Former Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth on inspiring a new generation of women
Project Runway judge and former Teen Vogue editor in chief Elaine Welteroth has written an inspiring new memoir, More Than Enough. She chatted with EW about the book’s messages and what she hopes readers take away.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As I read this, I felt like it was the millennial Becoming.
ELAINE WELTEROTH: First of all, that’s a huge compliment! So thank you. We live in this 180-character world where we’re all scrolling each other’s success stories on social media, we’re only ever telling the shiniest parts of the story, we’re only putting out our best-filtered pictures out there and our pithiest captions. I just had so much more to say to the next generation of young women who are rising through the ranks in their respective fields, or those small-town kids who have big dreams and are trying to figure out their blueprint to get there. I feel like we do a disservice to them when we only share the shiniest parts of the story on social media. I stepped away from Teen Vogue, but I did not leave those readers behind. I feel like I carry them with me with every project that I take on.
It is so inspiring and empowering. What spurred you to write this book?
This book, for me, was about handing over in real time the lessons I learned about the come-up, and I wanted to give them a really unfiltered look at not just the career come-up, but also the more difficult and confusing and clumsy journey into yourself, into becoming who you’re meant to be. It’s more than a coming-of-age story; it’s really about coming into your own power, and delves into all of the intersections of what makes us who we are. Not just the career aspects, but also the personal aspects, the family dynamics, the racial-identity piece. Now is the time for me to tell this story because I spent 10 years of my career just trying to get a seat at the table. At 30, I was at the head of the table. And now I want to build my own table. This book, for me, is my first table that I built, and I built it for my community to come and have conversations that matter. I just can’t wait to go on tour and meet all of them, and have these real conversations that I wish I had more of in my 20s.
You aren’t afraid to delve into the times that you did not feel strong or authentic. Was this difficult? Why was it important to you not to sugarcoat these moments?
I feel an obligation to tell the truth. At the heart of every journalist is a truth-teller. And I certainly employed that muscle when writing my own story. My mom always says, “What comes from the heart touches the heart.” So even though it was hard to be as vulnerable as I was, I knew I had to really be in service to the readers who need this book. So it was a necessary kind of hard: The struggle to go there is part of the process if you want to write a powerful book. I have a really clear conscience about how I was able to tackle the hardest parts.
You are honest about what really goes on behind the scenes at magazines. Why did you do that, and were you worried at all about your former colleagues’ reactions?
There are parts of our success stories that we always leave out. When we do that, we do a disservice to the people who come up behind us who are counting on us to tell the truths that make their path a little less confusing and daunting. My goal in writing this book was to light torches, to lead the trail a little bit. Ive been held up as a trailblazer, because of the accomplishments in my career. I don’t want to be called a trailblazer unless I am leaving signposts along the way — that make it easier, less daunting, less isolating to the next generation of young women of color who are coming up through the ranks. it would be such a disservice if I were to sanitize the story or left out the complicated parts. If anything, I think people will see themselves in the story and the struggle.
In what sense?
There is no success story that’s complete without struggle. This was never intended to be a fluff book; I don’t have that in me. It’s not fluffy, it’s real — and it’s also funny and lighthearted. So I think there’s a nice mix of experiences, and it takes you on an emotional roller coaster. It goes high, it goes low, and comes back up again. There are unexpected twists and turns, and it ends on a really triumphant note. I actually have a really clear conscience about the way I tackled the harder things, interpersonal workplace dynamics. My story is not just my story, it is a universal story that anyone who’s ever been the only one of them in the room in corporate America or in college, or anyone who has been first in their community, anyone who has been the youngest to do something — they all know these experiences. Microaggressions and pay disparities, dealing with negotiations, imposter syndrome and burnout — unfortunately they’re universal experiences. I wanted to be part of this new generation of career female role models who are cracking open these conversations so we can get rid of the stigma.
Honest, vulnerable storytelling has the power to break down stigmas around some of these harder issues. I hope this book plays a role at chipping away at that stigma so we can get real with each other and help each other, and lift up the next generation so they have an easier time navigating some of those hurdles in their lives and careers. All of us, in some way or another, are battling insecurities and made to feel like we’re not enough. When other people tell the truth, it awakens the truth within yourself and sets you free to tell yours.
If there’s one thing you want readers to take away from this book, what would it be?
The only thing I would add is there’s a quote in the book: “When the world tells you to shrink, expand.” That’s the big takeaway that I’d like to offer to anyone who reads this book. Has Michelle [Obama] read? I certainly hope so — I sent it to her team, I’m going to be down at the Essence Festival with her. She’s the headliner and I’ll be doing some book talks and signings, so I hope our paths cross again. Fingers crossed she’ll read it and it will get her blessing. I really hope she gives it to her daughters, Sasha and Malia. I’d love to have a little book club with them.
This interview has been edited and condensed.