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Everybody (Else) Is Perfect

How I Survived Hypocrisy, Beauty, Clicks, and Likes

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From the former editor-in-chief of Nylon comes a provocative and intimate collection of personal and cultural essays featuring eye-opening explorations of hot button topics for modern women, including internet feminism, impossible beauty standards in social media, shifting ideals about sexuality, and much more.

Gabrielle Korn starts her professional life with all the right credentials. Prestigious college degree? Check. A loving, accepting family? Check. Instagram-worthy offices and a tight-knit group of friends? Check, check. Gabrielle’s life seems to reach the crescendo of perfect when she gets named the youngest editor-in-chief in the history of one of fashion’s most influential publication. Suddenly she’s invited to the world’s most epic parties, comped beautiful clothes and shoes from trendy designers, and asked to weigh in on everything from gay rights to lip gloss on one of the most influential digital platforms.

But behind the scenes, things are far from perfect. In fact, just a few months before landing her dream job, Gabrielle’s health and wellbeing are on the line, and her promotion to editor-in-chief becomes the ultimate test of strength. In this collection of inspirational and searing essays, Gabrielle reveals exactly what it’s truly like in the fashion world, trying to find love as a young lesbian in New York City, battling with anorexia, and trying not to lose herself in a mirage of women’s empowerment and Instagram perfection.

Through deeply personal essays, Gabrielle recounts her struggles to reconcile her long-held insecurities about her body while coming out in the era of The L Word, where swoon-worthy lesbians are portrayed as skinny, fashion-perfect, and power-hungry. She takes us with her everywhere from New York Fashion Week to the doctor’s office, revealing that the forces that try to keep women small are more pervasive than anyone wants to admit, especially in a world that’s been newly branded as woke.

From #MeToo to commercialized body positivity, Korn’s biting, darkly funny analysis turns feminist commentary on its head. Both an in-your-face take on impossible beauty standards and entrenched media ideals and an inspiring call for personal authenticity, this powerful collection is ideal for fans of Roxane Gay and Rebecca Solnit.

Prologue Prologue
Dear Readers,

For two chaotically busy, gloriously productive, high-profile years, I was the US editor in chief of an international, independent publication called Nylon—a promotion I got when I was twenty-eight, younger than any Nylon editor in chief before me, and definitely the only lesbian who’d ever been at the top of the masthead. I was, in fact, younger and gayer than all the female EICs at competing publications in New York City, which was a point of pride for me but also made me an outsider. People like me were not supposed to get promotions like that.

What’s more, I was promoted on the same day the print magazine, which was in many ways beloved and iconic, folded. It was a terrifying task, but being put in a position of power meant that I could pour my idealism into something concrete: institutional change. I loved the brand but saw its flaws very clearly, and I was committed to building an editorial strategy that prioritized racial diversity, that welcomed all bodies to the table, and that didn’t limit the idea of coolness to a certain economic class.

Speaking of coolness: Growing up, I had been, in many ways, the kind of person for whom Nylon magazine was created, but I never felt like I was cool enough to read it. Like other magazines, it was so exclusive that it barely included anyone. As a teen in the early 2000s, I was an art kid who loved fashion but not in a popular-girl way, who self-identified as a music snob at fifteen, who dated skaters, who went to emo shows and played guitar in a punk band. Nylon was sold at Urban Outfitters, where I shopped; it partnered with Myspace, on which I spent my free time. It had always been in the background of my life. But as a queer woman, I also didn’t see myself reflected in its pages, or really, any glossy magazine pages at all; even before I had words for my deepest desires, I felt that there was something inherent that rendered me other.

Maybe because of that, when I was younger, working as a magazine editor didn’t even occur to me. I fluctuated between vague ambitions. Sometimes I wanted to be a painter or a photographer, other times a poet. But I also wanted to write articles, and as I tried to make a career around online journalism in my early twenties, the lifestyle publications were the ones that paid me. And as someone who cared a lot about my own physical appearance, I also turned out to be good at writing about aesthetics in a compelling way. I found myself pulled toward the vibrant, bustling world of New York City fashion media, as though it weren’t a choice but an inevitability.

