For three months, Nadine Haobsh had the gossip and fashion-loving worlds abuzz trying to figure out the true identity of "Jolie in NYC," an anonymous beauty editor dishing up secrets of a world filled with makeup freebies and celebrity speculation at her blogs Jolie in NYC and Nick and Jessica Breakup Watch. Then, seemingly overnight, her identity was revealed and Haobsh found herself out of not one but two jobs; she was outed by The New York Post just as she was poised to leave her position as Associate Beauty Editor at Ladies Home Journal to work at Seventeen magazine, which rescinded its offer upon hearing of her blogging exploits. Yet the spirited 24-year-old has managed to turn her increasingly common tale of being dooced into a media spectacle, and instead of shutting down shop, has been blogging with a vengeance, expounding on everything from her favorite mascara to the latest scandals when she’s not being made the latest example of "what not to do" with your blog on national television. Jolie in NYC retains its chatty, just-between-us-girls tone that made Haobsh so popular in the first place, with beauty posts garnering dozens of comments from readers seeking makeup pointers or analyzing the latest reality show or celeb divorce and generally supporting Haobsh’s new career move every step of the way. Haobsh emailed Gothamist about her formative teen makeup applications, the truth about press trips, male grooming habits, the inevitable (but long-planned) forthcoming roman a clef, her dream job at MTV and why Lindsay Lohan needs a makeover immediately.
How early on did you start wearing makeup and become infatuated with the world of glamour and beauty?
I was always more of a bookworm than a girly girl, but I did become self-conscious of my looks (particularly my freckles and pale skin!) in middle school. When I was eleven or twelve, all of my friends started wearing makeup, but my parents thought that was too young and refused to allow so much as lip gloss. Salvation came after I scored straight A’s on my report card at the end of 7th grade; they finally acquiesced and my mom took me to the Clinique counter for a foundation tutorial and the purchase of a Three-Step System. Like any preteen who doesn’t understand that less is more, I probably walked around looking like a circus performer for a few years, but I eventually got the hang of it. By the time I got to Barnard, I realized that makeup was all about tricks—concealing this, highlighting that, playing up what you’re born with—and came to regard it as fun, like a daily art lesson.
Growing up, what magazines did you read to get makeup tips?
YM and Seventeen were my staples in middle school, but I read those more for the tips on how to get your crush to notice you than for anything else! I switched to Glamour when I was about fourteen or fifteen and still enjoy reading it: it does a good job of mixing real-woman how-to-tips with celebrity trends and makeup artist insights. Recently, I’ve become infatuated with Elle—I think their beauty coverage is stellar, if a little inaccessible for "real" women.
Do you have a "beauty philosophy" or any essential advice or ideal that you follow, either for yourself and/or in your work as a beauty editor?
Beauty should be fun, not regarded as this terribly serious, only-for-makeup-artists-and-models thing. A lot of women are petrified of looking silly by using the wrong products or applying things incorrectly, and so they trap themselves in a rut: wearing the same hairstyle for 20 years and always buying one particular shade of shadow or lipstick. It’s easy to get bogged down by the idea that you need to craft this perfect image to make sure the world views you in a certain way, but the reality of it is that most people are far too preoccupied with their own issues to care that your hair is slightly frizzy or that you have a tiny zit on your chin. Demystifying beauty helps women realize that you don’t have to look like Heidi Klum or Charlize Theron to be pretty and sexy—it’s all about figuring out what works for you and learning how to make the most of what you have.
How soon did your blog "take off?" Were you prepared for having that many readers and did your growing popularity change the way your wrote or approached the blog?
My love of celebrity gossip is what drew me to blogging, since I wanted to throw in my two cents on Tom and Katie and Nick and Jessica. (Highbrow, huh?) But after going on a fun, fancy press trip, I decided to post my thoughts about the trip on the blog, too. The beauty posts drew attention, and the traffic exploded after Gawker picked it up. As it became popular, people starting clamoring for more beauty posts and less celebrity gossip, and I tried to post accordingly. I love writing about both, however—it’s hard to pick just one!
As you started to get more attention, were you worried that your boss would find out about it and if so, did you take any further steps to conceal your identity?
I didn’t take any steps to conceal my identity because I wasn’t writing anything negative, in my opinion. My mistake was in not telling my boss when I started it—or rather, as soon as I began adding beauty posts to the celebrity gossip ones. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but I naively didn’t think I was writing anything inflammatory. It’s well-known that editors receive lots of gifts, and it’s also common knowledge that the entry-level pay in magazines is low. I simply thought my friends would be amused by my take on it all. Unfortunately, my intentions in regard to the few beauty posts were severely misunderstood. It’s a strange yet wonderful industry, so why not have a laugh about it?
How exactly did The New York Post find out your identity? How many people really knew who Jolie was?
I would say about 40 people initially knew who I was—my friends, and their friends. It was hardly a secret, and one of my publicist friends emailed some girls in her office letting them know that I was the blogger behind Jolie. The Post reporter got wind of the email and contacted me about writing a story, at which point I alerted my bosses.
