The mother Elaine Welteroth’s, Debra is fond of telling the story of how Elaine learned to walk.
Two months before the first birthday of baby Lainey, she was given a pair of Reeboks by Debra. The color was flamingo pink and it was sparkly as diamond dust and as it was said by Debra, the moment Eliane’s wore those shoes, she was up and running. No reluctance. No falls. Just zoom. Even at that young age, it was precise that she had been born to run.
However, by no means was little Elaine’s waking life a continuous sequence of successful steps. Before she wore those dream shoes, she had always depended on a plastic baby walker for support. Wonderful hours passed by as she moves it around the house. However, a few times she would get stuck in a corner and when such happened, she will get really mad.
Now, Elaine sees herself in each and every one of those past selves. She is aware of what it is like to get stuck in life’s corners. Nevertheless, she never for once stopped running and she never withdrew from a race toward professional and personal fulfillment.
1 – With the assistance of Elaine’s parents, Elaine learned to embrace and be proud of her race at an earlier age.
Elaine recollects the day she understood she was different.
She was just three years old, and her preschool teacher had just given her and her classmates an assignment, the assignment was to make a collage that represents their family using pictures from magazines.
Even at that tender age, Elaine had clues of her otherness. Elaine was raised in a tiny town of Newark, California and the town was overwhelmingly white. Certainly, there were a few first-generation Asian, Mexican and Indian families; however, it was not a cultural melting pot. Elaine’s family just didn’t look like anyone else’s.
Jack, who was Elaine’s father, was white and her mother, Debra, was black. Also, Elaine’s older brother, Eric Charles, was like little Elaine herself who is caramel-taffy brown.
In a classroom full of busy white toddlers, small Elaine attempted to search for pictures that resembled her family. It was sort of easy for her to find a dad. She saw a white businessman holding a suitcase (Jack worked as a carpenter). It was harder for her to look for a back mom and a brown brother.
Therefore, she did what any little girl would have done which was copying her classmates and she used pictures of white people.
When Debra saw Elaine’s assignment, she said one of her classic lines “Houston, we have a problem” and she sat Lainey down at the kitchen table. It was time to have the Race talk.
Elaine did her college again, but this time with the assistance of her mother and using more correct cutouts from Ebony and Essence magazines. After they finished the assignment, the collage was hanged by Elaine’s bed just as a reminder. Elaine wasn’t, and never would be, white because she was black and that was something to be proud of.
Elaine was fortunate. Her parents gave her unconditional love and support. She may have felt out of place in the classroom. However, back home, she was taught that she was flawless, that she was enough, just the way she was.
2 – Elaine’s earlier interest in design and beauty laid the foundation for her future career as a magazine editor.
The entrepreneurial in her came out a bit early.
Elaine wasn’t in her fifth grade yet, when she and Claudia Ortega her best friend had started a makeshift beauty salon at the backyard of Claudia’s house. Claudia and Elaine had the same go-get-‘em boss-girl mindset and gumption. However, their tireless efforts to create a backyard business weren’t completely the consequence of this enterprising spirit. As a matter of fact, none of them was very popular.
At the bottom of their unpopularity was their difference. All the neighbors of Claudia were white and most of the Newark community was white. Also, the white girls didn’t want to become friends with Elaine and Claudia who almost could have passed as sisters with their caramel-brown skin. As a newly confounders of a beauty salon, the girls were not just after customers; they wanted playmates as well.
The bait was effective. The day the salon was opened, the white girls of the neighborhood came. First was Terrin, afterward was Courtney and Cheyenne, this one demanding a massage and the other manicure. It was Elaine’s first experience of professional success.
The salon never yielded into a profit, however, its success made one thing clear to Elaine: she wanted to have a big, successful life and a life with herself in control.
Meanwhile, at home, Elaine’s gifts and imagination found other openings.
Working until past her bedtime, she’d put finishing touches on her most valued designs: her collages, which she formed using cutouts from magazines like Seventeen and YM. Pictures, quotes, and letters were all carefully arranged with pictures of Elaine and her friends. Each collage captured the importance of a particular friendship.
Unknowingly, little Lainey was developing the skill set which is a razor-sharp sense for layout and design, a hawk’s eye for detail that would make her different in her future career as a magazine editor.
Even before her backyard ventures into the beauty salon and her tireless collaging, Elaine was always fond of telling stories. As a little girl, while in the bath, speaking to an audience of bubbles, she’d use the showerhead as a mic, concurrently interviewing and being interviewed.
