Don't change a thing, but also change everything!
Four years ago this month, I found out that Jane Pratt — the editor that had made me want to be an editor since I was 12 years old — had chosen me to be the beauty director of her new xoJane beauty spinoff, xoVain. OK, so I was actually her second choice — her first had fallen through — but that was OK. I had previously not even pitched to xoJane because I was so intimidated and sure I'd be rejected, so getting hired for a full-time editorial position in any capacity under Jane Pratt, with or without someone else's name crossed off next to mine, felt like an honor.
And that's what it has been: an honor. Not only because an actual childhood (and teen and 20-something) dream of mine came true, but because of what I've gotten to do at xoJane and — not to play favorites, but yes, to absolutely play favorites — especially at xoVain.
I don't think I have the emotional energy to get into everything I have felt — both positive and negative — over my 1,454 days (I started on January 7, 2013, two months before the March launch) as an XO editor. Things like how I felt when Annie left and how cool it is to see her kick ass at Glossier; things like why I ended up freelancing for a while (yet still being a contributing editor on xoJane) and the way I felt coming back on staff full-time a year later; things like the times I wanted to shake some commenters by the shoulders over crazy assumptions about the writers, editors, and general operations, and the times I wanted to wrap my arms around those commenter shoulders when they showed why they were the best fucking community on the internet; things like the elation of Time Inc buying the XO sites, and the frustration of becoming an even smaller and continually shrinking staff (we have been a full-time staff of three, not including Jane herself, for quite a while, and we only just started getting Sable's in-office help about a month ago) because of the way things are in the industry right now; things like how I was still the insecure Jane Pratt fan who had been afraid to pitch far too long after being hired, and how my confidence has evolved in incredible ways in the last couple of years; things like how I have made some of the best friends I will probably ever make, a few of which live within walking distance of me, a few of which live in other states and countries.
And I think it's OK that I don't want to dig deeply into the me, me, me of my XO experience — appropriate, even. Because my experience has been, like, 90 percent about other people. I'm proud to have helped discover and foster some of the most talented, insightful, funny, compassionate, creative voices on the internet and in the beauty space. Some of those voices belong to women who, like me, were inexplicably diffident about pitching. Whether or not they're still contributing to xoVain, I'm so glad they did.
This week, I asked xoVainers to tell me their favorite thing(s) they've written for xoVain (I gave Tynan the option of picking his xoJane stuff, of course) and their favorite story by someone else. Because the future of xoVain is unknown and this will be the last post for at least a while, I've linked each contributor's name to their Instagram so you can follow them and see all the great stuff they'll continue to do, even if that's just posting pictures of their pets (*cough* like me *cough*).
Allison: My favorite articles are the ones where I wore totally different looks to my standard. So like the 1930s makeup one, or the victory roll hair, or when I swapped makeup looks with a friend, or when we all tried the double face halloween makeup. I loved these ones in particular because it was fun to just play with makeup and try something new! As for someone else's I always loved the regular features! So the beauty news, COTW, and LOTW! I probably miss those the most because I loved how interactive they were with the community.
Kara: My favorite stories I've done are the trashy beauty one, the white floral perfume roundup, the story where everyone shared when they feel most beautiful. I've been writing for this damn site basically since it launched, so there's too many! I loved the one where Marci "dated" the Lush guys who bottled the products, Rachel's "no more French girl beauty" story, Tynan's Maybelline and fragrances story featuring ME... the list will never end!
Kim: My personal favorite article is the one I wrote about why it's hard for me to feel beautiful because it was just very cathartic for me. And I pray that it was maybe helpful to someone else as well. My favorite article that someone else wrote was the Mona Lisa plastic surgery article Marci wrote. I STILL randomly ponder the conceptions of beauty brought up by that piece. I think it revealed so much about beauty as a societal construct. It's something I wish I had come up with (which just shows how truly awesome it was).
Tamara: Man, I don't think I could ever pick a true favorite because I've had a lot of stuff that I've loved doing and even more that I have loved reading by other people! I partially want to say my first ever LOTW because I was so excited to start that, but I guess I'll go with my first ever XO article. It wasn't particularly special in terms of content, but it was exciting to make the jump from commenting to writing, and the community was super-supportive, which meant a lot to me. Favorite that I've read of someone else's is pretty impossible because I love everyone who writes for/has written for xoVain. One that I really remember though is the one where Annie actually ate a bunch of Bite Beauty stuff. The photography was amazing and I loved the concept — it was a fun video to watch! Okay, now I'll just be over here crying
Lauren: I'm not sure which of my articles is my favorite! It's a tie between my first (hilariously failed) attempt at contouring with just my finger and a fan brush, and the one where I have three different looks of makeup for that date with the exterminator that I shouldn't have gone on for a myriad of different reasons. My fave by someone else would have to be Rachel's article on making out with different liquid lipsticks because that shit was straight-up educational. I still reference it when I'm shopping.