If you could start all over again, going back a whole three months, what, if anything, would you have done differently?
I wouldn’t have written about my industry, period.
Do you or did you feel a sense of freedom to write in a different way as "Jolie" than you would as Nadine? How separate are the two and how has your blogging changed, if at all, since your identity was made public?
I’m a fairly earnest, flowery writer in “real life,” but my blogging style is much less wordy and is usually humorous (at least, that’s the idea!). It was slightly easier to blog when it was just for my friends because, of course, they’re more forgiving if I have a particularly celebrity-heavy posting day. I love beauty, and I love writing about it, but you never want to feel like there’s a mandate on what you can and cannot write. Luckily, a lot of my readers like the gossip stuff, too, and I’ve gotten picked up several times by the Village Voice and AOL websites for my takes on various celebrity stories, which is always a pleasant surprise.
Do you think Ladies Home Journal was more embarrassed by suddenly having their name in the news or about some of the extravagances you dished about?
I think they were simply surprised that they didn’t know about the blog—understandably so. They felt that my beauty posts represented a conflict of interest, and my intentions regarding the blog were misinterpreted, resulting in some anger and hurt feelings. I feel awful that I disappointed or let down any of my former bosses, because they are the most talented, hard-working and honorable people you could ever hope to meet, and I respect them tremendously.
In your blog, you talked about going on spa weekends and receiving lavish gifts, which you and your coworkers freely accepted, and you imply this is standard practice. Do those types of gifts influence coverage? Would you write about a product if it totally didn’t work for you? (If you can give a specific example, that’d be great.)
There is a culture of gifts and freebies, but no self-respecting editor lets that influence her coverage. Of course, some magazines do place more emphasis on advertiser concerns, but even in those cases, the products mentioned are still top quality and worthy of coverage. Any major magazine would hesitate to recommend a terrible product from an advertiser because it would hurt their credibility with readers.
I have to clear up a misperception about press trips, however. While they are often fun and perhaps include massages or extravagant dinners, they’re also work: you spend up to 14 hours a day with publicists, other editors, research and development people and high ranking members of the beauty company that’s throwing the trip. For a skincare launch, you might be in a hotel conference room for three hours at a time, learning about the science and technology behind the product formula. The most enjoyable trips are the ones inviting editors to a spa for a few days of treatments to write a first-hand review, but many editors then spend their evenings and free time in their room deciphering notes and writing their pieces. It’s absolutely fun, but it is still work.
The issue that seems most upsetting to you is the claim of your lack of respect for the beauty industry. How do you respond to that claim?
It comes down to how seriously you take what I wrote and whether you have a sense of humor about it or not. I wasn’t divulging secrets essential to national security, and I didn’t name names. While I regret writing about beauty while working as a beauty editor—since I’ve now learned how easy it is to misinterpret tone and take things out of context—I wasn’t coming from a bad, mean place. I love beauty, I was extremely hardworking and respectful of my superiors, and I loved being a beauty editor—anybody who knows me at all, including my former bosses, will tell you that.
Within the magazine realm, what drew you to covering beauty?
I had a slow progression from public relations to fashion to beauty, but once I started covering it, I knew beauty was the right career for me. It’s not overly serious like so many other jobs in journalism or media can be, but you get a sense that you are actually helping people and providing a valuable service: finding her own beauty gives a woman extraordinary self-confidence! The advances in skincare technology in the last few years have been particularly noteworthy and interesting to write about, and I am a slave for anything having to do with fragrance, as well.
If the shoe were on the other foot and you found out that an employee was keeping a blog such as yours, how would you react?
I can only hope that I would have a sense of humor about it and compliment my employee on creating something funny and interesting in her spare time.
How does it feel to be an overnight celebrity?
Well, I haven't been Gawker Stalked—that's the true mark! It’s been fun having friends from seventh grade email me to say they saw me on TV or in a magazine, but my immediate goal is to turn the whole situation around and produce a book that stands up to scrutiny and leads to a career as an author and beauty journalist. I’ve always had a strong work-ethic, and I’m not interested in being famous—or infamous—for doing nothing. I have some really exciting things in the works, and I know it’s up to me to put my money where my mouth is in order to prove the naysayers wrong.
Do you consider yourself a beauty expert?
I’m only 24—I’m probably too young to be an expert at anything! But I do have an all-encompassing love for beauty. I genuinely want to help demystify beauty for women and give them the advice they need to feel more confident in their looks. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work with industry leaders who have shown me the ropes, set high standards worthy of following, and challenged me to be a better writer and editor. After writing the blog and receiving hundreds of emails seeking tips and advice, I’ve learned that there’s both enormous interest and confusion when it comes to beauty. Many women want somebody accessible, like a big sister, that can give them great tips and will be there to answer their questions, instantly. If somebody emails me, I will email them back within 24 hours, and I’ll either answer their questions to the best of my ability, or point them in the direction of somebody who can.
What about guys—do they need to be concerned about beauty products too?
