Ending the Beauty-Versus-Brains Debate

Read Lesley Jane Seymour's October 2011 editor's letter here.

By Lesley Jane Seymour
Photograph: Greg Delves

For much of my professional life, I’ve fought to prove that a woman who cares about things like fashion and beauty still has ample brainpower to care about things like the U.S. economy and the drone strikes in Pakistan. At Vogue, for example, the supposedly more intellectual features editors guffawed when I, a mere fashion writer, asked them to assign me some stories that were non–hemline related. Those “serious” Seven Sisters grads had deliberately pitched their tents on the opposite side of the floor from us “bubbleheads” in fashion and beauty, and they were furious when Vogue’s editor-in-chief (a former blouse editor herself) let me try out for, and land, the automotive column. (Can’t remember if I ever let her know that the first call I made was to a driving school—since I’d never even been behind the wheel! But, uh, never mind . . .)

Years later, as editor-in-chief of Redbook, I was able to feed my inner dichotomy by inventing light fare like “The Hunky-Husband Contest” while also sending writer Joyce Maynard to cover the refugee camps in Macedonia during the Kosovo war. At Marie Claire, I lived out an extreme version of my “brains and beauty” philosophy on one memorable morning in Milan: I bounded off a plane from Africa (where I’d been working in the Kenyan slums on a story about world hunger), handed the snooty hotel concierge my dirty L.L.Bean duffel filled with wafflestompers and Cipro (for diarrhea prevention), slipped on a designer dress and showed up to see the Armani spring collection at noon.

Some of you may argue that the older we get, the more we should abandon the allegedly superficial interests of youth in favor of focusing on our inner, rather than outer, selves. But in my view, age isn’t much of a factor. In fact, for me, the real advantage of putting age 20 in my rearview mirror is that I’ve achieved a happy balance between those two sides of myself. So when you read a story like “Best Beauty Products Under $25” (page 122), please know that this is not just cover-line bait to get you to pick up the magazine. Nope. I’m already down in beauty director Genevieve Monsma’s office pestering her for one of the new lipsticks you readers tested, because I know it will slap a smile on my face while I edit stories like “A Letter from 12 War Zones” (page 76), about humanitarian activist Samantha Nutt and her work with women endangered by global conflict.

For me, there’s no conflict between beauty and brains. What do you think? Please write me.

Read Lesley's editor's letter from last month.

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First Published September 27, 2011

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