big deal, ect. ect.) but a fun label like introvert. It’s disgusting because there are kids with temper tantrums, sensory issues severe obsessive symptoms that get them stuck in a rut, and an inability to function and make friends, and yet they’re getting swept under the rug because people are over diagnosing kids who are just a bit “different” with autism. It’s annoying.

    This is not to say that Tavi doesn’t have aspergers. Who knows. Maybe she does. However, you have no information on Tavi. You don’t know how high strung and rigid her obsession with fashion is. You don’t know what her social skills are like. The thing is however is that Tavi is a smart kid who seems to be doing well. I don’t know why you titled this “The Tavi Problem”. Tavi isn’t controversial, she doesn’t seem to be struggling or having any issues or problems. If she is, that is for her parents to deal with, not for you to freak out over. Really, she just seems like an intelligent, creative kid. Aspergers or not, she doesn’t seem to be struggling, so I don’t know why you’re considered. Aspergers doesn’t need to be brought up. Stop labeling every minor quirk and let people be people. Seriously.

  32. Sister Wolf says:

    Lexi – I disagree. Seriously. I can recommend a talk by Tim Page, a Pulizer prize winning music critic, who has Asperger’s :

  33. Max says:

    Am I the only one to actually think trying to diagnose people when you’re not qualified for it and forcing labels on people (some who don’t identify as aspies) can increase the stigma and in fact comes from the stigma and stereotypes? It’s not like just /suggesting/ to the person so they might learn a bit about AS. People aren’t saying mental illness is bad, but misdiagnosing it is, or forcing the person to identify with the diagnosis whether or not it is made by a professional. Or worse, talk aside from the person and tell to people that they are increasing the stigma by saying that it is bad to do such thing. I identify with my having AS but people have forced me to identify with a misdiagnosis (professionals and family+teachers) or with an idea they just had (teachers), or kept identifying me as such, and it did a lot of bad to me, because it wasn’t me or who I am. It did as much bad to me as the stigma linked to AS and depression, it’s just as much ableist and sanist, except it is exceptionalist or like you were a fun plushie or “they want to help you” so you have no say in who your are (see how it comes from stigma? you have no say in your identity because of your identity as mentally ill. you are mentally ill so you can’t know how you are mentally ill, and if you want to say anything you are increasing the stigma even if you are in danger. how condescending.)
    For a lot of these things, they never talked directly to me about it and I only deduced after a long time. For others I tried to explain but they wouldn’t listen.
    Now obviously for Tavi, she don’t know you, but imagine if you were her family or teachers, the bad it could have done if she don’t actually have AS.
    Whoever you are you don’t know better than the person who /they/ are!
    And it’s really insulting to title that “The Tavi Problem” and then talk about stigma… because it’s not a problem not knowing if she is on the spectrum or not. And she is not “someone’s little darling”, children are their own persons.

  34. Christine says:

    As the mother of 2X teen girls with Aspergers. I asked this question myself when I saw Tavis speech.
    I dont know why people are taking offense to this at all?.

    Max… AS isnt mental illness. It is a “disorder” and just like my child who is A LOT like Tavi says “its an ABILITY” not a “disability”

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