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Teen Vogue's First African American Beauty Director Elaine Welteroth on Diversity

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Elaine Welteroth, via Getty
Elaine Welteroth, via Getty

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Recent masthead shake-ups have unearthed a new generation of young, ethnically diverse beauty editors—and they're bringing a fresh perspective on beauty to traditional media. As young women of color come into power in the industry, there's an opportunity for assumptions about race, beauty, and products to be challenged in an unprecedented way. For the next few weeks, we'll be speaking with several of these women and getting their perspective on the state of the industry.

Today, we're chatting with Teen Vogue's recently appointed Beauty & Health Director, Elaine Welteroth. Formerly a senior beauty editor at Glamour, Elaine is the first African American in the position at Teen Vogue. After the jump, see what she has to say about diversity in beauty, the role of social media, and filling Eva Chen's Miu Miu shoes.

What does your role entail and how is it different from what you've done in the past?
My role as Beauty & Health Director is to oversee the beauty coverage in-book, online, and across Teen Vogue's social media platforms. It's different from my previous roles in that I'm doing more big-picture thinking strategizing with all departments of the brand, particularly our business team and our digital platforms. Working with the best of the best is a big part of Teen Vogue's heritage, so I'm also tasked with wrangling the Pat McGrath's and the Guido's of the world to work with us on shoots that make our beauty pages so magical and inspiring. We want our girls to feel like Teen Vogue gives them something incredibly special that they can't get anywhere else.

You're taking on this role at a relatively young age. Why do you think you were hired for the job?
I was hired to bring a fresh perspective on beauty for teens who love fashion. It's a very specific reader, not just because she's young, but because of her sensibilities. Our reader has upscale taste, she's in the know, and her obsession with beauty really ties back to this budding love affair with fashion. She also spends so much time online. So, I think it's incredibly important for Teen Vogue editors to be plugged in digitally.

Most importantly though, I think you've got to be able to relate to what teens are going through. I joke that I've always had this sort of insatiable "big sis" complex—which is odd given that I am the baby of the family with no sisters! It's the reason I have such a powerful desire to connect with girls and encourage them. So, it's a natural fit for me to have a job that's like the editorial version of an older sister to a million girls.

Do you see a trend towards more diversity on the editorial side of beauty content creation?
In general, our world is getting more multicultural by the minute. It's a step in the right direction when the workplace reflects that. I think that beauty is an important space to see a range of perspectives, because it's a particularly personal topic. We write about products you wear on your skin and in your hair, which come in a wide range of shades and textures. A sense of trust is established when your reader feels like there is someone on the masthead who understands them and can speak up for them on these topics.

What about in front of the camera? Are beauty brands speaking to non-white customers through the models they use and the products they're creating?
I'd say we are slowly seeing more and more of this, yes.

What are you hoping to accomplish at Teen Vogue?
My focus is to continue to build on [Editor-in-Chief] Amy Astley's incredible vision for the magazine. Teen Vogue brings a fresh, inspiring take on beauty and fashion that teens really can't get anywhere else. My perspective on beauty centers on self-expression. I want to continue to inspire girls to have fun experimenting with their looks and to cultivate a personal style that reflects confidence in who they are. I'm also integrating more health and fitness coverage, offering advice to girls on how to develop healthy lifestyles. I'm also big on nurturing the relationship that my amazing predecessor Eva Chen established with our girls on social media. At the end of the day, if I've helped even one girl feel better about herself or more beautiful in her own skin, then I've done my job.
· Glamour's New Beauty Director Ying Chu on Ethnic Diversity [Racked]
· All beauty coverage [Racked]