Friday, July 06, 2012

Beauty and ketchup

-In the guise of a beauty post, here's an interesting career trajectory narrative. What privilege can do, and what's required of the individual. Sarah Brown, Vogue's Beauty Director (and we'll just pretend to know what "beauty director" means) offers a nice, frank discussion of how she got where she is, complete with legs-up (her SoHo-gallery-owner mother handing her an ArtForum internship during high school) and scrappiness (stints in retail, persistent maintenance of professional connections). All of which leads me to think that rather than acknowledging "privilege," what people should do is be open about how they got where they are. Because along with Dalton, Vassar, and internships, it was also "privilege," in a sense, that Brown's parents encouraged her to work for pay during college.

-Once again, the myth of some kind of significant caste that only eats local/organic/artisanal is perpetuated, this time in a NYT piece about the guilty, processed-food pleasures with which this caste cheats on occasion. When well-educated, coastal elites are eating at most only a smattering of farm-fresh ingredients, and are relatively slim and healthy for reasons having next to nothing to do with farmers' markets, lovely as those may be. A while back, I defended those who would draw a distinction between fattening haute food and more readily-available crap food items against charges of elitism. Either upscale Manhattan restaurants are contributing to the obesity crisis or they're not. The grease they peddle is too pricey to be consumed by most on a regular basis, and those well-off enough to be at the latest high-end comfort-food establishment night after night are also so committed to being thin that they're only ever picking at what's served. Yet this latest story made me wonder. We need high-end chefs' permission to admit that any non-overprocessed ketchup tastes wrong?


Flavia said...

All of which leads me to think that rather than acknowledging "privilege," what people should do is be open about how they got where they are.

I totally agree with this. Demystifying the path to success makes it clear (or, as clear as it can ever be) that privilege or luck or other not-quite-earned advantages actually do have to be accompanied by persistence and hard work. It seems to me that being upfront about certain privileges in the context of a fuller narrative lets the less-privileged person hearing or reading that narrative say, "well, okay: my mom & dad aren't well-connected, and I didn't go to a fancy college. But I do know someone who knows someone, and gosh-darn it, I'm plucky and persistent! I'll have to work a little harder, but it's still doable."

Flavia said...

(Instead of having the reaction, "oh, those jobs are for rich people with connections. They just have to pick up a phone, and bam! They're beauty director at Vogue.")

Phoebe said...


Agree with all of that. I'd only add that this story shows the importance, for success, of not being handed absolutely everything. I grew up with a lot of people with this woman's background, few of whom it ever would have occurred to to work at the Gap, or otherwise work some job for pay while still in school. I liked that Brown didn't use this detail to obscure the broader truth about who she is and where she comes from, but didn't omit it as irrelevant, either.

Anonymous said...

Except you're missing the point that working at the Gap was inconsequential in her larger career trajectory--that is, while it (perhaps) shows she's not afraid to get her hands dirty, it didn't actually contribute to her getting any of the jobs she got after college or later in her life. What got her all of the resume-building jobs were her connections and family privilege/money.
That interview just reinforced the fact that you're never going to get a job such as she holds without connections, no matter how willing you are to work at the Gap.
The one admirable thing about this interview and this woman is that she is remarkably frank in telling her story. Most people would not admit to getting help at pretty much every stage in their career, so I do give her a lot of credit for that. But that "someone who knows someone" thing is a lot of bull, that is precisely what people who HAVE connections do. If you really don't come from money and privilege, then you don't know anyone who knows anyone, even to the nth degree of separation.