Fashion Magazines...A Glimpse of Hell?

July 31, 2008
By Christina Chao, East Brunswick, NJ

When was younger, I always flipped through my mother’s glossy magazines, immersing myself in the whirlwind of colors that glistened under my fingertips. It was a whole different world encompassed in a packet of pages that revealed art, beauty, extravagance; a whole unique world that I fell in love with. A world where excitement, color, and sophistication streamlined one’s life is the world that I thought I wanted. During college, my passion for magazines transformed into a striking occupation possibility, and it was this realization that my love was not for magazines, but rather, for magazine editing/writing. However, within reach of my dreams, I learned a lesson; that sometimes our dreams are far from reality…but even with the wrong directions, we can still successfully navigate our lives.

As a child, what gave me pleasure was not playing on the swings or getting dirty in the sandbox. With a sketchbook/journal, and a pencil in the other, I would create my own fashion styles and write about them. I would go into my mother’s closet and play dress up, especially with her shoes. And it wasn’t just those soles that uplifted my spirits to become a journalist. It was the feeling of beauty. There’s just so much one can do with style that intrigued me tremendously. It wasn’t so much I was materialistic, but rather more curious. I felt compelled to observe styles, moods, representations of people’s personalities and perceptions…through clothes. I would rip pages out of her magazines and sketch them, admiring the beauty and contour of the art and rainbow of colors splashing on the pages. My aspiration was to create, to inspire, and to breathe fashion. There was a certain panache I had as a kid, not just being observant of trends and fashionable items, but with refinement. As the assistant to the house decorator, my mother would consistently ask me to help her decorate, choosing paint palettes, quaint furniture, and appropriate décor. I would always write down what I’d done, tracking my assignments and sketching my ideas in my sketchbook. I wrote about everything in my fashion journal and I felt like writing those fashion articles was my future. Color was everything to me, and writing was my way of expressing the colors of my emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Thus, I strived to pursue a colorful occupation through fashion.

Fast forward to my college graduation. Graduating from New York University with a degree in journalism, I had never felt more accomplished. I remember that day vividly, the wave of purple that crowded around Washington Square, smiles lighting up the whole park. I was euphoric in the big, fabulous city, graduating with a successful degree in my dream occupation. I felt indestructible, like superwoman; young, sexy, fierce, and powerful. I had just graduated and launched my career headfirst into the magazine industry as an intern fashion assistant for Vogue! Not only did I just graduate, I had a possible job! I felt like my dreams were finally weaved into the quilt that I had started so long ago. I even had a boyfriend from college that I hoped someday would be my husband. Life was good…except when “it” started. The job that I thought I loved, the job that “a million girls would die for” had turned out to be a job from Hell.

I had a journalism degree, specifically to write articles and report about the world. I did not get a prestigious journalism degree to fetch coffee, staple papers, count pencils, or walk the executive editor’s dog. Unfortunately, those were my tasks as an intern. What happened to real experience? It was right here. In the fashion magazine industry, interns are servants who experience the world of fashion through menial tasks. I could not believe I was so naïve to not have realized this earlier. My daily experiences consisted of criticism about my outfits, my lunch choices, and my work ethics by the Devil herself; Anna Wintour, editor in chief. She was the Queen of Bitches, the Queen of Mean. If she said it wasn’t perfect, you better pray that you still have your job, your head, or at least your self esteem. Despite all the criticism however, I learned to adapt to “perfection.” I was exposed to the gilded world of fashion, and somehow I was barely scathed from the hellish criticisms and expectations. But things weren’t the way they were before. Because of all my time with the magazine, I had sacrificed my relationship with my boyfriend, time with my family, friends, and myself. I lived for no one but the magazine that was my life. Unfortunately due to my dedication, I was promoted to assistant to the fashion director. There was only one thing to do at this point…with all its glitz and glamour in high heels, I turned it down.
Sometimes the chase is what we seek. Instead of reaching for something secure, we find ourselves only finding a thrill in the chase for the gold. And I found that throughout my years striving to be a fashion magazine editor/writer. It would take me years, even decades to become the executive editor (or any editor perhaps) and life is too short to be waiting. It would take me years to get over the drama that followed the world of fashion; the wild parties, fashion events, traveling, and hectic schedules. After spending a strenuous year at Vogue, every skeletal model, every barking screech about deadlines, every knit picky criticism became a blur of the past.
Dreams are so different from reality, and definitely far from our expectations. I was so immersed in my own dreams that I neglected the downside of them; the reality. Maybe it was a part of growing up, or even finding myself because throughout all of this, I learned that fashion is not as glamorous as some make it out to be. Being exposed, I learned about the real world, and about discipline, and how it all doesn’t really change. But, as the new columnist for The New York Times, I can breathe by creating colors through writing, instead of counting colored scarves in a stuffy closet.

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