When her student dreams of interning at Teen Vogue in New York evaporated, an internship at Chatelaine turned out to be a silver lining for Madelyn. She speaks about working her way up in the industry, what it’s like to directly influence diverse and body-positive attitudes in the fashion world, and how depression and anxiety won’t hold you back from success when you’re committed to hard work.
To me, there's something almost meditative about applying makeup
I owe everything to my mother
Journaling is another way to keep track of where I am in life
I'm a girl who needs her sleep
To ground myself and feed my soul, rather than my ego, I turn to music
Just black, nothing else
Scrapbooking is a way to spark my creative juices
My favourite part of my job is "going in the field”
The place where I feel most at peace
Madelyn, how early on in your life did your passion for writing begin to develop?
When I was six or seven, my mom signed me up for a children’s writing course at the public library. I remember writing stories there with my mom – it was one of my favourite things to do. As I grew up, I would sit at the computer in my spare time and write; it was something I really, really liked.
And what evoked your love of fashion?
I was always into fashion; my mom is super, super stylish and I grew up watching Fashion Television with her. My dad used to own a coat factory in Toronto’s Fashion District on Spadina, which is funny because it’s literally across from where I work now!
I knew I wanted to do something in fashion, but I didn’t know if I wanted to style or design. Finally, I realized I could work writing and reporting about fashion. In the tenth grade I decided I wanted to be a fashion journalist and pursued it from there.
Your first foray into the fashion world was an internship at Fashion Television while you were still at school. How did that come about, and what sort of duties did you have?
At a fashion week event I was attending for school I recognized a guy who worked for Fashion Television. I approached him and said, “Hey, I really want to intern for Fashion Television – that’s always been my dream. Could you give me your card?” He did, and I ended up getting that internship.
Although I learned a lot of cool things through helping cut video, assisting producers put segments together, and attending Fashion Week as a part of the team, a lot of it was also really unglamorous. We had to go into the dusty basement to find old tapes and fetch coffees for people, which happens a lot in internships; the kind of labor work involved was a bit of a disappointment – I wanted to do more, but I wasn’t really given the opportunity.
Could you run us through the positions you pursued following that internship?
I applied for an internship at Teen Vogue and when I got it I thought, “I’m going to New York, to intern at Teen Vogue! That’s the dream!” Then my visa didn’t come in time, so they put me at Chatelaine. My original reaction was: “Ugh, Chatelaine. This is a magazine my mom used to read!” But the position ended up being much better than I’d imagined – they let me write a LOT! I would always be pitching ideas to the editors, “Can I write about this? This is happening, can I write about that?” and they were really accommodating; it was really great that way.
From there, I got hired on with Rogers, but I was still working with Chatelaine doing syndication. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do, but I made a lot of connections working with the editors at Chatelaine, Flare, Yahoo! and MSN.
When I had the opportunity to apply for a different job [a lifestyle editor role at MSN], I jumped at the chance. At MSN, it was a lot more about curating content as opposed to writing or creating; while again it was great for connections, it didn’t fulfill me creatively. Eventually I applied for and was hired in my current position as Huffington Post Style Editor.
You seem to have a strong work ethic, a knack for building connections, and a positive attitude – even when you’re not doing a job that you’re completely besotted with. Are those the sorts of traits you think are crucial to career progression?
I just worked hard and was really nice and courteous to everyone – that’s it. I worked hard at my internship, which landed me a job; I worked hard at that job, which landed me another job.
People aren’t going to want to work with you if you have a poor attitude. I try to always stay positive, even if I’m doing something I don’t really like, or get super frustrated doing. Having a positive attitude helped me get as much experience as I could.
As the editor of Huffington Post Style, you have the power to influence opinions and perceptions. Is there a change you want to make in the world through your work, or a particular message you try to send to readers?
When I went into it, it wasn’t thinking along those lines; but now, I really see how strongly media can affect us. I don’t want to put a message out there that you should be or look a certain way, because I know how much that can influence people; it’s something that I’ve tried to be conscious of.