Hannah: I'm proud to have incorporated Daniel Day-Lewis into a beauty story. I loved Kara's piece about the women in her family. So sweet. It reminded me of the love I have for my mama, aunts and grandmother.
Hannah L.: I think the story I most enjoyed writing was my Leslie Knope compliments story. There's no where else I could have pitched a story like that, and the comments section on that story was just lovely. The first story that comes to mind as a favourite by another writer has to be Lauren's Snow White cosplay! She has the best voice in her writing and then final result was just so gorgeous.
Christina: My favourite one I did was the one about depression and makeup because it was just really real and so many people seemed to resonate with it. My favourite one someone else did was possibly this one by Annie, only because it was probably one of the first stories I ever read on xoVain and fell in love with the site's voice (and Annie) immediately.
Maura: My favorite story I wrote was my first one about eyeshadow primers because I was SO OVERWHELMED by all the nice comments, but I'm happiest with my Rebel Eyes story because I really enjoyed working on it and I think it turned out really well and I just feel it's very "me." It's impossible to pick one favorite from all the great xoStories so here's a few: Hannah's Leslie Knope compliments story (this is what xoVain is about and why I love it so much — I can't think of any other beauty websites that publish this kind of stuff), Alle's day drunk story (v. me), Rachel's french-kissing story, all of Danielle's magic DIYs, Colleen's astronaut story, Annie doing makeup on her dude's tattoo of his own face, the Lindsay Lohan mugshot makeup tutorials, and Sable's grey hair moment (not an article but that hair has a special place in my heart).
Maricar: My favorite story to do for xoVain was also one of my most challenging: my 3 Prom Makeup Looks I Wish I Could Go Back in Time and Try. I don't remember how I put it together exactly. I either shot it over the course of two days or shot everything in a few hours. My tiny apartment always feels like an oven in late spring/early summer, so chances are, while I was shooting this, I was sweating a lot and blotting every few seconds. Anyway, I really liked how the story turned out and I had so much fun doing all the looks. My favorite stories are anything from Annie! She is hilarious and I love her writing style, and she inspired me to write for xoVain.
Samantha: My personal favourite would be the interview I did a few years ago with Jillian Mercado. She's such an amazing person, and I'm so happy I get to see her continue to succeed. This was right around the time everything started picking up for her, and it was so exciting to get to sit down and talk to her about it. Also, you'd better believe I'm using Weleda Skin Food because of her this winter! My favourite xoVain story by someone else would be by the one by Alle about beautiful mutations. I loved how she approached this whole story. The double eyelashes thing was something I had never even thought of. Everything about it is so interesting and well-researched. It's just a totally different approach to a beauty article and I loved it.
Sable: My favorite is my totally narcissistic "a look using makeup products named Sable" story. Obviously. Where else could I get paid to indulge my narcissism and my affinity for earth-toned makeup? My fave story from someone else: Annie's Lindsay Lohan mugshot. The commitment to the looks and even the grainy mugshot integrity of the photos, not to mention the ingenuity and uniqueness of this story that's (to me) SO xoVain.
Wendy: I think my favorite of my own would have to be either my "elephant" hair dryer attachment story, which is when I started feeling like I was really finding my voice on the site, or my abandoned pool in Iceland story. That trip was the first one I'd taken since my divorce (of an 11 year relationship!), and was proof to me that I was going to be OK, even if I didn't specifically talk about that in the post itself. As for favorites that I didn't write... where to start? I loved each and every xoHalloween tutorial, Annie's edible food story, Sable's anti-"festival beauty" think piece, Marci's Mona Lisa plastic surgery (riot-inducing) story, Danielle's 30-gallon water experiment, and so many more...
Kelly: My all-time favorite article that I did has to be my Mad Max head-shaving video obviously! My now-boyfriend Googled me when we met online and that was the first thing he saw — haha. Runner-ups are my Jean Seberg tutorial (the third article I wrote for the site all the way back in 2013!), my Halloween articles (especially the Babadook, Furiosa, and Eleven), and the ridiculous hat-wigs article. Oh and I'm still proud of my shower/sheet mask trick. It's even harder to pick a favorite from another writer so I'll just go with this one because it has lots of us in it and also because it made me happy to read about everyone feeling themselves.
