Elaine Welteroth Can Teach Us a Thing or Two About Bossing Up

I was lucky enough to attend Blavity’s EmpowerHer conference for young black women in tech, media, and business this past weekend in New York, and on the agenda was a panel on self-care moderated by writer Elaine Welteroth.

Welteroth led black beauty heavy hitters like Gabi Fresh and Francheska in a conversation about maintaining emotional and spiritual health while pursuing and accomplishing career goals. She herself shared honestly about relying on a support system of friends and family to sustain her. I asked about the panelists’ personal habits for saving and investing money so that they’re able to take care of basic needs –like food and rent — between gigs, Welteroth was enthusiastic about imparting some first hand wisdom on me and the other conference attendees. At some point in her early twenties, in anticipation of an unpaid internship with Ebony magazine, Welteroth moved back home and got a job as a waitress. She claimed that she was horrible at it, but was nice enough that she still made good tips. In a few short months she had saved $10,000 to keep her afloat in New York — and still insisted on only eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.

Where Welteroth stands in her career today is truly inspirational. She followed Beyoncé’s instructions to dream it, work hard, and grind ’til you own it before Bey even sang them. As far as I’m concerned she is the reigning queen of the “glo up,” and here’s the proof: earlier this month, it was announced that in an unprecedented shift, longstanding Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Amy Astley is moving up the Condé Nast ladder. Her replacement? None other than Elaine Welteroth. Not only is Welteroth the youngest editor-in-chief in the publisher’s history at the age of 29, she is only the second black employee to hold that title at one of Condé Nast’s magazines. Not only is Welteroth making some serious moves, she is making history.

Welteroth’s career in publishing has definitely been building up to this moment. After completing her degree in mass communication/media studies with a journalism minor, Welteroth hit the ground running like many of us with the aforementioned unpaid internship at Ebony. That opportunity grew into a more permanent position, with Welteroth ultimately playing a role in building out the magazine’s beauty department as their Beauty & Style Editor. She first brought her knack for what’s cute, chic, and poppin’ to Condé Nast as a beauty writer and editor for Glamour in 2011. From there she was promoted to Senior Beauty Editor, and then transitioned to Teen Vogue as the Beauty & Health Director in 2013. The latter gig positioned her for her most recent role. Given the issues that plague millennials — student loans, sparse employment opportunities, and an overall sense of being abandoned in the world — Welteroth has her shit all the way together. And what’s more, she is in a unique position to make the fashion and beauty industries a little better in the process.

If you’ve glanced at a copy of Teen Vogue lately, you may have been surprised to find a bunch of stories on gender ambiguity in fashion, anti-sexual-assault activism, and LGBTQ issues alongside stories about fashion and accessories. The magazine seems to have really grasped that young people care about more than curating the perfect date night outfit. They’re interested in vetting their bae(s) for levels of “wokeness” and engaging in acts of resistance in their choice of restaurant. As a result, Teen Vogue is moving away from the model of reporting on youth, beauty, and fashion through the lens of a) middle class white girls, b) the cultural trends they’ve appropriated, and c) the Kardashians/Jenners (although Kendall is basically inescapable in all of her supermodel glory right now). Socially conscious and precisely aware of the diverse fluidity of its readers, Teen Vogue is the less pretentious and less stuffy version of Vogue.

Given its desire to avoid being socially and culturally tone deaf, putting Welteroth at its helm was the right move for Teen Vogue. She has the experience, savvy, style, and perspective to keep the publication fresh, relevant, and hopefully accountable. And even though I’ve aged out of their target audience bracket, I imagine that I’ll be compelled to pick up an issue, just for the “letter from the editor,” when they have an issue on money and finance.