It’s hard in the fashion industry because you’re trying to sell something: you’re selling trends; you’re selling beauty products to improve looks. I want to switch that to “You know what? It’s really about feeling good about yourself, being comfortable with who you are, loving who you are, and loving your body as it is” – but it’s difficult to balance it out.
I’m very lucky because my boss is very supportive of everything that I do, and she shares my beliefs about influence and diversity in fashion. Personally, I used to never see an Asian woman in a fashion magazine or on TV. For so long, I felt that Asian women weren’t considered beautiful because they weren’t represented in the media that way – it was always thin white women.
How do you incorporate diversity into your work in your current role? Does having a more diverse angle help or hinder a post’s success?
Diversity is very important to me, and so it’s something I try to incorporate into everything I do for the site. Let’s say I’m putting together a post on winter coats and I’m getting images from websites of the different coats. I want to make sure I include coats for women of all different sizes whether they’re curvy, petite or tall; I have to be conscious of the models wearing the coats. Are they all white? There are a lot of things I didn’t think to initially focus on or change in the past because I tended to think that’s just the way fashion was – dominated by white or really skinny girls
We’re almost oversaturated with content these days, and because a lot of it is the same type of content, I feel like taking a different angle gives more leverage; the difference makes your content stand out.
In recent years, a number of fashion companies have been commended for diversifying their talent pool in magazines, or for not using Photoshop to alter the appearance of models. What’s your opinion on this and do you see the fashion industry truly diversifying in terms of body types and image?
I fear they [some companies] are making changes just to appease people and to make a statement like: “Look, this is what we did. We featured a plus-size model in our campaign. We’re done now. That’s all we have to do.”
There’s such a demand for diverse content; whenever we post stuff about body positivity or diversity in fashion, it always does well because our audience is diverse, so they like to see that. It’s very difficult for some of the people who are currently running the industry to realize that, because that’s not what they’re used to. Perhaps as the newer generation takes over the industry will move in a more diverse, more body positive direction. Unfortunately I think the changes will continue to be at a slow rate though – that’s why it’s really important that people speak out about these things.
As part of the generation, you have opportunities to carve out more room in fashion media for diverse and body positive imagery - how does it feel to have your work affect the way people view themselves?
Knowing that my voice could effect change, even slightly, makes me want to keep working at it. It feels great, but it’s also a lot of pressure because I have to be very conscious of what I’m doing. I don’t want to put the wrong message out there, and I can sometimes forget that I’m privileged to have such a powerful platform from which to influence others.
On an even more personal note, there was a time when I thought, “Oh my gosh – this world is so superficial, I don’t know if I can handle it anymore.” I still struggle with feeling pressure to always look a certain way when I meet people or when I attend fashion shows – it’s not like I’ve completely overcome it.
Tell us more about that pressure; what do you do to negate it or handle it more effectively?
Coping comes with building your own confidence and knowing your self-worth, which is something I’ve improved over the past few years; I now have a much better sense of self. It just takes time.
When I first started out in the industry, I was very self-conscious; but when you work hard and see that your work does well, it’s reassuring. You have to learn to love yourself and appreciate yourself. I realized, “You know what? If someone thinks poorly of me based on my appearance, well, F them!” But not everyone thinks that way, which is important to keep in mind.
Stay humble, but know you’re worthy and you’re doing a good job; if you let things get to your head, that’s when you get into trouble.
What is your creative process when you produce content? And what do you do when you’re feeling creatively stuck?
When I’m feeling a little blocked I love to go through old magazines and find images, glue them in a scrapbook, and write down my favorite quotes or lyrics, or the things I’m loving at the time; writing it all down sparks my creativity and, as a bonus, it makes me feel good inside.
I always write in a journal; there’s something so special about it. Ever since I was in elementary school, I’ve been writing diaries and journals – I have stacks and stacks of them. If I’m doing an article or post however, I’ll write it straight on the computer, because it’s faster for me that way and I’m able to kind of hem it out.