A few times she would be Barbara Walters and some other times she would be Oprah. And she interviewed the crème-de-la-crème like of Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Michael Jordan, and Martin Luther King which were all played by Elaine, of course.
This little boss girl was off to a tough beginning.
3 – In elementary and junior high school, Elaine experienced a few minor identity crises.
If you ever wonder how a young girl is doing with her life, then Elaine Welteroth has a clue for you, just look at her hair. During her earlier teens, her hairstyles changed in response to her social environment, she was regularly telling a clear story of who she wanted to be.
Up until her fifth grade, Elaine’s mother braided her hair each and every week. She wasn’t even aware that her hair was naturally curly not until she was ten years old. In her eighth grade, she started practicing with letting her hair take its natural shape. But this choice of hers coincided with some discouraging comment.
Elaine saw a list that was written the boys in her classes which ranked her as well as her classmates from “pretty to butt ugly.” Her name wasn’t close to the top. After she saw that, she attempted to control her curls.
Elaine’s elementary school consisted majorly of white people. In that setting, Elaine’s type of natural was not considered as desirable. A type of inward shrinking like shame and self-doubt started to destroy her former confidence and pride.
Nevertheless, the crisis of her hair had not yet gotten to its peak.
Elaine’s junior high school was more diverse, with a lot of Mexican students, and as she relocated into this new environment, Elaine’s hair changed once more.
All thanks to her light brown skin and curly hair, Elaine is a type of ethnic chameleon. During her junior high, where a premium was put on how strong you looked, she was able to mimic her Mexican friends and fit in. She sprayed and gelled her hair into the normal “do – a tiny bun on top, with two antenna-like protrusions in front”. She drew her eyebrows and used a brown lip liner.
Nonetheless, her change didn’t turn her into an object a male wants. Meanwhile, Brittney Mayer who was her best friend was half-white and half-Mexican attracted the boys like bears to honey. She was gorgeous and she also resembled those mixed-race girls in music videos, with her light skin and long hair which is a look that curly-haired Elaine could never completely imitate.
This was just an issue for Elaine on one occasion. During the eighth-grade winter ball when the end-of-the-night slow dance song played, no one asked her to dance to with them. Back home, her cool veneer broke and she ended her night by weeping in her mother’s lap.
It was a disturbing moment. However, in her high school there a more life-shaping crisis was just right around the corner.
4 – Elaine fell in love in high school; however, the course of the relationship disrupted her dreams.
Elaine heads started turning when she entered high school. All of a sudden, she was surrounded by black boys within her age limit and also getting checked out in a major way.
When she turned 14, she was prepared for something she had never experienced before which was romantic love. She was ready for love after school phone calls, holding hands on campus and the oceanic feeling of love songs and movies
And this happened fast. First Love, as we all call him, was Elaine’s dream boy. He had cornrows and ran the 400-meter dash like lightning and he had an appealing bad-boy charisma. After a trackside courtship, they were official during the spring of Elaine’s freshman year.
Let’s hold on for a minute to remember the turn of the century. America was particularly un-woke. Beyoncé’s feminist era was yet to start, and Elaine just like multitudes of other female fans of Destiny’s Child who didn’t want a caring, goodhearted man. She wanted a “soldier” and a bad boy she would continuously support no matter what happens.
Elaine refers to it as the Ride or Die Syndrome which is the belief of a lot of young women in her generation, which is that you should stand by your man, deal with the drama, and ride the relationship “’til the wheels fall off.”
The first three months were just like a Hollywood film. First Love made her a mixtape full of romantic R&B. They spoke on the phone up until the early hours. They kissed for the first time in front of Elaine’s house.
Throughout her high school, she was always getting straight-A with the dreams of going to Stanford. Her First Love wasn’t so serious about school and he ultimately went to Sacramento State. They didn’t have only academic differences.
While she was still in high school, her First Love started selling weed. When he went to the Sac State, his choices and attitude worsened more. Elaine heard him talking about selling “rocks” of crack cocaine. Their fight was now more often and terrifying. In an argument, First Love hit the window so hard behind Elaine’s head that the glass broke.
Even at that, her ride-or-die mentality became stronger. She was with her First Love for over three years after she graduated from high school. She didn’t have the courage to leave him, therefore she let go of her dreams of going to Stanford and she also went to Sacramento State.
5 – After breaking up with First Love, Elaine started questioning typical messages about race.