In my early days as a beauty editor, I was confronted by how a women’s industry could be so obviously centered around, and controlled by, a straight, cisgender, white male gaze. I was astounded to watch my inbox fill every day with pitches from publicists about how to groom my body hair to please “my man”—I’d then watch as competing publications that had clearly gotten those same pitches would run stories using the same language. So, in turn, I began to churn out work about not shaving your body hair, among other things, and in general I became a very vocal, probably annoying, voice for change. What was the point, I asked myself, in working myself to the bone for big, fancy publications as a dyke if I wasn’t going to try to make the content accessible for other queer people?

Eventually I went to Nylon, where I was a digital editor for three years before my final promotion to the top spot, which meant the people in charge were finally starting to listen to alternate viewpoints. It was a huge win not just for me but for everyone like me who didn’t see themselves represented in mainstream media.

Behind the scenes, though, a very different story had unfolded.

I’d achieved something majorly shiny and glamorous, but along the way, it hadn’t been so pretty. At various times, I was underpaid, discriminated against, and sexually assaulted. And despite my fancy day jobs, in my personal life, I consistently behaved like a typical twentysomething: I was dating women who didn’t treat me well, I was sleeping with women I shouldn’t have, and I was struggling to figure out how to identify my own needs, which in turn made me a shitty person to be in any kind of relationship with. I smoked too much pot and didn’t get enough sleep. I alienated people who loved me with my inability to ask for help and my tendency to self-isolate.

I was also trying, and failing, and trying again, to recover from anorexia, a secret struggle that impacted every single aspect of my life. In contrast with my personal brand, the hypocrisy of my diagnosis wasn’t lost on me, and that was just one more reason for me to be filled with self-loathing. Once I had big, “important” jobs, I was more than happy to hide behind the busyness that came with them, rather than face my own demons.

I wanted so badly to show the world that an iconic fashion-based publication could become a beacon of thought leadership if you just let young women steer the ship. And we were very successful. I prioritized diversity within everything we made, and the brand evolved. Young readers called us “woke Nylon.” My junior editors called me “Mom.”

Eventually, I made a name for myself as a champion for inclusion. Work was still crazy, but by the end of my twenties, I was starting to get my emotional life together, falling in love with a woman who treated me with kindness and respect. I felt I knew myself. And then, in July 2019, two months after my thirtieth birthday, Nylon was suddenly acquired by a much larger company. I was caught completely off guard. I hadn’t realized how burnt-out I was until that moment. I felt like I had nothing left to give, and so I resigned.

I had thrown myself fully into the work of making women’s media safe for all kinds of bodies but had become almost disembodied in the process. I could power through exhaustion and starvation and high heels that tore up my feet, and justify it with how important the work would be to other people.

I’d been led to believe that notoriety is the ultimate aspiration, but the truth of the matter was I had been running a company as though it were mine when I didn’t own a single piece of it. I had made positive change, but when you strip all the pretense away—the things our culture says make you an empowered woman—what’s left? Who are we, as contemporary feminists, without capitalism?

I realized that without my fancy job title, I didn’t know how to describe myself. And really, the question for all of us is this: As a new generation of women, how do we recognize ourselves and each other without the pressure to be perfect—however that’s currently being defined?

I learned the hard way that professional success is not a good indicator of well-being. And I believe that is a deeply relatable phenomenon, though it’s usually spoken in whispers, especially for women. So when I quit my big, fancy job, after spending a few weeks moping, I got to work. But it was a new kind of work, and the first step was returning to my own body. The second was remembering what it felt like to have ownership of my time. The third was deciding what to do with it.

I also, immediately, had a book to finish—you’re holding it.

