I pass the security clearance. I call down the elevator. I listen to the wooden heels of my black leather boots meet the floor with each step. I am standing in the Hearst Tower in New York City beside a cascading waterfall wall and beneath 45 floors of high achievers.
I wear a cobalt blue ruffled top under a black blazer with zipper detail. My hair is sculpted into loose curls and steadied with hairspray. My eyes are painted with warm shades of brown, the colors deepening within the crease of my lids. My lips are puckered and covered with Mac Cosmetics’ matte lipstick in shade “Mehr.” I obsessively reapply as the pink pigment transfers to stain the rim of my plastic coffee cup. I’m spritzed with Jo Malone’s fragrance–my “lawyer perfume,” I call it–because I wore it every day the summer before last while I interned in a law office. I wear the black leather boots that clicked the floor, and I go with my colleagues to the 19th level–to Elle.com.
We meet women who pitched, wrote, and edited their way to their positions. Executive Editor Chloe Schama and Editorial Director Leah Chernikoff, along with the rest of the Elle.com team, tell us their jobs are primarily to make women more visible.
Make women more visible.
Visibility is a paradox for women. We are taught to be thin, but not unhealthily thin. The less physical space we take up, and the lower our voices are when we speak in class, the less visible we are. We are taught to work behind the scenes where we are not visible. We are conditioned to see fashion and beauty as superficial, anti-feminist industries that provide women with the “wrong” type of visibility.–Visibility that focuses on what we wear, how our faces are painted (or are not painted), and what our body shapes say about our identities.
We are stuck in this place of desiring visibility for women, but not this “wrong” type of visibility that shows us only as clothes and only as makeup. When the Elle.com team says they want to make women more visible, this isn’t limited to a visual art of seeing women in clothes and seeing women applying cometics. It’s not a visibility that prefaces fashion *only* as a consumerist game. It’s making women visible at the intersection of fashion and politics, and gender and politics.
In fact, when I tell people I am deeply passionate about the fashion and beauty industries, I have to follow up with an explanation: “…but I study Politics and International Affairs with minors in Sociology and Interdisciplinary Writing.” It’s my way of reassuring people that I can talk more than just blush shades and lipstick swatches. I can contour, highlight, and bake my face. I can recommend the best brands in the industry, and tell you how to get a duplicate of these at the drugstores, but this isn’t enough. The industry is moving in the direction of making women visible through their contours and highlights, but also through telling the stories of women–all women–through their political identities.
In our meeting with Chloe and Leah at Elle.com, I hear much of this same pattern of finding a balance of how to make women more visible. Sure, I can read about mascara every day–and trust me when I say I do!–but visibility is multifaceted. Leah says the success of the website is in having a mix of “smart, engaging and silly” content. This comes in the form of content that tells you what beauty trends to expect in 2017. Or entertaining stories about the Kardashians that border on gossip columns that we can’t resist to click and read. And then there’s the stories that challenge us and teach us–ones that tackle topics of race and gender and electoral politics. My favorite reads seem to do all of that–they can cover the Kardashians, fashion, and body politics all at the same time. All of these stories, both the silly and the serious, the entertaining and the politically engaging, make women more visible.
I call up the elevator. I listen to the rhythm of my heels land on the floor with each step. Click. Click. Click. I re-apply my fading lip shade.
I feel visible.
Learn more about Alex Dean and ELLE.com Scholars Program