(Graphic by Helen Jane Hearn/ TueNight.com)
Beauty blogging is very different than it was when I started in 2007. In fact, everything about beauty blogging and my life in general has changed.
Back then, I was living an entirely different life: a 15-year career in corporate America as a human resources executive, living in the South, with no real creative outlet. I started out creative (I went to school for art,) but my father put the pressure on my sophomore year to “get a degree you can eat on.” So, I switched to Business. The need for approval had been established when I was young. Interestingly enough, it would come back to haunt me almost my entire life.
Once on the winding ladder to company success, I blindly kept climbing. Externally, I became a very successful HR professional — but inside I was dying. Over 100 pounds overweight, I drank myself into a stupor at happy hours and was utterly miserable. I wanted — I NEEDED — to do something different.
It was during that time that I decided to follow a life-long dream of becoming a fashion and beauty writer. Writing had always been something I loved, a way to convey emotion and unpack all the things I kept buttoned under my suit.. I’d write short stories and poetry, sometimes at the bar, sometimes when particularly bored at work. And I’d been an avid fashion and beauty enthusiast my entire life: I’d tear my mother’s Vogue out of the plastic the minute it arrived, cutting out photos and putting my own magazines together. I’m the girl who always had the new shade of lipstick before anyone else and knew everything about different types of skin exfoliation.
Writing had always been something I loved, a way to convey emotion and unpack all the things I kept buttoned under my suit.
2007 was the year I made my move: I quit my job, sold most of my belongings, packed everything I had left into one big green suitcase and moved to New York City from Charlotte, North Carolina. I had $300 in my pocket, a yellow Post-It listing all the magazines for which I wanted to write, an offer of two weeks on a friend’s couch, and one steady gig writing for a blog that paid me $100 a month.
I should mention that in addition to being 100 pounds overweight, I was also in my late 30s — the career change was no small feat in a youth-and-image-driven industry.
It’s taken me eight years to create the life I have now. Eight years of pounding the pavement to take any and every writing job that came my way. While on the steady climb, I decided to write what I wanted to read, so I created my own site, Fashion.Style.Beauty. My intent with the site is simple: I want real women to share our triumphs and struggles to master our best lives. How we adorn and care for ourselves and our environment is a direct display of how we feel inside.
When I started all those years ago, there were only a handful of women conveying their love of all things makeup and hair online — it was if we had a corner of the internet all to ourselves. What we looked like didn’t really matter; the audience was just excited to connect over a shared interest. Some of us took photos of our outfits, sharing a love of clothes and insightful wardrobe tricks. The clothes were ours, the opinions were original and each one of us was uniquely beautiful.
These days, everyone and their mom has a beauty or style blog, and the pressure to appear to have it all (looks, wardrobe, perfect life) has increased triple fold. Like everyone else, I’m bombarded every day with images of impossibly pretty women with seemingly endless wardrobes, perfect skin and hair that looks like it belongs on the set of a shampoo commercial. It’s very easy to get swept up in the “Me Too” of it all.
I know this because I’ve done it: turned my back on my original voice, thrown in hair extensions and borrowed clothes or purchased things I can’t afford because I’m too large for samples. This is not my proudest moment, but here’s how it happens. You’re blogging away, celebrating your own unique voice when suddenly something derails you. Maybe it’s your work schedule or something personal, but you’re not as dedicated as you used to be. You look around and it looks like everyone who reads your site has gone somewhere else. Instead of just going back to what you know, you get distracted by a million articles on the Internet that claim to know the secret of the million follower formula. Despite knowing that what you did was working to begin with, you decide to try something new.
The pressure to fit into that paradigm is intense, and I’m not alone in these pursuits; my industry is filled with a lot of women who feign very perfect, very pretty lives.
The right image is everything. Most photos pass through a gauntlet of photo editing apps and filters before they make it to the general public. I’ve had amazing experiences with industry professionals, but also a few tense moments of body image horror. I was once considered for a fat-melting machine TV segment only to be rebuffed before final selections because “the machine can only do so much.” I’ve had fitness experts grab the fat around my waistline only to be asked if this was post-baby weight. (It’s not; I’ve never had children.) I’ve had stylists who don’t understand kinky, curly African-American hair pass me over to another stylist at beauty events because they “just have no idea what’s going on there.” For every beautiful photo you see, sometimes the efforts to get there weren’t so pretty.
About six months ago, I had a watershed moment when reviewing some photos someone had taken of me for my site. I opened the folder and started crying. Like, really crying; what Oprah calls “The Ugly Cry.” I had been trying to mimic these pretty images I kept seeing in my photo feed. Oh God. What was I doing? Did I really work that hard to live something else’s life? Who was that girl in the photo? I didn’t even recognize myself.
I can recall this moment quite clearly. I sat on my couch, flicking through photos and thinking of all the things that had happened in the past few years. I recalled all the times people had passed me over for campaigns because I was over 35. My head reeled back to moments at Fashion Week and the evil stares at my off-the-rack clothes — the snickering eye rolls, the unconscious stares at my stomach. Every single negative comments and all those experiences had stuck to me, lodged in my emotional center to constantly confirm something I’d feared for years: that despite all I had accomplished, somehow I was unworthy of success or happiness.
And it was at that very moment I realized I could change all of that. And so I did. Slowly but surely, I have made it my mission to love myself today, right here, right now. I love myself in the body I am in, in the 44 year-old face I put forth to the world, and I’ve realized that I am here and I have something to say. You’ll see pictures of me in my real clothes and makeup photos of my real hair and my real face, sags, bags and all. Because, in the end, I came back to the reason I left it all behind and moved here to try this: I didn’t want anyone to define who I was or what my story would become. It is up to me to tell my story, MY way.
This is me. This is my body. I am beautiful and hot damn, Instagram: You just wait and see what I can do.