During the Christmas break, she received a call; it was First love that called from the country jail. He was arrested and he will be locked up for the next six months. Elaine was just finishing her freshman year at Sac State.
She kept wondering about the same thing, over and over again: it has to get better than this. She went to see First Love frequently in jail; however, during the summer of her sophomore year, she’d had enough. They separated.
The breakup was confusing for Elaine, however, she immediately met a professor who helped her restored her sense of direction. Dr. Michele Foss-Snowden was different from any other teacher Elaine has ever had. M. Foss as Elaine nicknamed her was a young, intelligent, biracial and beautiful woman. She gave her a new outline for both adulthood and success. A mentor-mentee relationship was established.
M. Foss assisted Elaine in putting her words into thoughts and the feeling that had been below the surface of expression for years. M. Foss served as both Elaine’s guide and goad by assisting her to interrogate and discharge the mass-media messages she had been immersed in since her birth.
Mainstream imagery passed a clear message that being white was was better than being black. If black people were shown in any music videos, magazines, on television or in movies, they were likely to have light skin and straight hair. Black characteristics that turned away from white aesthetics, from dark skin to “nappy” hair, were barely shown in a favorable light.
This got Elaine upset. The more she spoke with M. Foss and the more she studied, the more she understood how persistently American society primes black people for self-hate.
Even though she was still not sure of her direction in life, Elaine wanted mainstream images and stories that would debunk the fairy tales of white sovereignty. At the same time, she started embracing her own blackness with a plan of allowing her hair to grow naturally and spending more with her black friends.
But, it wasn’t until after a devastating internship in New York City that Elaine recognized her vocational calling, and she started pursuing it with retaliation.
6 – A tough internship assisted Elaine in figuring out exactly what she wanted to do in life.
During Elaine’s junior year at Sac State, she started to feel the pressure of her graduation approaching. What she was going to do after college. Hence, she started looking for internships.
When Elaine got the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program, she believed she’d hit the jackpot. She was devoted to searching for paid internships for people of color, this platform looked perfect. Elaine applied and was given an internship at Ogilvy & Nash, a top-tier advertising agency in New York City.
However, her experience there was terrible. Her fellow interns who were white Ivy League graduates who vacationed in the Hamptons hardly looked at her. Unnoticed and intimidated, she started to shrink inside herself, hardly speaking out.
When she went back to California, she was certain that advertising was not the path for her, this was an essential discovery for her because it assisted her towards her true calling which is editorial work.
During that period, she was scared because she was unsure of what she really wanted to do. Fortunately for her, she had enough time. It was the start of her senior year and she had two more semesters to figure out her plans for post-college.
Afterward, she received some shocking news. During her enrolment for second-year classes, she discovered that she’d be graduating a semester early. She’d mistakenly finished her whole credits in three and a half years. The pressure was on.
However, Elaine wasn’t the type of person to get weakened by pressure. Rather, it pushed her in the right path.
During a conversation with M. Foss, Elaine eventually gave voice to her dreams. She wanted to be a magazine editor. This dream looks so unachievable to Elaine that she’s never admitted to it before.
Having this new goal in mind, Elaine applied for an internship at Essence magazine, she used the collaging skills she had mastered since she was a child to make an application that looked like a beauty magazine article.
Then, she heard God’s voice while she was at her parents’ house. She had just submitted her application to Essence. A pile of Elaine’s mom magazine was nearby and Elaine saw a copy of Ebony with Alicia Keys on the front cover. The article was done by a woman named Harriette Cole and after she read it, she felt initiated to contact her.
She didn’t know at that moment, however, her relationship with Harriette would transform her life forever.
7 – After getting an internship at Essence, Elaine decided to take a risk by interning at Ebony.
Was Elaine behaving like a stalker? Perhaps just a little. She called Harriette Cole’s office every day. Although, she was persistent and she was also professional about it. All she kept saying to Harriette’s assistant was she wanted just 15 minutes.
Elaine wanted to be the type of woman Harriette Cole was. After working her way through the positions at Essence, she established her own company and she was a frequent guest on The Today Show. Now, she was the editor-in-chief of Ebony.
Ultimately, Elaine’s determination was worth it. A call was arranged, and when the two women finally spoke, their conversation went on for 45 minutes, not the initial 15 minutes. Elaine concluded by saying that, even if they never talk to each again, Harriette had already transformed her life forever.
