Monday, June 27, 2011

Linda Wells Would Be Horrified

I first started working at Allure magazine in 1999. When I interviewed for the job, I wore a designer suit (the only designer anything in my closet at the time--magazine assistants make close to nothing). Once I actually got hired and started the job, I wore Puma sneakers, black pants, and usually a t-shirt beneath a sweater or jacket. It was a long commute from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, so high heels were out of the question.

Almost every other female at the magazine wore high heels and high fashion. I couldn't figure out for the longest time how they afforded it. I soon realized that most of them were trust fund babies or were still supported by their families. I remember being in an editorial meeting at some point and Linda Wells, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, was talking about beauty transformations and how everyone who came to work at Allure slowly but surely was made over or became Allure-ized.

She was right. I can think of a handful of girls who looked one way when they started but after a few months, they looked entirely different. And I was one of them. I went from doing my own hair to having it blown out twice a week. I regularly got highlights and facials. I had my teeth whitened. I wore makeup like you'd see it in the magazine--and I wore high heels (not every day). I started with a few pairs of Nine West, which a handful of people thought was hilarious. It was as if I'd worn a pair of Payless shoes to the Met Ball. But again, on an assistant editor's salary, how was I supposed to afford anything else? I eventually started trading books (I was moonlighting as a columnist for Bookforum magazine so I'd get review copies of new titles) for sample shoes from the fashion closet (One of the fashion assistants liked to read. Who knew? Most of the fashion editors just looked good and certainly could not write, let alone read.).

Suffice to say, not long after working at Allure, I had perfectly straight hair with the most expensive caramel highlights, skin that glowed and perfectly white teeth. And every other day, I had on a pair of Stuart Weitzman or Dolce&Gabbana heels that I tried my hardest not to topple over in while walking on the too-slippery floor of the infamous Frank Gehry-designed cafeteria (that's a different story entirely, but let's just say I channeled my inner Dawn Weiner on a daily basis during lunchtime.).

It took me about two years to realize that the whole thing was bullshit. I remember going to a totally boring party for the magazine one night and thinking nobody is dancing because their heels are too high. Nobody is eating because in order to look like the women in the magazine, you have to eat next to nothing. And no one is actually drinking the cocktail in their hand because those are fattening, too. Nobody was really even talking to each other because they were too self conscious and painfully busy standing in the corner trying to look beautiful and important. It was not long after that party that I decided to try and resurrect my soul and work for a magazine that focused on something other than beauty and fashion.

Since then, I've thought a lot about my time at Allure and Linda Wells. I eventually moved back to L.A. and wore high heels far less often. I still got my hair cut and blown out at great salons, but I stopped highlighting it. I stopped getting regular skin treatments and using the most expensive products. It was freeing to not have some beauty standard to live up to. Yet after hearing Wells talk about transformation as much as she did and after being one of the magazine's guinea pigs or before-and-after stories, I wondered how she might've reacted to my transformation back to something closer to the "before" version of myself.

However, since I've become a mother and my beauty maintenance habits have plummeted to subterranean depths, I don't wonder at all what Wells and her minions would think. I know they would be horrified. 

Horrified that I'm too tired to wash my face at night before I go to bed.

Horrified that often after I put on a shirt and discover it has a baby food stain, spit up or poop on it, I wear it anyway.

Horrified that I do not take a shower every day.

Horrified that I wear sneakers, not high heels.

Horrified that I rock my Chaka Khan afro.

Horrified that I wear the same outfit days in a row.

Horrified that I buy all of my skincare products and makeup at the drugstore.

Horrified that my version of shaving is two swipes of the razor to each leg so that I look hairless from a distance.

And you know what? I finally don't wonder or care in the least what any magazine editor or anyone else thinks. And that, for the first time in a long time, makes me feel really, really beautiful.

Image via Observando


Brianna said...


gina said...

love it!

Miss A said...

So you used to live in Williamsburg! Where? Gosh I've started hating Bedford (I'm on the Lorimer stop) but this week end, went to brooklyn fleas, had an ice cream laying on grass on the waterfront, with that incredible view of Manhattan then walked home all gross and sweaty and loved all the gross and sweaty hipsters. How could I ever live somewhere else?

Anonymous said...

You are great! Keep fightin' the Powers that be!

Anonymous said...

Well said. The "ladymags" are insidious, and a complete waste of time.

Anonymous said...

didn't paul cavaco work there at that time already? he's the top fashion guy and wears jeans and nikes every day

Laura Mauk said...

Paul Cavaco came in toward the end of my stay there. I wasn't in the fashion department but from what I saw of him, he was the most grounded, funny, warm of fashion editors. There were a handful of people there that were wonderfully smart, down-to-earth and that I'm still friendly with. But make no mistake about the fact that as a whole, it was its own Devil Wears Prada experience.

Laura Mauk said...

Miss A, I lived on South First and Berry...felt the same way you do. A love-hate relationship, for sure. But I will say that when I've gone back to the nieghborhood in the last few years, its completely different. Far more crowded and many more hipsters.

a. b. said...

The concept of only shaving the front of my legs has blown. My. Mind.


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