New ClearVoice careers writer Rachel Weingarten has carved out a fascinating niche as a beauty, entertainment and fitness writer with an academic, intellectual and sometimes historian’s approach. She’s got a minor in fairy tales, but writes for Parade. She blogs about beauty and how beauty intersects with religion, work, celebrity and self-care. You might read her stuff in the checkout aisle or on a career-advice blog.
“My underlying theme in everything is to make people feel good about themselves,” she explains. “We’re thrown so much messaging that tells us (especially women) that we have to change everything about ourselves. I’m just the opposite.”
While Weingarten is certainly comfortable on the beauty business side, and on the esoteric side exploring beauty’s intersection with more serious sectors (women’s studies, faith, politics), she doesn’t always lead with that in her writing. Instead, she often finds click-worthy angles like Daenerys Targaryen Halloween Hair Tutorial.
“I poke fun at a lot,” she says.
In this installment of Niche Freelancer, Rachel talks about bringing one’s personal area of study into one’s bread-and-butter day job, balancing the silly with the serious and how to juggle the eternal student mindset with the career freelancer.
You have carved out a really unusual niche. How would you describe your voice/focus area/expertise?
Since I do a lot of things professionally, when pushed for a short bio I say that I specialize in “Business and style and the business of style.” In that way people get an idea that I not only understand the style business, I also get the business side of things: the nuts and bolts and back end.
Besides writing stories and copy, what other activities do you do in this realm?
I consult for major cosmetics brands and celebrities on everything from future trends to international influence, to product and brand naming. I’ve partnered with brands like LVMH (when I was approached to teach a class in partnership with their luxury retail division at Parsons).
I’m a keynote speaker at events like the Society of Cosmetics Chemists’ yearly event, holiday and international gatherings of cosmetics companies and sometimes lecture on the graduate and undergraduate level at schools including FIT and NYU. I created and acted as on-air talent for a short-lived series on female entrepreneurs for CNN Money.
Most recently, I launched a 501(c)(3) national nonprofit RWR Network that, in a nutshell, has a dual mission. We help caregivers, Holocaust survivors, those who are recently widowed or victim to unscrupulous landlords/property developers.
In one of my guises I’ve created in-person beauty events with Holocaust and concentration camp survivors. I think it’s crucial to remember not only what they’ve been through, but that they still see the beauty in life, and their tremendous strength and resilience. That involves fun and understanding that wanting to feel beautiful doesn’t stop just because the advertisers decided you’re no longer their target demographic.
These women have been to hell and back, and were as fierce about understanding how to use gemstone rollers. They were fascinated by my lecture on beauty history as well. It was pure joy.
Tell us about what you studied, and how that contributed to your current niche.
I was working full time and I worked my way through college, so I definitely didn’t have a typical educational trajectory. I started working straight out of high school. I worked in the diamond industry for almost five years for one of the top diamond manufacturers in the world.
I often credit my time there for helping me build the confidence and skills I’d never have learned elsewhere, much less at such a young age. I went to college at night and had several majors including a dual English/art and a minor in women’s study. I studied beauty on the weekends and became a makeup artist.
I never really had a plan; I studied what interested me, and since I was already working I wasn’t reliant on any degree to get me more work. I also was incredibly fortunate to grow up with an entrepreneur for a mom, so I started working very young and quite literally grew up in retail. I designed my first line of clothing when I was 16. My late father encouraged me in everything I did and raised me to believe there pretty much wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. Those were probably my best lessons in life.
Please share two of the most interesting/unusual topics you’ve written about and/or presented on, and how did you come up with them, or how did they come to you?
1. I mentioned the LVMH/Parsons partnership. I created a course called “From Cleopatra to the Kardashians: A Short History of Cosmetics, Fragrance and Beauty Culture and Its Impact on Society and Pop Culture.”
The idea was to educate my foreign-born students (a majority of whom were Chinese), who were trainees for LVMH’s international luxury program, in both the history of beauty going back to ancient times from the ancient Sumerians to the Elizabethan times and moving forward to the constant impact on popular culture.
2. This was a story I enjoyed writing for CNN when Helen Gurley Brown and Phyllis Diller both died. Both were such powerful and iconic women who used their looks to move their careers forward. One embodied beauty and the ideal; the other mocked it.
Another of your focus areas is “smart shopping.” What does that mean?
We’re inundated with advertisements and products and ideas on how to shop. It’s even more muddled since a lot of the dubious influencer culture emerged. And as a collective culture, we love acquiring new things.
I get so many emails sometimes asking for my opinion on what to buy. And I love that. I love that total strangers from around the globe will ask what I think, and I often try to turn these into columns or roundups or projects. I used to only write about products I loved, but now I realize that people enjoy my unbiased opinions.
They trust me because I stay true to them and respect the fact that they work hard for their money, and I don’t want to steer them wrong. So I try to empower people to splurge or buy the cheapo version but to understand their motivation before buying.
What are three “smart shopping” trends you think CPG brands should develop content around?
Great question. And there might be overlap to projects I’m working on:
1. I think products for caregivers who are bewildered by their roles and want the ideas spoon-fed to them.
2. Beauty products for women who aren’t obsessed with beauty but would be if products existed for their demographic. Older women. Women who didn’t have time when they were young but feel the need now.
3. Home for one, safety, isolation, loneliness — more people live alone than ever and while for decades this might have been seen as a negative, it’s just a fact right now. The whole decorating your 17 bedrooms design ideal no longer works for much of America.
Have any recognizable brands come to you specifically for a content project that was really esoteric or far out there for what we expect from content marketing? If so, can you share details on what that project was and whether it made it to go-live status?
I sign NDAs with many of my clients, so there are so many projects I’ll never be able to tell you about.
A while back I worked with Links of London when they wanted to permeate the American jewelry field. We did events but also sponsored/created these wild on-campus events including something with Yale.
It was unexpected and very naughty (we also brought in a sex toy company), so we really worked the elevation by association, but in a way that helped college kids feel they were in on the joke and taken very seriously at the same time.
What would your dream branded content project in the beauty space be?
For the longest time I’ve wanted to create a smart beauty magazine that understands that even intellectuals might fuss over their eyebrows and manicures. The two still seem to be positioned as being mutually exclusive. I’d love to put out a yearly or bi-yearly digest that has think pieces, history, exquisite imagery and more.
There’s so much content out there that’s absolute garbage. I think people are hungry for something that makes them feel smart and allows them to share organically instead of pushing them to share on social media. So perhaps this would be content that you might offer up as a tasty morsel at a dinner party, instead of rushing to post to Instagram.
We’re all a bit numbed by the sameness of what we see, which is hugely ironic considering that we’re hit from all sides with endless content.
I want to create something rich and layered… and in my dream world, we can create another one where there are no budget constraints. So perhaps my other new publication will reach only 52 households and have an actual ruby in the advertisement for a ruby ring.
Well. You did say a dream project!