By day, Jessica Matlin (top right) is the health and beauty director at Teen Vogue, and Jennifer Goldstein (top left) is the executive beauty and health editor at Marie Claire. Not glam enough for you yet? On nights, weekends and rare, spare moments in between, they become the co-hosts of Fat Mascara, the award-winning, first-of-its-kind weekly podcast about all things beauty. (The show’s name is an allusion to the bigger, better, juicier, where-does-it-end? trend in mascara and the like.)
Since last spring, Jess and Jenn have been “raising a wand” to their favorite products; interviewing celebrities, hair stylists and makeup artists, physicians and all manner of experts; reporting the latest industry news; answering listener questions and otherwise holding up beauty as a mirror to our culture.
For bravely, stylishly and hilariously exploring this often fraught women’s territory in a smart, fresh way, we hereby name Jenn and Jess this month’s Power Figures. Read on to hear how they know a hero from a zero when it comes to cosmetics, why these print all-stars became audiophiles, how they cope with stress when they’re at their limits and what beauty really means to them.
Q: What about the beauty business resonates with you so deeply?
Jenn: Beauty combines so many things I love: culture, art, science, history, interesting people. Plus, it’s inclusive—you’re never going to find a mascara that doesn’t fit!
Jess: Beauty products always felt like the key to a more fabulous version of one’s self. As a kid, I remember wanting to be a ritzy kind of woman—I watched a lot of 80s movies—and in my room, playing with the free samples my mother gave me from Macy’s, I felt that more elegant 8-year-old emerge. The beauty world is about something better for me.
Q: How did you find your calling and become experts in the field?
Jenn: I did my thesis on cross-cultural interpretations of beauty, which got me interested in how cosmetics affect the way we’re perceived. But my experience really began working at a cosmetics store. From there it was on to sephora.com, then magazines. Those jobs provided a strong knowledge base. I’ve spent years interviewing people with way more knowledge than me, just trying to absorb everything they were willing to share.
Jess: I studied up in my teens, obsessing over Kevyn Aucoin’s books, reading every beauty and fashion magazine I could get my hands on and loitering around the ground floor of Nordstrom. In college, I interned at Jane, YM, Nylon and Harper’s Bazaar, almost exclusively in the beauty departments.
“Beauty brands used to present an ideal, a fantasy. Today, consumers want something more relatable”
Q: What about the beauty business is changing? How about the media?
Jenn: I think they’re finally, thankfully, becoming more inclusive. No matter your interests or your background or your look, you can now find likeminded people to share your beauty journey with and products that will work for you.
Jess: Beauty brands used to present an ideal of what was beautiful. It was aspirational and glamorous—a fantasy. Today, brands that push out a fantasy are fewer and further between. Consumers generally want something more relatable. You can really see it in beauty advertising and women’s magazines.
Q: What’s your mission with Fat Mascara?
Jenn: To pull back the curtain and bring intelligence and a bit of humor to an industry that’s historically been wrapped up in secrecy and glamour.
Jess: As an editor, I find that so many great stories get left on the cutting room floor. From conversations with experts to what happens behind the scenes at these insane beauty press events, it seemed like something beauty fans would like to know about. I’m still shocked/intrigued/amused by it all, and I’ve been at this for awhile now.
Q: How did the podcast start? How did you turn the idea into reality?
Jess: I’ve been a podcast addict for years. I’d mostly listened to WTF with Marc Maron and The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast, and both of those were hosts talking to artists about culture. I loved the long-form conversations, and how honest they got. There was so much great insider information, I felt privileged to be getting this scoop; it felt so intimate. I thought, “I should do one of these for the beauty world.” I immediately started thinking about guests and topics that didn’t get any play in magazines or on the web.
When I pitched the show, my producer told me I needed a partner. I took Jenn, a friend through work, out for a drink, and I told her that I would love someone like her, but I figured she couldn’t do it. I didn’t even know if I would be allowed to! While I knew I really wanted to do this, I didn’t expect Jenn to jump on board. We had only been friends for a year or so, but we always had great conversations about the beauty world on the way back from events. She’s got this killer combo of not taking things too seriously, but she’s curious as hell. Fast-forward to the day where we each went into our bosses’ offices to ask for their blessing to pursue the podcast. We got the go-ahead and started recording.
Our biggest hurdle is juggling everything. Fat Mascara has taken on a life of its own, and we’re very committed to it. However, we have a lot of other professional responsibilities, so it’s a constant balancing act.
“No balance, sorry, try back next week”
Q: Speaking of balance, what’s a typical day like?
Jenn: Ha! There is no balance, and no part of my life gets 100 percent effort, though I wish it could. I wake up and check my social accounts, go to Marie Claire and work on writing a column or editing a story, I probably have a deskside meeting and maybe an after-work event, and in between, Jess and I are texting like mad women to book guests, come up with topics and field new business opportunities. On weekends, I’ll work on questions for podcast guests and our website. When it all gets to be too much, I go for a long run or try to get out of the city.
Jess: No balance, sorry, try back next week. I wake up, check my social accounts and emails, listen to podcasts like Pop Fashion, New York Times The Daily, The Emma Guns Show, there’s too many! Then I go to work and get cracking on one of the many stories I write and edit for Teen Vogue. Jenn and I text and email all day and meet once or twice a week to record. Did I mention I’m getting married on top of this?