Have you ever played the role of a mentor or a mentee in your professional life, and if so was the experience valuable?
When I first got hired at Huffington Post Style, there was an editor assigned to be a mentor to me. That was really helpful, because previously to then I didn’t always get good feedback or good edits on my work; it would just be either sent back to me or published. I wasn’t told what I could have done better or improved on, or given tips on what they’d like to see from me next time.
I always want to get feedback, especially on how I can make my work better. That was something that she [my mentor] did all the time; she made me think about stuff that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of in terms of where to take a story, or telling a story from a different angle. She was super supportive; I always knew if I had a question or was unsure of something, I could ask her and receive immediate help and great advice.
I also found it helpful when we had interns come in or other writers write for me – I used my mentor’s model to give them feedback as well.
Are you working on anything outside of the fashion industry?
I’ve always dreamed of creating a website or resource where people of all ages and backgrounds can educate themselves about mental health; it’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. For example, if a child commits suicide, kids or friends–even parents, grandparents, or teachers–can look to this resource to help them understand why this happened and find coping strategies.
Why mental health?
It’s something I’ve struggled with since I was 18. I was diagnosed with depression, and experienced a lot of depression and anxiety. Since there’s such a big stigma around it, I wouldn’t tell anyone; I wanted to hide it. Now, I realize it affects so many people.
You go to doctors, and they haven’t been through it; they diagnose you and then it’s, “Okay. Here’s a prescription.” That doesn’t do much; when you go through something like that, the best people to talk to or learn from are people who have gone through it themselves.
How do you cope with your depression and anxiety? Does it affect your professional life?
You’re still perfectly capable of fully functioning and being successful even if you have a mental illness. It’s important to try out different things and see what works for you. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else.
It’s been a long road of trying to figure out what works for me. I exercise as much as I can, because when I exercise I feel better. I also do yoga; as soon as I get on the mat, I feel instantly better.
A good support system is really the key. I’m very lucky to have an incredibly supportive group of friends and family around me.
Another thing that’s really worked for me is craniosacral therapy, which is basically realigning the energy in your body. I found this incredible woman who I feel has changed my life; I’ve been doing this therapy with her for over a year now and I’ve learned a lot from her, especially about my outlook and how to stay positive.
Could you speak more about that? How do you maintain a positive outlook?
She [the craniosacral therapist] says that sometimes we almost act like radio signals; we absorb other people’s energies. If you go to a crowded mall and there are a lot of people who are stressed, or annoyed, or frustrated, you can take in that energy from them – you don’t realize that it’s theirs, you think it’s just you. She’s made me more aware it might not always be me and these feelings can be coming from external sources. If that happens, I try to take a “return to sender” approach.
Another thing I learned is to not take things too personally. My boss was telling me “It’s never about you, but it’s always about you.” If someone is angry, it’s probably not about you; they’re probably going through their own stuff. If you think someone gives you a bad look, they’re probably having a bad day and they’re thinking about something bad. If you want to be happy, realizing that not everything is about you is a good first step.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who’d like to become an online editor? What are the best ways to promote oneself online to impress prospective employers?
Put yourself out there! When a potential employer looks you up, they’re going to Google you. They’re going to look at your Instagram to see what your interests are, what you post about, and what your posts are like. Claim your Twitter handle, Instagram account, and LinkedIn.
Write as much as possible, even if you’re writing for free. If you can get published somewhere, do it. It’s a byline for you and something you can show a potential employer, as opposed to sending something in a Word document. Creating a website and an online portfolio are pretty easy to do; plus, if you want to get into this industry, you should know how to do that.
Lastly, you definitely should reach out to people. I’ve had people reach out to me and say, “Listen, I’ve seen your work, and I really want to do what you do. Can we have coffee so I can chat with you to see how you got there?” I always feel so flattered when people ask me, and I always say yes. I wish I asked people that when I was in school.