One of the things I’m pretty passionate about is giving women a voice and a platform to display their own particular beauty. This new series, #MyMostBeautiful, was created to show that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, experiences, and walks of life. This week, I wanted to show off one of my favorite beauties, Emily McCombs, Executive Editor of of xoJane. Not only is this boisterous, outspoken dame one of my editors, but she also inspires me regularly. Emily is unabashedly herself, and she has a unique look and take on life that I wanted to highlight. From how to be true to yourself in the face of Internet trolls to a little about her gorgeous body art, here is my beloved Emily in all her glory:
A little about me and where I’m from…
“I’m from Moore, Oklahoma, which is one of the towns most people recognize as the cities that get decimated from tornados every year. I grew up in the Bible belt, mostly evangelical Christian. If you’ve ever seen the documentary, “Jesus Camp,” it was kind of like that: no dancing, no secular media. I was a very indignant teen growing up, surrounded by very prejudicial, conservative ideals. By the time I was a teenager, I was kind of over the church thing.
I came to New York to attend NYU about 12 or 13 years ago to attend NYU. I started out in Screenwriting, but I realized I wasn’t very good at it, so I changed majors. I graduated with a double major in Journalism and Gender and Sexuality Studies. I moved here right after 9/11, so it was a really weird time to be in New York City.
After college, I wrote for free a lot while I worked editing K-12 test preparation materials, and just kept applying for things. I kind of had to claw my way in. I went straight into online at AOL, where I worked on their men’s site and helped launch a women’s site. As that was folding, someone working with Jane Pratt contacted me. After a little back and forth, I began working with her as a two-man team on what would become xoJane, which started in this windowless, yellow room. I can tell you there were times where we literally laid on that floor and cried. At the launch party, everyone was dancing around celebrating, and both of us were leaning on a table for support. We were just so tired. We had been working ourselves to death, but the launch was so well worth it.”
I’ve been through a lot in life…
“I was raped when I was 14, and I had been saving myself for marriage since pre-marital sex was considered very evil. I remember sort of turning my emotions off like a light switch. Ten years later, I had to go through it all and process it with interest, so it was really hard for me. I absolutely compartmentalized it because I was dealing with the internalization of it. Like so many women, I had to process through the feelings of shame, of feeling like it was my fault.”
So, let’s talk about the hard part about being so open on the Internet…
“xoJane has always been finding smart people who are very rare: amazing writers with a strong a voice and personality that pops off the page who are willing to be kind of shameless about sharing openly. That, unfortunately, leads to some serious comments. There’s this party line people always say about writing for the web, that if you’re going to put yourself out there and you want this job, you have to deal with or let it roll off your back or whatever. I think that’s complete bullshit. We’re human beings; we don’t work like that. Nobody functions like that. No one reads mean, hurtful comments about themselves day after day and gets out of it without feeling hurt in some way. I’ve set a lot of parameters around how much time I spend in the comments. The xoJane readers are actually really nice to me; it’s dealing with vitriol of the overall editorial site, our mission, our editing, etc. That’s hard for me to hear because it’s basically people telling me I suck at my job.
Then, of course, there are the male trolls that set up accounts to harass me and the other writers. I’ve had one guy create at least 15 separate accounts to keep telling me I’m fat and worthless. I’ve also had some guy comment that my son would be better off in foster care because I’m fat and trashy. Things like that, like talking about someone’s kid, are off-limits; I’ll block you no matter what. But it is hard to read. That’s why there’s a shelf life to how long someone can do this, and it’s unfortunate because it’s effectively dragging women off the Internet. You can’t have an Internet presence as a woman writing or promoting your work on the Web without being harassed. It’s driving women out of the space, and it’s sad.
Putting up those barriers and setting those rules about how I interact and deal with it are important. I guess there’s no easy answer; it’s all about a lot of self-care. I have a program for recovery, I meditate, I get acupuncture, and I have a great support system. I also find great joy in being a mother. Adopting my son has been one of the greatest joys of my life. It kills me that I can’t do more. There are at least 20,000 other children just like him in New York City alone who are just waiting to find good homes.