At that moment, Elaine was already accepted to be an intern at Essence. Life, it appeared, couldn’t be more on track.
Few months after and just 30 days before she began her internship. Elaine received a phone call from Harriette. She told her that she was getting set for a photoshoot in Los Angeles and she asked Elaine if she was interested in being her production assistant for that day.
Elaine had no idea what a production assistant was and she quickly accepted the offer. She was so surprised by her luck.
Elaine’s mother, Debra was keen on driving Elaine to Los Angeles and when they arrived, Elaine found out that it wasn’t just any photo-shoot. It was a cover shoot for Serena Willians.
At a point, Elaine did something that was simply bold. As Serena posed in a pool at Los Angeles, Elaine said to Harriette in a low voice, “I think she would look incredible in the blue swimsuit.”
Although, that is not the duty of a production assistant or how she’s meant to behave especially on her first day. However, Harriette didn’t get mad at Elaine. Rather she kept mute and when the silence was becoming intolerable; Harriette said to Serena “Serena, let’s try you in the blue swimsuit next.”
The remaining is history.
Elaine was offered an internship at Ebony by Harriette. Although Ebony was seen as a much less stylish magazine than Essence, she accepted the offer. She thought Harriette’s assurances that she’d have chances at Ebony that Essence simply couldn’t give.
This professional risk was worth it. In the end, Time Inc., who is the owner Essence, didn’t retain any of its editorial interns that summer which was a first in its history. However, Elaine was profitably employed, gaining important experiences. And remember that blue swimsuit? It was featured on Ebony’s cover.
8 – While Elaine was at Ebony, she grew professionally and she fell in love.
During Elaine’s intern at Ebony, she was offered several opportunities that an Essence intern would only dream of.
Ebony had deteriorated for years. However, with Harriette at the top, it started to take a brand new path. Elaine who had just arrived in New York City was in for an exciting ride.
Cover after thrilling cover. After Serena Williams was Michelle Obama, in her first cover feature. After that were Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, Prince and Barack Obama.
However, in business, everyone can be thrown away. Elaine hadn’t spent a long time at Ebony long when Harriette was suddenly forced to leave. At that moment, Elaine was already part of the Ebony family, and due to the words of encouragement by Harriette’s, she decided to stay until she got a title promotion.
Elaine was really hardworking and essentially carrying the responsibilities of the whole beauty department, and immediately she was given the title beauty and style editor.
Meanwhile, a new man came into her life. Let’s name this man Future Husband.
Ever since her last heartbreak with First Love, Elaine had avoided serious dating. She wasn’t ready to be in a committed relationship except she found The One.
Future Husband appeared to be the one. They met before she turned 23. It was early December, and Elaine attended a party in Midtown West that was hosted in a stunning apartment overlooking the Hudson River. The host came to her at the end of the night. He was handsome with an athletic body. Instead of him writing down her number, he memorized it immediately.
She already had the keys to his apartment by January. During Valentine’s Day in February, he gave her a pair of diamond earrings.
However, this expensive gift was also a red flag. Elaine wasn’t a fan of large hoop earrings covered in diamonds, however they were diamonds and she responded with the necessary screams and wide-eyes appreciation.
The following day, Future Husband voiced out his unhappiness. She hasn’t worn or tried the earrings, he voiced out furiously. He had designed them and she didn’t even love them? Elaine was shocked. Why was he so angry? Deep down, she knew something wasn’t right.
Looking back, Elaine desires that she’d learned to trust her instincts. A lot of women even herself have been trained to drive warning signs away.
From the outside, everything looked completely perfect. Elaine was young, successful and dating the man she wanted. However, behind that polished exterior, Elaine was in confusion both romantically and professionally.
9 – Elaine broke into the élite world of Condé Nast and she separated with Future Husband.
Although this was vital to her growth, Elaine’s stay at Ebony wasn’t really stylish. On her first day, she spent it cleaning and arranging the confined beauty closet. As a result of the shortage of staff, Elaine always did excessive work. She was aware since her first day that she had to soar higher.
In the monarchy of journalism on top of a mountain known as success, there was a castle called Condé castle, as Elaine called the Condé Nast, the esteemed publisher of magazines such as Vogue and Glamour. On her pursuit of success, Elaine was dedicated to breaking the castle walls.
Future Husband was there to assist her by taking her to a luxury department store like Bergdorf Goodman to buy “interview shoes” which was a pair of cream patent-leather Louboutins. Elaine wasn’t aware that Future Husband was auditioning her for the position of helpmeet.
