Gabrielle Korn has worked in the fashion industry for years, and she's accomplished quite a lot in her career as a journalist. But the former Nylon editor-in-chief's success was overshadowed by a series of inner struggles during one of the most exciting times in her career.
As she climbed the ranks in her industry, Korn was simultaneously struggling with disordered eating, searching for romance as a young lesbian in New York City and trying to navigate the often complicated dynamics that come along with a career in fashion.
In her new book, "Everybody (Else) is Perfect: How I Survived Hypocrisy, Beauty, Clicks, and Likes," Korn shares a series of personal and cultural essays that chronicle these foundational experiences and gives an inside look at some of the issues that are most relevant to modern women. Following the release of the book, TMRW chatted with Korn, who now works at Netflix, to learn about her journey so far and find out what she hopes women learn from her story.
TMRW: What inspired you to write this book and share your story now?
Gabrielle Korn: I started writing this book before I even realized I was writing this book. It was a really chaotic period in my life — I was in eating disorder recovery, had just been promoted to editor-in-chief of Nylon after the print magazine was folded and had just emerged from a series of painful breakups.
"No one is living the life they portray on social (media)."
I started writing about all the many things that were going on at once to process it all, and eventually a thesis emerged. The book came out almost three years later, during a time when we are all stuck at home with our screens and our social media, and I think it's a good time to talk about the digital world we're all participating in and what it's doing to us.
Tell us a bit about what the book's title means to you and how you relate to it personally.
GK: Basically at this point we are all well-versed in the language of contemporary feminism, which tells us that everyone and their different bodies are all perfect just as they are. But for me it started to really feel like while we knew to say that about each other, we just weren't applying it to ourselves.
The body-positivity movement hadn't seemed to make a dent in the rates of eating disorders, which continue to rise. There's something very broken in the performance of empowered perfectionism online, and that brokenness is what I tried to convey with the title. It's especially pronounced in digital media, which is where I worked for 10 years.
The title calls to mind the concept of “imposter syndrome.” Why do you we compare ourselves to other women at work and on social media?
GK: I think it's very natural to compare yourself to other women at work, and it doesn't have to be an inherently negative thing. A little competition is good if you can channel it into motivation to be better. I think the harm comes when we don't understand that absolutely everyone is struggling with things we'll never know about, and when we assume that those people are living impossibly perfect lives and compare ourselves to that fantasy.
On social media it gets so magnified because we can curate our feeds to reflect that fantasy of perfection. No one is living the life they portray on social. If anything, it's just a glimpse into what is aspirational for them personally.
You talk about the pressure to have an “Instagram perfect life.” What's your approach to social media now?
GK: I have a lot of boundaries on social media these days. It's definitely not a reflection of my day-to-day. And increasingly, if I have a thought, I'll text it to a friend instead of posting it on Twitter. I feel like privacy is becoming more appealing to me than these public performances of vulnerability that feel required to keep your engagement up.
You write about feeling imperfect while working in an industry that has been known to focus on physical perfection. What was that dynamic like for you and how did it impact your personal journey?
GK: It wasn't an amazing experience. Even as someone who was always adamant about showing women with different body types and sizes, I wasn't immune to the messaging that was all around me, which said that there was one right way to look and how you measured up to that aesthetic was also a measure of your worth. My anorexia was at its worst when I was starting to get real attention in the industry — photographed going in and out of events, asked to be on camera, etc. It was incredibly hard to untangle.
You talk about commercialized body positivity in the book. Could you describe this phenomenon a bit and why you think it's important to call attention to it?
GK: I think at a certain point brands realized that they could make more money off of women by making us feel better about ourselves, not worse. It's the appropriation of a movement that exists to combat the messaging that was promoted by those same brands in the first place. The end result is that our feelings are being commodified.
I think it's important to pay attention to the way language is used to manipulate us into spending money. Brands want to give you the feeling of participating in something morally righteous, like feminism, without doing the work to make sure that when you buy from them is actually making the world better.
What's the best career advice you've ever been given?
GK: You're never as stuck as you think you are.
What do you hope other women take away from your book?
GK: That they don't have to accept the things they are told they are supposed to want, feel and need; that they can define those things for themselves.
During the pandemic, our social interaction has mostly been through the internet and many people have turned to social media to keep in touch. What tips do you have for taking advantage of these networking tools without falling into the rabbit hole of thinking everyone else's life is perfect?
GK: Honestly this is something I am still working out for myself, but what's helped me the most is having direct contact with people versus going through social media. Don't rely on Instagram to foster intimacy between you and your friends and your family; maintain those connections with real communication. And don't feel obligated to post.