But you have to be careful not to let those comments change who you are and how you write. If you start thinking about every commenter while you’re writing, everything you write will be the written equivalent of oatmeal. It’ll just be bland and inoffensive. That’s not the kind of thing that people find exciting and can connect with. You have to figure out how to push those voices out of your head and speak your truth. It’s not just commenters, sometimes: those negative comments can be relatives, lovers, etc. You have to write what you feel in your soul.”
Oh yeah, I do have a lot of body art…
“I don’t know how many tattoos I have, honestly. I think once you have sleeves it gets hard to count. I have two sleeves: one has a makeup theme; the other is inspired by a vintage floral and nature print from a dress. I also have a bow on the back of each ankle, a typewriter on the back of my calf, Dolly Parton on my thigh, a little ‘xo’ on my hand, and a few others. I started getting them when I turned 25. They’re all sober tattoos, so I don’t have the experience of getting a tattoo I didn’t know about or feeling regret for getting any of them. I never got a tattoo when I was drinking.
The deer hoof on my forearm is the same as my boyfriend’s. We got them on Valentine’s Day because on our second date, we went to this Obscure Antiques, which is a vintage oddities shop in the East Village and I sort of became obsessed with these taxidermy deer hooves, and a few days later he went back and got it for me. So, it sort of represents the weirdness of our union and our love.
I got most of them because I thought they were pretty. The deer hoof and the xo obviously mean something, as does Dolly Parton (she’s my idol; I feel like she and John Waters should King and Queen of Everything,) and the typewriter because I’m a writer. But otherwise, I just get them because I love them.
It’s interesting because tattoos actually make you stand out more, particularly if they’re in a highly visible place. I get asked about them a million times a day and/or people will touch me without asking, which is awkward. I also get catcalled a lot because of them. I know my tattoo artist, Virginia Elwood at Saved Tattoo, brings a jacket with her everywhere because sometimes you just don’t want that attention. People always ask me, “What about your wedding day?” I think that’s an odd question, like I’m suddenly going to regret them. I’ll be pretty happy to show off my tattoos in a wedding dress. Clearly, I’m not afraid of attention: I wear bright lipstick, I have tattoos, and I’m already pretty tall. But they’re basically permanent accessories.”
Hmm, how would I describe my personal style?
“A pin-up girl who’s gone off her meds. Lately, my boyfriend and I have been going through a country music phase, and I’ve influenced by listening to more of that old country, like Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. I’ve gravitated more toward wearing cowboy boots because of that, I think. But I’ve also been saying my style for summer is like your 90’s babysitter: lots of sundresses with the denim vest with the patches and a tote bag with some chunky boots.”
When it comes to beauty, my needs are rather simple…
“I’m a M∙A∙C reds girl, particularly Lady Danger and their new color, Relentlessly Red, which is what I’m wearing (in the photographs.) Lady Danger has kind of always been my go-to. The Josie Maran Argan Enlightenment Illuminizer is one my products, and the Stila Cosmetics Stay All Day Liquid Eye Liner. Also, the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel is a regular staple of my beauty routine. I get my hair color done by Kyle White at Oscar Blandi. He’s amazing; he also works on Jane.”
Be beautiful and brave…
“With the tattoo thing, I always tell people to wait until they have a strong sense of what you want to do. Like, it should be so clear in your mind that you want to get it done tomorrow. The red lipstick is a little different. I never wore red lips until I worked at xoJane. People always say they can’t wear red lipstick, but it’s just not true: EVERYONE can wear red lip color, you just have to get used to your face. It’s a confidence thing. You need to just go with it. Get out of your comfort zone, try a good M∙A∙C red, and give it a few days to get used to it. We make it this big thing in our heads, when it’s really not. Do what’s best for you; don’t think so much about what other people say.”
Emily McCombs, photographed by Kristin Booker in New York City on July 6, 2015. All rights reserved.