Like so many of us, Lesley Arfin has a Facebook problem. Ms. Arfin, the recently installed editor in chief of Missbehave, a lifestyle magazine for young women whose cultural touchstones (not to mention love lives) slant more towards Freaks and Geeks than Sex and the City, is a bit overwhelmed by her own popularity on the online networking site.
“Should I accept everybody? Or should I only accept people who are my friends?” Ms. Arfin wondered recently in the conference room of her magazine’s parent company, Colossal Media, which occupies a buzzing, bilevel space just off Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. “I deleted my MySpace,” she continued. “I wanted to keep Facebook tight.”
Ms. Arfin, who had previously been editor at large at Missbehave, was tapped to edit the two-year-old, 110,000-circulation quarterly in August after founding editor Mary H. K. Choi left to become features editor at the hip-hop magazine Giant. Before that, Ms. Arfin wrote for Vice, including an article called “The Vice Guide to Finding Yourself,” which advised, “Telling your dad to fuck off and being prepared to fight him.” At 29, she’s mellowed, she said. “My taste has gotten more mainstream as I’ve gotten older. … I don’t have as much interest in being cool and seeking out what’s underground to impress my friends.”
How many Facebook “friends” does Ms. Arfin have anyway?
“Like eight hundred.”
Back in real life, she is close to It-girl–turned–premium-cable-Mormon Chloë Sevigny, with whom she recently attended the reopening party for the Fountainebleau Hotel in Miami. Other guests included George Hamilton and some unfortunate swans. (“Surreal,” Ms. Arfin said.)
“Chlo,” as the editor calls her, appears on the cover of the first retooled Missbehave: her hair a nest of complicated braids, her pout slightly less fierce than it was when she staggered onto movie screens 13 years ago in Kids. Another of Ms. Arfin’s pals, Mark Jacobs—the former Paper writer, not the fashion designer—wrote the accompanying piece. Yet another friend, Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, who once hired Ms. Arfin as an intern at his magazine, has taken Ms. Arfin’s old role as editor at large at Missbehave, where he’ll be contributing a column of ideas conceived while stoned.
“She’s incredibly confident,” Mr. McInnes said of his former protégé. “Maybe that’s why celebrities like hanging around her.” (Ms. Arfin has also worked as a fashion stylist, but found herself frustrated by the demands of personalities like Naomi Campbell, who apparently refused to put on her own socks.)
What about her management style? “I could never think of her as my boss,” Mr. McInnes said. “That would be weird.”
Ms. Arfin has long, dark hair with just a few strands of white at the roots; several tattoos (“nine or something” she said); and Clark Kent–style glasses. In a comfortable-looking brown sweater that fairly swallowed her slight frame, she called to mind the sort of smart-alecky girl Winona Ryder or Christina Ricci used to play in teen comedies: more kid sister than sex kitten, tough on the outside but willing to let her guard down in the final act.
“I would like to think I’m a superhero and can handle anything,” Ms. Arfin said of her cool-girl persona. “But I’m not. My feelings still get hurt. I’m very sensitive.” She laughed a little at this, but still conveyed the directness and clarity of someone who’s spent a lot of time talking to people—friends, therapists, group members, readers—about herself.
That may be because Ms. Arfin is a recovering drug user and alcoholic who chronicled her tumble into addiction in a 2007 book, Dear Diary. It told the story of a self-professed “high-maintenance Long Island Jew” who went from all-ages punk rock shows to getting high in the Lower East Side on 9/11 and wondering “what the big deal was” as the World Trade Center smoldered just blocks downtown.
Ms. Arfin sent copies of her book to “every single person in the world I admire,” she said, a list that included the comic actress and writer Amy Sedaris and director Judd Apatow, along with her old professors from Hampshire College.
“I didn’t get any response,” she said. “But it didn’t matter.”
After rehab at South Oaks and the Betty Ford Center, Ms. Arfin has been clean, she said, for six years. Her blog, Cafe Con Lesley, still documents frequent nightcrawling—Spike Lee, Jay-Z and John Stamos all make appearances—but now, she said, when things get weird, she goes home early. “I have friends who still do drugs, but if they’re going out and doing coke, I leave.”
After Ms. Arfin failed to catch publishers’ interest with two post–Dear Diary book proposals (one she described as “Our Bodies, Ourselves for punk rock kids”), she took some time off and traveled in India. Upon returning, she was offered the job at Missbehave, whose pages she hopes to make more “accessible,” less “urban.”
“I don’t wanna see the word ‘dope’ anymore. Things like that,” Ms. Arfin said. “I’m not into like Electroclash and boom boxes and bamboo earrings. I’ve never really been into that stuff.”
She proudly listed some of her current interests: the Dixie Chicks (“Oh my gosh, they’re so talented!”), Teen Vogue, Gossip Girl, VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and A&E’s Intervention, which she called “the funniest and saddest show.”
“I don’t believe in ‘guilty pleasures’ anymore,” she said, despite the fact that she once wrote “The Vice Guide to Guilty Pleasures.” “Moving onwards, I don’t want to feel guilty about the things that make me happy.”
And she doesn’t want Missbehave to be just about her friends, either, real or virtual. “I wanna get bigger covers. … Believe me, I don’t know how to do this. I’m, like, learning as I go along.”