Essence Gant is living proof that hard work will get you everywhere. She’s now BuzzFeed’s beauty editor, but at the beginning of her writing career, she had the moxie to accept unpaid—but extremely valuable— internships and experiences as she worked her way up the editorial career ladder. And she’s only just beginning to leave her mark. Ed caught up with her to discuss her love of BuzzFeed’s audience, redefining the “beautiful people” list, and what boiled eggs have to do with beauty trends—seriously. Oh, and PS: if you’re dreaming of pitching BuzzFeed a brilliant beauty story, she’s got the deetz on how to grab their attention.
From blogger to editor, can you tell me more about your career backstory?
I started interning for a blogger and freelance writer while I was in grad school getting my M.S.W. (Master of Social Work). I knew I didn’t really want to go into social work, so I asked a writer I met at an event if I could assist her. She said yes, and one of my first assignments was covering New York Fashion Week for her blog. I didn’t get paid, but I was just happy for the experience. A few weeks before graduation, she referred me to Hype Hair’s editor-in-chief, and two days after I got my degree, I started as their editorial assistant. That was my introduction into media, and it’s just been working my way up ever since.
What five things are you doing during a typical (or as typical as possible) day at BuzzFeed?
I start each day by checking my emails. Sometimes I find a good pitch in there that I write about, but most days I search the Internet for ideas after I clear my inbox. Once I have something that I think our readers will care about, I write a story about it.
Our readers are really smart and funny and what works at other outlets doesn’t always work here. They don’t care if a brand just launched a new palette, for example. They want to see what it looks like, and not on the model hired to sell the product. They want to see it on everyday people, usually us, and then they will determine for themselves if it’s worth the money. They don’t care if I love it or a big beauty blogger loves it. You can’t play them, and I love that about our audience. It makes me laugh a lot because they are so honest and will tell you, “OMG! Love it!” or “That’s total bullsh*t! You can get the same color for half the price at ColourPop.”
Can you share a published piece you’re most proud of and why?
I did this post, Here Are 19 Photos Of The World’s Most Beautiful People, last year. I love that my job title comes with this authority in the beauty space, and I take full advantage of that. Beautiful people lists aren’t new to media, but they are always so one-dimensional and predictable: thin, white, and wealthy. But I worked with one of our photographers here, Ciara Allen, to get all these gorgeous photos of everyday people chillin’ at AfroPunk. I didn’t want to do a typical street style or beauty post around an event, so I used the photos to make a list, claiming these amazing people, who the world doesn’t know, as the most beautiful people in the world. They were all black and they varied in complexion, hair texture, body size, everything. It received so much love and people were happy to see people who looked like them represented on this mega platform.
As a beauty editor, you’ve probably seen and heard it all but what makeup trends have seriously surprised you?
To keep it real, I pay so little attention to makeup trends. I’m not really the girl who catches up on what looks dominated SS ’17 fashion week, and our audience doesn’t either so we get along pretty well! I do look out for viral Internet beauty trends and hacks, though. Recently, one of my friends at work covered people applying their makeup with boiled eggs. That definitely surprised me and made me go “WHAAAT?!”
Fill-in-the-blank: if I could interview anyone about their beauty secrets it would be ______.
OMG! This is so tough. If I could interview anyone about their beauty secrets, it would be Gabrielle Union. She has looked the same my whole life! I know #BlackDontCrack, but DAMN! She’s touched on her beauty routine in interviews before, but I want to know every single detail: what she eats, every single product she uses, how often she uses them, how much sleep she gets a night, etc. I want to know it ALL!
What beauty essentials do you always keep at your desk for the workday?
Lotion! I have seven different kinds of body moisturizers at my desk right now. Moisturized skin is half the battle when it comes to healthy-looking skin, so I don’t play about that. If I had to pick between makeup and lotion for the rest of my life, I’d without a doubt pick lotion.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to break into beauty editorial — or even pitch you article ideas at BuzzFeed?
My biggest advice is to be persistent. It gets tough and sometimes it feels like you’re doing a lot of work and seeing little results, but keep at it. That sounds so cliché, but it’s real. I’ve been doing this now since 2011, and it wasn’t until 2015 that I landed the job I was actually excited about in the mornings. It’s a competitive market, so opportunities don’t always come as quick as you want them to, but if you stay focused and keep putting in the work, the right opportunity comes in the perfect timing.
As for pitching, I always say do your homework. Get familiar with BuzzFeed, and especially the way we cover style and beauty. What may be a great pitch for one outlet may not be so great for us. Go directly to the Life and Style pages and spend a few hours scrolling through and reading the content. All the writers here have distinct voices, but there are still some patterns in the things we cover and how we cover them. Make sure your pitch makes sense with the tone we’ve set.
Follow Essence on Twitter and Instagram.
Photo: Taylor Miller/BuzzFeed.
Heather Taylor is a former entertainment writer turned brand mascot aficionado (and head writer) for Advertising Week’s Icon Blog. She shares her thoughts on pop culture at HelloGiggles and has been published in Brit + Co, The Drum, and BettyConfidential. Chat with her about anything from SNL to the Pillsbury Doughboy on Twitter @howveryheather. GIFs highly encouraged.