In the yearlong period between pitching the idea and finishing the manuscript, my life had been turned upside down. And I came out the other side stronger, and more self-aware, and with a clearer idea of what I needed. Suddenly, I had a much bigger story to tell.

This is a book about what happens when you put your own well-being on hold to achieve a version of success that you think you’re supposed to want, and how I finally was able to see—and then escape—the confines of perfection. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Gabrielle
Photograph by Lauren Perlstein

Gabrielle Korn is a journalist, digital media expert, and the former editor-in-chief of Nylon Media, an international lifestyle publication focused on emerging culture. Under her editorial leadership, Nylon became a fully digital brand with an ever-growing audience and original, politically-driven, thought-provoking beauty, fashion, music, and entertainment content. She spent three years working on Nylon’s digital presence before her promotion to editor-in-chief, working across platforms and growing traffic. Prior to that, she was an editor at Refinery29, overseeing beauty content during a period of explosive traffic growth and working to expand the brand’s concept of what beauty means to the millennial reader. She graduated from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2011 with a concentration in feminist/queer theory and writing. She lives in Brooklyn.

“A captivating page-turner that feels exclusive without resorting to cattiness or cheap gossip. . . . She simultaneously digs below the surface of an industry that often feels skin deep, while divulging integral parts of her own history along the way. Granting front row access to an exclusive world many of us will never experience firsthand, she makes feminism and fashion feel like cohorts in her compulsively readable book.”

– Tegan Quin, New York Times bestselling author of High School

“Gabrielle perfectly captures the feeling both of growing up as a woman in the early aughts as well as working in the digital landscape during the boom period of the last decade . . . She candidly shares personal anecdotes about discovering her sexuality, dealing with assault, and coping with an eating disorder, weaving together both a keen self-awareness and a frank analysis of the society which helped shape her experiences. Everybody (Else) Is Perfect is, well, perfect.”

– Tyler McCall, editor in chief, Fashionista

“Gabrielle’s commitment to taking fashion and beauty seriously—in ways that presaged much of women’s media at the time—has been a true through-line of her career. I have learned so much just by getting to hear Gabrielle speak, and I am so excited that readers will get to hear her voice—in its unadulterated, sometimes comical candor—with this book. By the end, you’ll be calling her your friend, too.”

– Phil Picardi, editor in chief of Out magazine and former editor in chief of Teen Vogue

“An honest, unflinching, and yet unfailingly compassionate memoir, Everybody (Else) Is Perfect tackles fashion media, lesbian identity, eating disorders, and gender justice with vision, ethical commitment, and uncommon grace . . . [It] reads like one of those long, late night conversations with your best friend. It will leave you stronger, and fortified for the feminist fight.”

– Moira Donegan, columnist for The Guardian

“Filled with insight, wisdom, wit, and a clingy Scorpio ex, Gabrielle Korn’s Everybody (Else) Is Perfect is a bracingly candid look into what it’s like to navigate the often ugly realities of women’s media. Korn is fearless in her exploration of her professional and personal life, and has written a queer, feminist bible for all the millennials who haven’t yet figured out that we are enough, just the way we are.”

– Kristin Iversen, deputy editor at Refinery29

“Former Nylon editor-in-chief Gabrielle Korn recounts the good, the bad, and the ugly of being an elite member of the fashion industry in this fearless collection of essays. To those on the outside looking in, Gabrielle had it all: A successful career, an envious social life and a closet full of swag. In her personal life, however, Gabrielle struggled with anorexia, self-doubt, and the challenges of dating in New York City. Everybody (Else) Is Perfect shares the poignant story on how Gabrielle lost—and later, found—herself while working in a trade obsessed with beauty.”

– OK! Magazine

“A confident, confessional modern account of breaking free from image obsession.”

– Kirkus Reviews

“A candid glimpse at the fashion media industry in the era of diversity and inclusion.”

– Booklist