Q: In an industry so focused on reinvention, how do you decide what’s worth a woman’s attention?
Jenn: When someone asks me to assess a product, I ask, “Do you like it? Do you think it’s working? Do you feel better when you use it?” If the answer is yes, then I don’t care what it contains, it’s not snake oil. Honestly, 90 percent of lipsticks or moisturizers are the exact same thing in different packages with different scents, so it’s more about seeking out what works for you than trying to discredit a few rogue products.
Jess: It’s definitely about what works for you. No product is going to make you look three decades younger or permanently eradicate cellulite. But the good news is that big brands spend outrageous amounts of money on clinical tests, so when they say that fine lines are minimized or skin is plumped, yeah, it likely is. But if you’re expecting to look like a baby after application, you’re going to be disappointed.
“Caring about your appearance is simply a sign that you’re a healthy human”
Q: How do you reconcile feminism with caring about appearance?
Jenn: Caring about your appearance is simply a sign that you’re a healthy human, and there’s no way I could think what we do—or what the people we interview do—is superficial when you see how positively beauty affects so many women’s lives. Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives answers the question better than I ever could.
Jess: Feeling good in your skin—whether that’s through smooth hands or a Tom Ford lipstick—is part of being human. There are some people who take it too far, but when you listen to Fat Mascara, it’s clear that’s not who we are. Beauty is a way to connect with others and start conversations about other, “deeper” things.
Q: How do you cultivate inner beauty when you don’t feel your best on the outside?
Jenn: I go for a hike or a walk outdoors. Seeing beauty in the natural world makes my worries over my appearance seem inconsequential.
Jess: Talk to someone else about what’s going on in their life. Be a listener. My friend Gab says, “It’s not always about you.” That reminds me to snap out of it.
Q: What are you passionate about apart from work?
Jenn: You have no idea know how many New Yorkers I’ve introduced to camping! I love to go hiking and birding. I think the best way to protect the world’s natural resources is by enjoying them, so I have a soft spot for beauty companies focused on sustainability.
Jess: I’ve grown passionate about animal welfare. The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve changed. Some beauty brands are not entirely cruelty-free—if a brand sells in China, it’s complicit in animal testing—and while I still engage with many of these brands in my career, I feel proud of the awareness I’ve brought to the issue. I’ve written about animal testing for Teen Vogue, spoken about it extensively and brought the Leaping Bunny’s Kim Paschen on Fat Mascara. It’s not perfect, but it is progress.
Q: What does beauty mean to you? How about empowerment?
Jenn: Beauty is the thing that makes you different than the person sitting next to you on the subway. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is look around a subway car and find something beautiful about every person, whether it’s an interesting nose, a cool hairstyle or amazing freckles. To me, ugliness is homogeneity, so beauty is all that diversity. I don’t love the word “empowerment” because I don’t think you need power to be strong—and strength, even if no one else knows about it, is more important in the long run.
Jess: Beauty is the thing that makes a moment feel special. It’s the lush blanket I put on my couch today, or the candle I’m burning. It’s the reason I put perfume in my hair before I left work at 8 PM, which I can still smell now, or why I wear lipstick—I want things to feel special. Why shouldn’t they?
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO JESS & JENN
Desert-island beauty product
Jess: Tinted sunscreen.
Foolproof beauty trick
Jenn: Sleep 8 hours.
Jess: Use dark brown eyeliner instead of black—far more flattering.
Jenn: I could never pick just one!
Jess: Are you kidding? I can’t be loyal for even 12 hours.
Strangest beauty treatment you’ve tried
Jess: A detoxifying foot bath that was supposed to make me lose weight.
Jenn: I squeezed eggs from a salmon in Norway to help make an anti-aging serum.
Jess: I don’t like that. Gross.
Jenn: Black denim and black leather.
Jess: Nice pajamas and cool coats.
Heels or flats?
Jenn: Heels, stacked or platform, never stiletto.
Most regrettable trend you’ve tried
Jenn: A nose ring.
Jess: There were one or two weeks in high school when I thought I might try a hip-hop, sporty style. No one was convinced.
Best way to de-stress
Jess: Chilling with my cat, eating snacks and watching Younger and The Real Housewives. So sue me!
Jenn: If Rooney Mara and Tilda Swinton had a baby.
Jess: Julianne Moore.
Jenn: “Go outside.”
Jess: “Done is better than perfect.” Joanna Coles, the editor-in-chief while I was at Cosmopolitan, had a sign that said that next to her desk.
Jenn: My actual strength. I am freakishly strong for my size.
Jess: I’m very decisive.
Jenn: Getting “voice recognized” on the street by Fat Mascara listeners.
Jess: The first time my fearful adopted cat came and sat on my lap without warning.
Jenn: “You make people feel like they’re the only one in the room.”
Jess: Whatever my mom writes in my birthday card that year.
Jenn: Zero regrets.
Jess: Yeah—live and learn.
Brooke is the editor of this here blog. In a previous life, she was an editor at Good Housekeeping and O, The Oprah Magazine. Brooke has written for Glamour, Travel+Leisure, New York Magazine and more. She’s into concerts, travel and her exceptionally adorable daughter and husband.