Calle: I owe so much to xoVain for taking a chance on me and I will be forever grateful. I had always wanted to be a full-time writer since I can remember and I wasn't. I started the freelance side-hustle venture to establish a portfolio and get out of my daily grind. xoVain was the first to take a chance on me and give me an opportunity. Three years later and countless pitches, applications, and interviews later, December of this month I accepted a full-time writing/creative job, and it was the xoVain articles that I bring to those interviews that helped me. For my faves, I would say the line eliminating serum, self-care tips after taxes and politics and beauty were my personal favorites, because that's when I remember breaking through a writers anxiety I had and they felt more "me" than a force sensed of "me." As far as the articles by others, there are so goddang many. I was a fan girl of all you women. Colleen's space beauty article, when Sable went to Toronto, Lauren's on Becky with the good hair, Kelly as Charlize in Mad Max, Marci's Lush men... so many.
Victoria: My fave Vain piece that i wrote was my foundation story. I think it's the strongest example of my voice as a beauty writer (kinda sarcastic, slightly silly, no nonsense when it comes to describing the products), I had a blast researching and testing all the products and I liked learning which companies care about having diversity in their shade range. OR my story about fragrance layering. It's something I do everyday and barely think about, but it was such a novel concept for so many people. I also love writing about perfume so getting to write about almost everything in my fragrance wardrobe was like a gift from heaven for me. My fave story someone else did... def Kara's story on big white floral fragrances: I LOVE writing and reading about fragrance above any other kind of beauty writing and I think Kara has such a gift for it. This is the first of her fragrance pieces I remember being really struck by. I love the way she described each of these fragrances as a different woman and seamlessly weaved classic perfume jargon with her natural voice. Really stellar writing, and now, every time I spritz myself with something tuberose or gardenia, I think of Kara and smile.
Colleen: Absolute fave by someone else: Sable's Beauty Boredom Cure: Inject Some Isamaya Ffrench Into Your Makeup Look. I think my fave of my own would be: A Completely Honest, Snark-Free Review Of Ed Hardy's New Perfume, Love Is...
Taylor: Mine was the one about learning to love my hyperpigmented skin, because I love talking about skincare, but writing it was a huge turning point for me learning to care for my skin and myself in more than just superficial ways. Coincidentally, I bought my first red lipstick to take those photos. Just a lot of coming in to my own beauty in that post. My most memorable faves? Lauren's Ruby Bridges look or Rachel's hilarious evisceration of french girl beauty will stick with me 'til the end. of. time.
Annie W.D.: I think my favourite by me is my armpit beauty one, just because I can't imagine any other site that would have let me do it. Favourite by somebody else is so hard! I loved all of Mari and Sable's weird and wonderful tutorials though. Really inspired me to see makeup as more than compulsory and corrective.
Tynan: Fav of mine: Tynan and His Attractive Friends Review Fall's Wildest Lip Colors (Blues! Greens! Grays!). My other fav is Kara's trashy beauty.
Beth: My time writing for xoVain was a sort of document of my introduction to "beauty"--the unskilled practitioner takes a stab at something new and uncomfortable (but fun!). My Riot Grrrls article brought it all full circle with a realization that my take on beauty didn't really need to be cultivated, just embraced. (I do appreciate what actual hands-on skills I have learned from my colleagues, though.) I liked this one from Hannah, too.
Dan: I would say my acne scars story. It was the first time I think I wrote something where I felt vulnerable, but I wanted to share my results because I had felt like I saw improvement, and still am. I love Tynan's post on xoJane with all his (boy)friends tryin' on makeup.
Marci: (Oh hey, that's me!)
To this day, I still annoy people by referring back to my "Do You Honestly Think Natural Beauty Products Are Automatically Better?" article — one of the first I wrote for xoVain. I won't say it's officially my favorite, but when I look at other articles, I see how much I've changed in four years, yet when I look at this one, I feel like I could write the exact same thing today.
I refuse to pick my favorite by someone else because that would be like picking a favorite grandchild.
You, however — you can and should share your favorite xoVain articles in the comments below. And you are welcome to come back whenever you want to keep the conversation about any and all things beauty going.
Thank you for everything. Truly, thank you.