For two chaotically busy, gloriously productive, high-profile years, I was the US editor in chief of an international, independent publication called Nylon—a promotion I got when I was twenty-eight, younger than any Nylon editor in chief before me, and definitely the only lesbian who’d ever been at the top of the masthead. I was, in fact, younger and gayer than all the female EICs at competing publications in New York City, which was a point of pride for me but also made me an outsider. People like me were not supposed to get promotions like that.
What’s more, I was promoted on the same day the print magazine, which was in many ways beloved and iconic, folded. It was a terrifying task, but being put in a position of power meant that I could pour my idealism into something concrete: institutional change. I loved the brand but saw its flaws very clearly, and I was committed to building an editorial strategy that prioritized racial diversity, that welcomed all bodies to the table, and that didn’t limit the idea of coolness to a certain economic class.
Speaking of coolness: Growing up, I had been, in many ways, the kind of person for whom Nylon magazine was created, but I never felt like I was cool enough to read it. Like other magazines, it was so exclusive that it barely included anyone. As a teen in the early 2000s, I was an art kid who loved fashion but not in a popular-girl way, who self-identified as a music snob at fifteen, who dated skaters, who went to emo shows and played guitar in a punk band. Nylon was sold at Urban Outfitters, where I shopped; it partnered with Myspace, on which I spent my free time. It had always been in the background of my life. But as a queer woman, I also didn’t see myself reflected in its pages, or really, any glossy magazine pages at all; even before I had words for my deepest desires, I felt that there was something inherent that rendered me other.
Maybe because of that, when I was younger, working as a magazine editor didn’t even occur to me. I fluctuated between vague ambitions. Sometimes I wanted to be a painter or a photographer, other times a poet. But I also wanted to write articles, and as I tried to make a career around online journalism in my early twenties, the lifestyle publications were the ones that paid me. And as someone who cared a lot about my own physical appearance, I also turned out to be good at writing about aesthetics in a compelling way. I found myself pulled toward the vibrant, bustling world of New York City fashion media, as though it weren’t a choice but an inevitability.
In my early days as a beauty editor, I was confronted by how a women’s industry could be so obviously centered around, and controlled by, a straight, cisgender, white male gaze. I was astounded to watch my inbox fill every day with pitches from publicists about how to groom my body hair to please “my man”—I’d then watch as competing publications that had clearly gotten those same pitches would run stories using the same language. So, in turn, I began to churn out work about not shaving your body hair, among other things, and in general I became a very vocal, probably annoying, voice for change. What was the point, I asked myself, in working myself to the bone for big, fancy publications as a dyke if I wasn’t going to try to make the content accessible for other queer people?
Eventually I went to Nylon, where I was a digital editor for three years before my final promotion to the top spot, which meant the people in charge were finally starting to listen to alternate viewpoints. It was a huge win not just for me but for everyone like me who didn’t see themselves represented in mainstream media.
Behind the scenes, though, a very different story had unfolded.
I’d achieved something majorly shiny and glamorous, but along the way, it hadn’t been so pretty. At various times, I was underpaid, discriminated against, and sexually assaulted. And despite my fancy day jobs, in my personal life, I consistently behaved like a typical twentysomething: I was dating women who didn’t treat me well, I was sleeping with women I shouldn’t have, and I was struggling to figure out how to identify my own needs, which in turn made me a shitty person to be in any kind of relationship with. I smoked too much pot and didn’t get enough sleep. I alienated people who loved me with my inability to ask for help and my tendency to self-isolate.
I was also trying, and failing, and trying again, to recover from anorexia, a secret struggle that impacted every single aspect of my life. In contrast with my personal brand, the hypocrisy of my diagnosis wasn’t lost on me, and that was just one more reason for me to be filled with self-loathing. Once I had big, “important” jobs, I was more than happy to hide behind the busyness that came with them, rather than face my own demons.
I wanted so badly to show the world that an iconic fashion-based publication could become a beacon of thought leadership if you just let young women steer the ship. And we were very successful. I prioritized diversity within everything we made, and the brand evolved. Young readers called us “woke Nylon.” My junior editors called me “Mom.”
Eventually, I made a name for myself as a champion for inclusion. Work was still crazy, but by the end of my twenties, I was starting to get my emotional life together, falling in love with a woman who treated me with kindness and respect. I felt I knew myself. And then, in July 2019, two months after my thirtieth birthday, Nylon was suddenly acquired by a much larger company. I was caught completely off guard. I hadn’t realized how burnt-out I was until that moment. I felt like I had nothing left to give, and so I resigned.
I had thrown myself fully into the work of making women’s media safe for all kinds of bodies but had become almost disembodied in the process. I could power through exhaustion and starvation and high heels that tore up my feet, and justify it with how important the work would be to other people.
I’d been led to believe that notoriety is the ultimate aspiration, but the truth of the matter was I had been running a company as though it were mine when I didn’t own a single piece of it. I had made positive change, but when you strip all the pretense away—the things our culture says make you an empowered woman—what’s left? Who are we, as contemporary feminists, without capitalism?
I realized that without my fancy job title, I didn’t know how to describe myself. And really, the question for all of us is this: As a new generation of women, how do we recognize ourselves and each other without the pressure to be perfect—however that’s currently being defined?
I learned the hard way that professional success is not a good indicator of well-being. And I believe that is a deeply relatable phenomenon, though it’s usually spoken in whispers, especially for women. So when I quit my big, fancy job, after spending a few weeks moping, I got to work. But it was a new kind of work, and the first step was returning to my own body. The second was remembering what it felt like to have ownership of my time. The third was deciding what to do with it.
I also, immediately, had a book to finish—you’re holding it.
In the yearlong period between pitching the idea and finishing the manuscript, my life had been turned upside down. And I came out the other side stronger, and more self-aware, and with a clearer idea of what I needed. Suddenly, I had a much bigger story to tell.
This is a book about what happens when you put your own well-being on hold to achieve a version of success that you think you’re supposed to want, and how I finally was able to see—and then escape—the confines of perfection. I hope you enjoy the ride.