Future Husband began to criticize Elaine at an increasing rate. Why, when he went to her place, weren’t his favorite foods awaiting him? Why did she wear loose jeans and red lipstick? She started to change herself just to suit his prospects, wearing clothes that he liked. Slowly, she saw herself withdrawing inwardly and turning into the woman that Future Husband wanted her to be.
Although, in her professional line, everything was coming together.
Elaine had gotten to the position of a beauty writer at Glamour. This was a vital moment for Elaine. For a black woman like her to change from a small publication like Ebony to a mainstream magazine like Glamour was a big deal. Less than a year, she’d been promoted to style and beauty editor and this made her the first black person to attain such position.
Immediately after her personal achievement, she got a disturbing email. The anonymous sender gave shocking information about an affair that Future Husband was having with a coworker.
Immediately, Elaine called Future Husband and she pleaded with him to be truthful. He denied everything.
Two weeks after, Offy who was Elaine’s roommate came out with the truth. She had sent Elaine the message after she caught Future Husband having an affair through an acquaintance. Apparently, Elaine had met the woman before.
The following days after, Elaine confirmed everything. After the woman Future Husband cheated with confessed about the whole affair, Elaine called her mother and she was continuously crying. Her mother took the next flight to New York.
That visit was just what Elaine wanted. While Elaine’s mom was holding her chin, she gave down rules. She said Future Husband “doesn’t deserve second of your time.” Elaine cut off ties with him, and she never looked back.
10 – Elaine got to the position of editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue before she decided to leave Condé Nast.
For the next six years, she moved from one success to another success.
The beauty and health director at Teen Vogue Eva Chen, choose Elaine to be her replacement. After four years, Elaine became the Teen Vogue’s editor, less than a year after she was the editor-in-chief. Also, she reunited with one of the nice boys from church named Jonathan who was her childhood friend. When she clocked 30, they got engaged,
All thanks to her promotions at Teen Vogue, Elaine had turned into what Shonda Rhimes refers to as a FOD – someone who is First, Only and Different. During her five years career at Condé Nast, she’d become the youngest editor in the publisher’s history and she was also its second black editor.
Being a FOD comes with its own burdens. Elaine felt sometimes that she was required to represent and champion all black people in order to give them the platform and discernibility that mass media had denied them.
She tried the best she could. For instance, she wrote what would happen to a historic cover story if black models such as Imaan Hammam, Aya Jones, and Lineisy Montero appeared in it. She also published a discussion on black pride between the singer-songwriter Solange and actress Amandla Stenberg. Also, she facilitated a type of article on cultural appropriation featuring the singer Willow Smith.
Also, most essentially she encourages individuals behind scenes. The majority of the mainstream media in photographers and hair stylists are white. However, as it is known by Elaine, if you want to change stories, you have to change the storytellers too.
Therefore, for the cover that featured Amandla Stenberg, Elaine made it mandatory that she worked with two black stylists named Julia Sarr-Jamois and Lacy Redway. It was uplifting and satisfying to be one of four black women working on a set that day.
Elaine’s career kept boosting, and she thought she was making a positive effect. However, suddenly, the decision came down: Teen Vogue just like most of the other print publications would fold in 2017.
Elaine could have stayed within the Condé castle and relocated to another of the publisher’s magazines. However, she has never been the type to avoid risk. Hence, Elaine decided to leave.
Honestly, she’d started to feel burnt out. For months, she’d been feeling physical symptoms with extreme stress. For those years where her hard work had taken her to the top, they were also taking a toll.
Also, she didn’t imagine that her story would end at Condé Nast.
Elaine Welteroth is still a story about that. If there’s one lesson so far, it is that she’s done enough, and she is enough. However, that doesn’t signify that she’s not prepared for more.
More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) by Elaine Welteroth Book Review
Elaine Welteroth is where she is today because she recognizes that she’s enough, just the way she is. She was always interested in design and beauty, and all these interests set the path for her profession as a magazine editor. As the daughter of a white father and a black mother, she had a vested interest in supporting and encouraging black representation in mainstream media and this was best represented by her time at Teen Vogue.
Trust your instinct!
If you have a feeling about a thing, either it’s a bad feeling about a romantic partner or a good feeling about a possible professional contact, trust it! Not all bad feelings signify that you have to leave your partner; however, you should take the time to study where the feeling is coming from. Trust your guts and see where it takes you; it may be right at the top!