Elaine Welteroth, who reached prominence as the first black Teen Vogue editor and now as a Project Runway judge, stopped in Los Angeles Thursday for her book tour and discussed why she wrote the women empowerment memoir to an estimated 400-member audience.
What appeared to be a well-read black girl magic rally at the California African American Museum in Exposition Park started with the cheerful announcement that Elaine’s book had notched itself to the coveted New York Times Best Sellers list. She was then introduced by her former Teen Vogue colleague and friend Lynette Nylander, who conducted the fireside chat.
Right away, Elaine began reading from Chapter 16 in More Than Enough: Claiming Space For Who You Are (No Matter What They Say), which is dubbed “Disturbing the Peace,” which starts with a quote from Audre Lorde and describes how Elaine returned to work from a Christmas vacation from Rwanda for a surprise racial interaction. Her hair was braided into Senegalese twists down her waist—the first time she came to a corporate setting in an overly ethnic hairstyle—and a white female colleague in disbelief asked how her hair had allegedly grown feet over a short amount of time.
This question is sometimes posed to black women who decide to add synthetic or real hair to their braids for a new look to celebrate their heritage, so Elaine took it in stride after an inner dialogue berating the beauty industry for neglecting what is considered beautiful to women of color with telling the woman, “Oh, you of all people must know these are extensions.”
That set the tone for the evening: Elaine describing her humble background in the San Francisco Bay Area as a first-generation college graduate to a high-ranking editor in a magazine media empire. Starting her career in the beginning of the recession, she said she felt the weight of being “black, young, and female,” the trifecta of the media industry teeming with racism, ageism, and sexism.
“We all live in a 180-character world where we are scrolling each other’s success stories every day, and we’re only getting the shiny slice, we’re only getting the prettiest picture, we’re only getting the clearest caption,” she said. “I felt like I owed this community more than I can fit into a caption on Instagram about the most universal aspects of the success story. The parts that get left out from the messy relationships that so often intercept with how we show up in our careers.”
At 32, she said she feared her audience would doubt she was ready to write a memoir, even as her own brother echoed this sentiment soon after she submitted a manuscript questioning her reason to pen an “autobiography.”
“I wanted to throw the plate in his face,” she said of the interaction over a Christmas vacation while he was washing dishes in the kitchen. “I was so emotional because that was the very question that threatened to keep me from doing this and leave it to be my family—it’s always family—that are your harshest critics. At the time, I was so emotional I can only think to say, ‘They don’t even call it autobiographies anymore, you asshole!'”
A round of laughter erupted from the audience, but she continued with the true translation of that moment.
“Then later I really sat with it. I don’t blame my brother for asking that question. That’s the patriarchy talking. We’ve all been conditioned by this mindset that tells us, ‘Your stories are not valid if you look like me.'”
The two-hour event brought up more gems from Elaine’s book like her decision to attend a state university because the boy she was dating was supposed to be there but turned out to be in jail and how on her first Ebony photo shoot she had a serendipitous moment with the hairstylist who happened to be friends with her aunt.
Eso Won Books, the main black-owned bookstore in Los Angeles, was the official bookseller at the event.