Reshaping a predominantly white industry to reflect the voices of women of color is not an easy task to do. Not many are bold nor brave enough to take on the lead. Redefining what beauty means in a world that insists on pushing its agenda of an outdated vision of white supremacy can oftentimes feel overwhelming. And yet, despite the challenges one such quest brings, there are always those individuals who take it upon themselves to make the first step. Hustling their way through seemingly unwinnable battle, these rare gems are challenging the status quo by fighting for inclusive beauty standards, shining light on those who are often left in the shadows. And just so it happens we know one such fiercely powerful woman whose grit, dedication and hunger has taken her from folding shirts in retail to becoming one of the top editorial minds behind world’s fastest-growing millennial-focused media outlets, BuzzFeed.
Her name is Essence Gant and her game, as she so delicately puts it in her own words is to “normalize representation and expand beauty standards to be inclusive of everyone”. The beauty director for Buzzfeed, Essence’s rise to such a high rank was not without a few bumps along the way. It took sheer will and unshakable belief in herself to make it in an industry which is all about who you know from the inside. With no prior connections in the media world, this remarkable woman has trail-blazed her own path by skipping classes in grad school (which by the way she doesn’t recommend) to go to fashion and beauty events in New York City, hoping she would meet the right people. This move eventually paid off, as Essence got her first gig as an editorial assistant for Hype Hair through a blogger she met at one of those events. Her fighting for what she believed in made her the rising star that she is today and rightfully so. So for the next edition of Cool Faces of Bastet Noir, she shares her story of how she made it in a truly competitive industry and a beauty hack we guarantee to blow your minds.
BN: Your story of hustle is so inspiring and extremely amusing having to go from graduating in social sciences to becoming one of the top editorial minds behind one of world’s fastest-growing media outlets, BuzzFeed. To be honest, it sounds like mission impossible, especially when you don’t have any prior connections in the media industry, so just wanna say kudos to you. What would you say was the single most important thing that got you to where you are today?
Reshaping a predominantly white industry to reflect the voices o
EG: It would have to be my faith. And that can sound intangible because people like a solid step or action with these kinds of questions, but my faith kept me sane when I felt crazy for dreaming, and it kept me strong when I wanted to give up. Chasing any dream requires hard work, yes, but I think more than that it requires almost a supernatural emotional and mental strength because you get rejected A LOT. And unforeseen things like lay-offs happen A LOT. My faith helped me endure through all of that to keep going and not give up, and I can say that it paid off.
BN:It seems like you’re extremely passionate about amplifying the voices of women of color. We love how your work has a meaningful impact and that it creates beauty content for underrepresented audiences. Why do you think is so important for you to give a voice to these women?
EG: I don’t like to think of my work as “giving a voice” to anyone because we all have a voice. The problem is that our society doesn’t always listen to people when they’re expressing themselves and their experiences. In the U.S and lots of other places in the world, if you’re not white then your voice falls on deaf ears. In my work, which is women’s lifestyle, if you’re not a slim cis white woman then your voice falls on deaf ears. So I just try to use the platform I have at such a big media company and share the stories of people who don’t fall into that box. I’m especially passionate about women of color, and black women specifically, because we contribute so much to style, beauty and pop culture. We set a lot of trends, but we’re not represented on runways and in magazine spreads like we should be. Our contributions are often Columbused by white people in positions of power at style and beauty platforms. So I’m just doing my part to make room for us in the space that we have such a heavy hand in shaping.
BN: What’s your morning routine like? Any beauty hacks for those of us who are extremely lazy in the mornings?
EG: So I recently started doing the bulk of my skincare routine at night and then in the mornings I just rinse my face with water and reapply my serums and moisturizer, plus some SPF. I met this skincare CEO at a beauty event and she was like, “Why do you do a full routine in the morning and night? What are you washing away in the morning when all you’ve done is slept?” And my mind was BLOWN! I imagine it’s case by case as some people sweat profusely in their sleep, but I don’t. I’ve been doing that for months now and I haven’t had any breakouts or anything so it seems to be working. After skincare and teeth, I do the normal like get dressed. I don’t have a solid morning routine, but I probably should because I’m always rushing and always late. The skincare tip though has given me some extra morning time!
BN: As someone whose work is pretty dynamic, what do you do to keep yourself sane?
EG: I’m still trying to figure that out. I just reached out to a therapist so I’m hoping a professional who’s unbiased can help me get my life together and just bring more balance to my everyday experience. But as far as little things I do, I listen to a lot of music. And I know everyone’s like “I like music!”, but I reeeeally do. I’ll listen to gospel or r&b when I need to be soothed and it helps me to calm my nerves and re-center. I also try to have these internal self-talks where I remind myself that all will be fine and that most things I stress about aren’t a matter of life and death.
BN: Best and worst part about your job?
EG: Best part is being able to normalize representation and expand beauty standards to be inclusive of everyone. Worst part is it’s still incredibly exclusive and there are too many politics involved in excelling as a black woman in a very white space.
BN: Biggest achievement you feel the most proud of?
EG: My biggest achievement constantly changes but as of now I’d say not giving up. I’ve been through a lot and it would’ve been easy to go home to Georgia where I’m from and live with my parents and pursue another career. That was a real option for me had I wanted to do that. But I stuck it out through everything, and it worked out. New York is not for the weak. It breaks you down, but if you push through it, it’ll build you back up and you’ll be stronger than you knew you were.
BN: Biggest failure and what you’ve learnt from it?
EG: I’ve had failures I know, but I can’t think of any major ones that left me distraught or anything. I was laid off from my first job as an editorial assistant when the company was sold and that sucked really bad. I was hurt by the way it was handled more than the lay-off itself, but from it I learned that nothing is personal and the industry is fickle. The people you work with are not your friends (except for rare times you have an organic connection with a coworker). You see each other every day and laugh and share stories about your families, but at any given moment your relationship dynamic can change and you can’t take it personal. You have to always remember why you took a job, whether that’s passion, to feed your family, to get your own independence, etc. And that reason, not making friends, has to always be your priority. And that’s not to say you shouldn’t network and enjoy the company of people on the job, because you should do those things. But if anything happens to change your relationship dynamic with people you work with, you can’t let that shift your focus from why you went after the job in the first place.
BN: Favorite female empowerment speech
EG: Just about anything from Oprah. Her commencement speech at Stanford in 2008 always sticks out to me though. She talked a lot about failure and how launching her TV network at first was such a challenge. It really humanized her and the fact that failure is inevitable; that life isn’t easy. And it doesn’t matter if you have a little or seemingly everything, like Oprah. You can’t buy your way out of struggle or detour around it. You have to experience it, but you’re better for it in the end and everything always works out.
BN: What’s in your Bastet Noir cart?
EG: The Michelle Dress in White and I can’t WAIT to wear it. It’s classic and understated sexy.
Success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a work in progress, one which takes time, patience and continuous learning. It’s an emotionally draining journey, but also extremely rewarding, one that can teach you a lot if you’re willing to listen. It’s important that you acknowledge these failures, so you can understand that success is built on them. Because once you understand that, only the sky will be the limit for you, just like it was for Essence.
We love strong, confident and self reliant women, so if you think you got what it takes, send us an email with your Instagram account and the story you’d like to share and you might just become Bastet Noir’s next cool face.
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