As a teenager I would look through the magazine section at our local grocery store on a regular basis – I’d hold the glossy pages in my hands and take it all in. Her outfits, her makeup, her hairstyles, the ads. As I thumbed through Vogue and Vanity Fair I realized I was less interested in the words, something that was unusual for me, but the beauty was something to sit in awe of. Looking back on it now, I’m sometimes surprised to think that the poor, small, rural town I’m from even had these little creative windows available for us to buy. Sometimes I’d even spend the five dollars to own one – an escape from reality, 1,000 suggestions on how you (a woman) should look, props to collect dust in the salon, someone telling you what to buy to be her. For some reason, I didn’t care about any of that. It was just art to me. That lifestyle was so inaccessible in my world that I couldn’t even focus on what I didn’t have – the thought never even crossed my mind to want what they had. Because creating art is free.
As a young adult, getting a degree in news / editorial journalism, waiting to graduate to start my career in beauty, I thought I might “grow up” to get that job everyone in movies seems to want: beauty editor of some major magazine. I knew I wanted to be a writer and I knew I wanted to be a makeup artist, so logically the simplest choice of career path would be to become the makeup artist version of Carrie Bradshaw. No problem. Grow up to be The Devil Wears Prada version of Meryl Streep; again no problem.
Step one: go to journalism school. As a journalism student I was required to pick up three newspapers a day before classes began to review them for major news. The two local daily papers (yes this is unusual, and since then one has folded) and the San Francisco Chronicle. We’d have to show up to class ready to talk about anything and everything that was in those three papers – we’d almost always be quizzed on something too. This is before smart phones. Last minute googling of who died this morning or what weather event was printed above the fold on the Chronicle wasn’t an option. You had to know it. You had the physical copy in your backpack. You spent at least thirty minutes prior to that first class skimming and picking out anything that seemed to be important news, just in case. Then we’d write about it, and we’d be timed. I loved it.
In my “free time” I’d see my less serious woman on the side: magazines. I worked in the mall, and on my breaks I’d walk over to Borders, a now defunct bookstore chain, to spend an entire hour’s wages on a caramel latte and a Vogue. Back then I never subscribed to anything – I loved going in person, drinking my coffee and touching the pages. It’s amazing how nostalgic that feels writing this now, in a world where we can’t touch anything, where bookstores are a dying breed. You’d open it and smell the perfume samples; ads would fall out; back then Keira Knightley would be staring back at you wearing something that engulfed her, her giant smokey eyes vacant but beautiful. That signature pouty lip, her boney shoulders. And all I could think about was going home to recreate that makeup look with whatever products I could scrape together.
Somewhere along the line I lost interest in that type of art because reality set in and it became harder and harder for me to see those photos as isolated innocent projects. They became small pieces of a bigger system. A beauty politic problem. A body politic problem. A capitalist, racist problem.
However, I was a resourceful person – I worked at Victoria’s Secret so I could “afford” the glamorous fashion, and I got myself my first makeup job at an Estee Lauder counter where I made decent enough commissions to earn almost all the makeup I could ever want or use. Step two: become a beauty professional. I’ve worked in beauty ever since. Up the chain. Practicing. Now for myself. Now more clearly understanding the framework we all participate in to maintain these systems of power. Understanding it’s evils while participating in them to survive. The reality of needing to work selling makeup for several hours to buy one mascara from the brand I worked for wasn’t lost on me. Now I work one hour and can buy at least ten mascaras. The reality that if I were to graduate and actually become a writer at our local newspaper I would be paying off my student loans into my forties, was also not lost on me. Instead, I could become a makeup artist and pay them off a decade sooner. I feel like I’ve spent my life trying to play the system, positioning myself in a world I was priced out of, until someday I could afford it. Sometimes I feel like that’s business, sometimes I feel like there’s more to it than that.
So I graduated from journalism school, and beauty school and took a decade-long detour away from magazines and newspapers, toward entrepreneurship and learning. But I miss it. The art part. The simplicity. The ease and joy of turning the pages and just looking.
A year ago I started a “digital declutter” experiment and as part of my efforts to minimize online time, I subscribed to print publications. Beauty magazines weren’t even on my list of options. The stories about “how to please your man” are just as disappointing as the half-hearted articles on “how to please yourself.” The “You go girl!” and “Girl power!” undertones are just different sides of the same misogynistic, patriarchal coin. Sometimes a decent story is thrown in but mostly, it’s all just what you should buy, simple content, abysmal representation. Perpetuation of stereotypes, norms and capitalist “culture.” So instead I decided to subscribe to The New York Times, Veg News Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Esquire. I feel like the stories and interviews in Esquire are extremely well written and the ads are almost entirely for men, so I can enjoy them without thinking too much about it. The others are obviously for news, some pop culture, and food. But I still missed makeup, and hairstyling, fashion and stories about women. Where women are the center.
Then I found CRWNMAG on instagram, and their feed was everything I love about beauty without the over simplification and lack of representation. I ordered every issue they have available on their website and could not be more thrilled to finally be bringing editorial-style print beauty back into my life and regular rotation. The about section on their website explains that CRWNMAG
“exists to create a progressive dialogue around natural hair and the women who wear it. We’re reaching beyond trendy clickbait and #BlackGirlMagic to address the whole Black woman; a woman who is more educated, well-traveled and sophisticated than ever before – largely because generations before her have fought to ensure her seat at the table. Through beautiful content, thoughtful commentary, hair inspiration and resources; we’re telling the world the truth about Black women by showcasing a new standard of beauty – and documenting our story in tangible, premium print form.”
The magazines themselves are amazing quality, thick and durable like a book. The pages are matte and have that library book smell – that good paper smell. But inside, the content is more than I expected. Because I respect the creators, writers, and artists featured, I will not share specific examples of articles or projects but I will say that although I am not a Black woman, I have an appreciation for a print magazine that centers women and issues that mainstream beauty magazines ignore or barely include. The ads are different, the art is different, and the stories and interviews take a more analytical and intersectional approach to reporting. I feel like I can actually enjoy the magazine because it isn’t ignoring the things mainstream beauty ignores, if that makes sense. It’s like opening my VegNews and realizing every ad is for vegan food. I don’t have to look at ads for meat or dairy, I can just enjoy the content and it actually applies to me. Not that every article or editorial piece in CRWNMAG applies to me, but I appreciate the beauty and the perspectives and feel like I can actually learn something. It’s time to bring that beauty magazine ritual back.