The male grooming industry is exploding! I think grooming products designed specifically for men are a really positive thing, since men’s skin is different than women’s and they need products tailored to their needs. Many men are just as interested in beauty products as women are, and with all of the new product lines—both mass-market and high-end—and magazines telling them that it’s okay to care about how they look, I don’t think their growing preoccupation with their own appearances is going away anytime soon.
Are beauty standards different for women in New York than elsewhere?
Women in New York do seem to hold themselves to a slightly different beauty standard than women in other parts of the country, probably because the fashion and beauty industries are centered here. We approach beauty like a project to be mastered. Women here actively try to be the first to have sampled a product, and want to be privy to the "insider secrets" of people like celebrity makeup artists and hairstylists. My own admittedly unscientific observations are that we generally wear less makeup than women from the South and the Midwest, and tend to spend more money on our hair.
What are your top five favorite products?
Oh, no, just five? I could go on for hours! Here goes:
Bare Escentuals foundation: My all-time favorite product. It covers redness and pigmentation like a dream, doesn’t clog your pores, has SPF 15, and feels absolutely weightless. It’s literally the only foundation I’ll use, and I’ve tried them all.
OC 8 oil control gel: It features a technology similar to the one used in cleaning up oil spills, and keeps skin completely oil-free for 8 hours. It’s a great primer, doesn’t cause breakouts, and is so essential in my daily routine that I’ll actually wash off my makeup and start over if I forget to use it!
Phytodefrisant: The best at getting hair sleek and smooth, bar none. A few dabs on damp hair before blowdrying helps stop frizz and keeps hair straight even in humidity.
IS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum: I wear this underneath my SPF moisturizer in the mornings. It’s stuffed to the brim with antioxidants like olive-leaf extract and vitamins C&E, which help prevent sun damage, and has retinol, which rejuvenates the skin. I feel like I’m doing good things for my skin when I use this.
Chanel Coco Mademoiselle perfume: I’m a perfume junkie, and this is always at the top of my list. The smell is cozy and comforting, yet sexy at the same time, and it’s guaranteed to attract compliments.
How soon can we expect your book and can you tell us what it will cover?
It’s a fiction book set in the beauty industry. I’ve been writing it for a couple of years—based on my observations of publicists, other editors, and beauty company higher-ups—and it delves into the world of press trips, product launches, at-home product testing, and, of course, the freebies. Most people are aware of the fashion industry and all of the glamorous images it conjures up, but have little idea about what really goes on in the world of beauty, so the industry itself essentially features as a character. It’s a fun, absorbing read, and I’m hoping it will be out in time for next summer.
You were also running the Nick and Jessica Breakup Watch blog, and have now combined beauty tips and celebrity gossip; which one do you think is more popular with your readers? Are you partial to one or the other or are they both equally of interest to you? Why do you think there was such great interest in your blog?
Ahh, Nick and Jessica Breakup Watch, RIP. I love writing both equally. The celebrity posts are fun because it’s just never-ending—something ridiculous is always going on in that weird little world!—but beauty is nearer and dearer to my heart. I also love reading the comments from my readers, and sometimes I pick up a tip or two from them. I think the interactive nature of my blog, where readers exchange tips and ask for product suggestions in the comments section, is one of the reasons it’s popular. Initially, however, it was probably because I was speaking freely about a world that had previously seemed off-limits, and in which people apparently took themselves very seriously!
If you could give any celebrity a makeover (or makeunder), who would it be and what would you do to them?
I’d take Lindsay Lohan to the salon and make her a redhead again. She’s still a very beautiful girl, but she was so striking and unique before—now she looks like every other starlet and is completely indistinguishable from Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie. It’s great to have a celebrity out there who doesn’t look like everybody else, and Lindsay filled that niche for a bit. While I was at it, I’d feed her a few bites of pasta, too.
What’s been the most exciting and the most scary things about your post-outing life?
The scariest moment was when I hung up with the HR woman from Hearst and thought, "Oh my God, I don’t have a job." The very next day, however, I appeared on CNN, was in Page Six and received a phone call from my now-agents at William Morris wanting to represent me—probably the most exciting day of my life! It was initially overwhelming how quickly my life changed, but I’m so grateful for the way doors have continued to open and for all of the amazing people I’ve been able to meet. And, of course, I’m thrilled to be making my dream of writing a book a reality: I’d always wanted to someday be a "real writer," so I’m working to make the book as enjoyable and interesting as possible to pave the way for a career.
I’ve seen several job possibilities bandied about as possibilities for you, including an MTV stint. At this point, what would your dream job be?
Working with MTV would be phenomenal, and I’ve been surprised to discover that I really enjoy being on TV. I’m a fast-talker and occasionally tumble over my own words, so I’d always been terrified of being on TV and making a fool of myself! Luckily, I feel comfortable in front of the camera—who knew? I’d love to continue doing television, ideally as a young beauty insider who can give tips and recommendations, while also working as a fiction writer. There are endless possibilities, and I’m still very young, so my life could go in a myriad of directions—I’m just excited about it all and can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Photo by Jeremy Nelson