Hi Bebes! For our next interviewee we basically went for it! We thought, who has seen it all and will make an excellent addition to the Rebels with a Cause interview series? We wanted to select an expert in the beauty sector. Someone who is more than doing the work. We wanted to select someone who has embodied the work and is standing her ground in helping take beauty to new heights. Someone who saw the need for a beauty evolution before it became a hot topic. I’m talking next level here. Then it came to us: We’d message Ms. Valerie Monroe herself! Bold right?!? But we went for it and were pleasantly surprised to get a response. *insert cheesy smile emoji here*
Monroe is quite accomplished in that she was the beauty director for O Magazine for almost two decades and an editor for Ms., Self and Redbook. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she was a contributing editor at Entertainment Weekly, Parents and has written hundreds of pieces for many other national publications. Her interviews with a wide array of beauty professionals has deemed her a beauty expert and it made my heart warm and fuzzy to know that she champions a more inclusive beauty culture.
Here’s what she had to say…
KG: What inspired you to become a journalist/writer?
VM: I always loved to read because I found a good story transported me in a way that felt profoundly uplifting. Affecting people in the way I was affected by reading felt like a worthy goal.
KG: Who was your biggest influence growing up?
VM: I was most influenced, for better and worse, by my parents, whose aims for me were strictly limited by their expectations for themselves. Because I was born in the 1950’s it was assumed I’d be a teacher if I had to work before I got married and had children. But I had no intention of allowing myself to be confined by traditional gender roles. And then, in college, I met Gloria Steinem. When I graduated I decided I wanted to work at Ms., the magazine she launched—so I moved to New York and insinuated myself onto the staff.
KG: Who was your biggest influence professionally?
VM: Probably one of my favorite writers and activists: Grace Paley. And any number of the other great writers I admire.
KG: If you could go back to any given point in your life and change something would you? Why or why not?
VM: If you’re thinking about the time many years ago as I was walking down the street in Soho on a very hot summer evening when my Von Furstenberg wraparound got caught in its own belt and flew open in the back and got stuck without my knowing it, I guess I would say I wish I’d been wearing underwear. Otherwise, no, I wouldn’t change a thing. My life has unfolded the way it must and I’m grateful I’ve been present for most of it.
KG: What did 8-year-old Valerie want to be when she grew up? Have you lived up to it in any small or large way?
VM: I think I wanted to work in the Post Office. And now when I go to the Post Office I know why: They have the best accessories. The stamp pads, the little scales, the sheets of pretty stamps. At some point I also wanted to be a teacher (I did graduate college with a teaching degree) but once I started writing (around 7th grade) that’s all I ever wanted to do. I was lucky that I found a way to make a living from what I loved.
KG: What was your favorite part about being the beauty director for O Magazine? Least favorite?
VM: Favorite part: Having a platform through which we could try to help women understand what motivated their thinking and their feelings about their appearance. And then helping them feel better about themselves by making the choices best suited for them.
Least favorite: The bags and bags, delivered daily, of luxurious swag. Actually, that was not the least favorite part of my job. That’s the least favorite thing about having left my job.
KG: Did you spend a lot of time with Oprah? Are you still in contact with her?
VM: You might have already intuited this if you’ve ever watched her: One minute with Oprah can feel like a lifetime of love. You’ve heard it before, but it’s true: Time is relative.
She very kindly wrote me an email when my mom died last year. That’s significant because I was but a dust mote in the Oprah universe, and still…
I’ve spent more time with Gayle King, a constant presence at O, The Oprah Magazine, and as you may know by now, an icon in her own right.
KG: Media still puts a strong emphasis on exterior beauty and thus nourishing insecurities in women. Do you think that will ever change?
VM: Sadly—and sorry to have to say this—I don’t think it will change unless somehow our pursuit of beauty becomes unhitched from capitalism. In the beauty industry, “insecurities” equals profits.
KG: You are currently working on your third book "How not to f*ck up your face", when can we expect that to be published?
VM: Dunno. Sooner rather than later, I hope.
KG: Is make up important to you?
VM: I love makeup; I think it’s fun. Is it important to me? Not as important as loving my face without it.
KG: What is your biggest concern in today's beauty culture?
VM: My biggest concern about our beauty culture is that we are still encouraged to live up to unrealistic standards, and in fact, both the encouragement and the unrealistic standards have become increasingly persistent and difficult because of the pervasive intrusions of social media.
KG: If you could change one thing in the beauty industry what would it be? Why?
VM: I would encourage the industry to use images in marketing more representative of our culture, including diversity in race and age and fundamental differences in what is considered beautiful. I wish the marketing images were more inclusive.
KG: What is next for Valerie Monroe?
VM: My goal continues to be to shift our thinking in the beauty arena from self-criticism to self-compassion. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of kindness and perceptions of beauty; there is existing research, but I believe more needs to be done. I’m working on a multi-media project, including a book: How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, What no one will tell you about aging beautifully (without spending a fortune). The book is a combination of philosophical, psychological, and straightforward practical advice for anyone considering aesthetic treatments, otc (over the counter) treatments or medical procedures.
KG: A recurring topic in your essays was aging... How do you feel about 20-year-old Valerie vs. 60-year-old Valerie?
VM: I’m so much wiser today than the 20-year-old Val. I’ve loved every decade of my life for different reasons, but I do wish I knew when I was in my 20’s what I know in my 60’s. I would’ve had more fun. (And probably avoided getting herpes – something younger people don't seem to think about – I know I didn’t.)
Side Note: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 out of 6 people in the US aged 14-49 have genital herpes.
KG: If you could freeze time and stop aging what age would you choose to be?
VM: This is an interesting question. I still feel the age I most loved: around 45. So, in a way, time is frozen for me at that age. My body, however, doesn’t seem to know it.
KG: What are 3 of the most valuable self-help/self-love tips that helped you on your personal journey?
VM: Be kind. Be patient. Be present.
Ms. Monroe’s responses were admirable in that she was a straight shooter and didn’t feel the need to DO-SI-DO around how she felt about any given inquiry; we love that. Her responses deepened our admiration and respect for her. Nothing is more attractive than someone who speaks their mind as is, no filters, no desire to entertain us with whimsical responses, just honest, no non-sense truth. We’re here for it and look forward to her next book (How Not to F*ck Up Your Face), which I'm sure is going to have a wealth of information.
Cheers to you Ms. Monroe!