What are you, then?
I don’t really know. I mean, I just turned 29 so I guess I would be a young person, but I think that my mind is not because I’ve had to go through so much in this industry and I’ve seen so much that it has aged me to not feel 29 at all. I’ve honestly never felt my age; even before this I’ve always felt a lot older.
What’s one change you’ve made recently that’s had an impact on you?
I stopped making plans on the weekends. It was actually my husband’s idea.² [For work], I’m always going somewhere, I’m always meeting someone, I’m always at an event, and I feel like I’m always on but I need time to just be, on my own. I found myself in this predicament where I was being present for a lot of people but not really for myself. Not promising to be with anyone other than myself on the weekends has been really helpful, because I come back to work refreshed.
This is a very image-driven industry that tends to focus on only one kind of beauty. How do you balance knowing that imagery is important without overinvesting in how you or someone else looks?
I take this work very seriously, but I try not to take myself too seriously. I made the decision a long time ago that if I wasn’t going to be able to be my full, unapologetically black self, then I didn’t want it and I would go back to waitressing. I’m not in this for all of those superficial reasons. If I’m able to make changes in this industry and I have to put up with some of these weird things image-wise that I don’t want to do, fine, as long as I’m doing the work. I’ve had so many conversations with people being like, “You’re really brave to wear box braids as an editor-in-chief.” A lot of people get caught up in what other people think of them. But I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t really being who I want to be.
In addition to more inclusive hiring, what are some of the other changes you’ve made or plan to make at the magazine?
The industry overall needs a wake-up call on what inclusivity actually is. Yes, [we all] want to be “asked to dance” as they say, but I think it goes past that. It’s not just being thought of and having that seat at the table; it’s also using that seat at the table for good. It’s also those people at the table, who are usually white people, actually hearing you and letting you implement those choices. It’s about who I hire; but it’s also about who I put in a Young Hollywood lineup, and making sure that that’s really inclusive.
Besides hiring a great staff, we cover things in a way that other people are too scared to. We did a package called “The F Word”—F meaning fat. Most people when they’re doing a size-inclusive shoot only want to shoot people that are a size 10 or 12, and have an hourglass figure. That’s actually not size-inclusive. So we shot Tess Holliday and La’Shaunae Steward who are both above a size 20.
Have you heard from readers who have found this kind of coverage personally impactful?
Oh yeah. I get DMs all the time. It’s a lot of people telling me, “I wish I would have had this when I was younger.” It’s also the little things in how I present myself. I’m the only black editor-in-chief in the industry. I don’t look like anyone else. I’m not sample size, and I’m pretty outspoken. I think, then, people are interested in what I’m wearing and why, because if I’m wearing a designer, it’s intentional. You would never see me in Dolce [& Gabbana] because I’m not going to wear somebody that is racist and homophobic. [People] know that I’m that person.
It’s really cool to have those conversations with young girls, because I know it’s just an outfit, but they’re able to see it on somebody else and feel good about themselves. I think that all of those little things are important in making young people feel good and like they’re not alone in this world.
Has becoming editor-in-chief affected your personal style?
Every job I’ve had, I’ve gone through a style change. This is the first job where I’ve thought, What do I actually want to wear? And that’s very freeing. When I first worked here as an assistant, everybody wore beaded bracelets and it was like, This is a little bit much for my taste. But I just did it anyway because you want to fit in. I didn’t have the confidence to say, This looks bad on me. Then when I went to Style.com, everybody wore black all the time, so I wore black all the time. It was very serious, which is completely not my personality. When I went to The Cut and New York Magazine, I noticed that there were a lot of designers that everybody loved. I would try to buy them even if I knew that a brand didn’t look good on me. Toward the end of that phase of my life I felt like I wanted to be less of a people-pleaser, which I really struggled with when I was young. But that stopped recently. [laughs] I think this green Prada coat is so weird and people think it’s so weird but I love it. I don’t care.
Do you have a vision of the impact you hope to have down the line?
I want to wake up when I’m 40 and this not be a problem. I want to make this industry a better place—and I know that sounds super corny. I always find myself in a unique position because coming from a fashion background, but also writing, and also being an editor-in-chief, people have tried to put me in all these boxes. But there is no box, because what I want to do is make this more inclusive, better, and actually have it pop off in a way that every masthead is the most beautiful rainbow of all different kinds of people, and reflective of culture. That’s all I really want.