Jackson: Elaine Welteroth’s memoir was no highlight reel, it was a coming-of-age tale


Cassidy Jackson/Daily Senior Staffer

Elaine Welteroth, past editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, takes a question from the audience at her Chicago book tour stop. The event was hosted at Wilson Abbey and garnered an audience of over 100 people.

Cassidy Jackson, Op-Ed Contributor

Elaine Welteroth is a trailblazer. At 29, she became the youngest and first black editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. After landing jobs in the beauty and fashion departments at Ebony and Glamour, Welteroth transformed Teen Vogue into the socially conscious platform it is today.

Welteroth made history, and in June, she published a book titled More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say). The book chronicles her groundbreaking rise to the top — and all the unspoken pain that comes with breaking barriers.

I’d like to say I’ve been following Welteroth’s career for years, but in truth, I met her through this book. “The Breakfast Club” formally introduced us. As I packed up my sophomore year, I was shuffling through their YouTube videos, a not-so secret joy of mine.

After watching an Amanda Seales interview, I clicked on a video titled, “Elaine Welteroth Describes Why You Are ‘More Than Enough,’ Her Journey From Intern to Editor + More.” The video title made me feel like an “Iyanla: Fix My Life” moment was coming on, a moment I desperately needed. As sophomore year started to wrap up, I was unraveling, feeling more lost than I’d felt in awhile. I needed to hear why Welteroth thought I was “More Than Enough.”

By the end of that 30-minute interview, I was hooked. I pressed pause on packing, walked a few blocks to Barnes & Noble and bought the book. Coughing up $26 for the shiny hardcover edition broke me a little bit, but somehow, I knew it would be worth it. I wasn’t wrong.

I was metaphorically seen, understood and embraced by Welteroth in every page of her story. In each heart-wrenching, laughable or applause-worthy moment, I saw a piece of myself, whether it was middle school Cassidy discovering the cruel realities of race or recent moments where I’ve started to step into my power.

I saw myself so much in this book that I faced a paradox. I desperately wanted to speed through the pages in a day’s time but also didn’t want the story to end.

When I first Googled “Elaine Welteroth’s resume,” I was speechless … and exhausted. At just 32, she’d climbed to the top of Teen Vogue, helped mold the magazine into an empowering space for youth, joined Project Runway as a judge and wrote a book. I wondered, “How am I, a 19-year-old college kid, supposed to relate to this book?”

But Wetlteroth’s book isn’t a sequenced highlight reel. She’s intensely candid, and you get a taste of Welteroth’s grit while hearing the challenges she faced along the way. It’s a coming-of-age tale — not a fairytale.

Welteroth details romantic capades that went awry, moments where she felt incompetent at work and times when her self-worth needed a boost. All the while, she weaves in stories of triumph from meeting her fiancé to fulfilling part of her purpose at Teen Vogue. It’s a perfect balance between divulging the hustle and the success and painting it how it actually was: difficult at times.

One part I have highlighted two times over is her brutal honesty around being crowned editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. Being the youngest and first black editor-in-chief, she was undeniably making history and the internet applauded her for it. But Welteroth’s reality was different.

“In the press, I was being held up as a symbol of progress and exalted publicly as a token win for diversity (again),” she writes. “But behind the scenes I had been asked, on the spot, to assume an ill-defined position that broke from a tradition that I felt devalued my role.”

Reading those sentences reminded me of when I was accepted to Northwestern. My mom recorded my college acceptance reaction and shed more tears than I thought possible. I was exalted by the aunts and uncles who’d never received a college degree or a high school diploma. It was a whole ordeal. And I was proud of myself, but the moment wasn’t as magical as I thought it would be.

Part of me regretted applying to Northwestern Early Decision, not looking more into other colleges and choosing a school close to home. I also felt so unsure of myself going into freshman year. I didn’t want to leave high school’s safety net behind. But I kept a smile on my face in front of my parents and relatives. I needed to be grateful. I needed to be grateful to have what many of my relatives never did.

That’s how Welteroth writes the chapter on being appointed editor-in-chief. Here was a remarkable opportunity, but it wasn’t spotless like outsiders believed it to be. Elaine feels reachable, touchable and most importantly, relatable.

And she was the same way when I met her in person.

The story of how I met Welteroth begins in an Uber, like most great stories do. On June 28, I sat back in an Uber Pool, going to Welteroth’s Chicago book tour stop at Wilson Abbey. As the driver sped down Lake Shore Drive, it started pouring rain. When my Uber pulled up to the venue, I saw black girl after black girl frantically protect their hair from the rainstorm and race into the building, myself included.

When Welteroth walked out and took the stage, the first thing she said to the beautiful black and brown audience was, “You guys came here even in the pouring rain. Now, THAT’s black love!”

So, yeah, she’s pretty relatable.

Cassidy Jackson is a Medill junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.