XO Jane's beauty editor Cat Marnell talks drugs, beauty, and not being into "real girls."
UPDATE: Cat recently left/was told to leave xoJane when she picked smoking angel dust on fancy rooftops over working for a bunch of squares who wanted her to stay clean. In light of these happenings, this interview from a few weeks ago seemed especially prescient, so we are featuring it again today.
Cat Marnell, XO Jane's Beauty Editor, is always in trouble. Whether it's for taking Plan B three times in one month (and writing an essay about it) or snorting heroin in a bathtub on a business trip or showing up an hour late for a New York Magazine interview that would ultimately slag her, but Cat doesn't really care. This is just who she is. Cat makes no apologies for her drug use, which I like. She's been a prescription speed freak since she was 15 years old and there is no sign of stopping. Everyone gets that, even her editors and the people in HR. You might ask yourself, "Why is someone in charge of a beauty-and-health department of an online magazine acting like this?" Cat doesn't stay inside the lines. She colors off the pages, but that may have something to do with the angel dust.
I know Cat is one of those people who most can't get behind. But whether you love her or hate her, what she is doing is interesting. No one has approached beauty like this before. As a feminist, a magazine writer, and someone who feels slightly connected to Cat’s twisted world, she spoke to me. I wanted to know what was really going on behind her troubled drug-addicted-beauty-queen internet persona.
After months of tweeting, texting, and phone tag, Cat and I finally got together to talk. It was right before she was forced to take a leave of absence from XO Jane and get some "help." Now, she's back from rehab, again. Here's some of what happened between us.
VICE: Why write about drugs and beauty the way you do?
Cat Marnell: First of all, with beauty I knew I would get a response just by being myself because beauty is so square. Obviously, I could just write it straight and I could write that in my sleep. "The Lip Gloss Round Up!" It’s stupid. I just hated it. It’s so boring. “Master the Disheveled Pony Tail!” You don’t even really write them, you just get the quotes from the hair stylist and then you plug in a product. But when you write “Lipstick That Won’t Come Off on a Dick,” you get a response.
People want to hear that though.
Advertisers are conservative, beauty advertisers famously so. That's why you'll never see party girls—celebrities like Mary-Kate Olsen—with a beauty contract. They party and we all know it. It's why no celebrity female, even a Paris Hilton-type, who everyone knows lives hard, wants you to know she smokes like a chimney—which she does, by the way. Squeaky clean girls, peachy skin. Bad girls don't get to splash water on their faces and say "Almay."
The beauty industry loves a Jennifer Garner and a Rachel Bilson and a Reese Witherspoon. Anyone shot in exercise clothes all the time. And so while they are very good to me, they don't really know what to think of a kooky Cat Marnell. But I love them, because they have embraced me and tried to understand what I'm doing, back in my Lucky magazine days—when they knew I was different, even though I tried to cover it up—and now at Jane, where I write really crazy stuff. They still tell me they love my columns, and they don't have to do that. I have nothing but love and respect for the beauty industry. You'll never catch me tearing them down. I’ve never said a bad thing about one product.
Kind of your rule of thumb?
If I don’t like a product, I just don’t write about it. Look man, writing the same old beauty stories over and over again is boring. I also have nothing but respect for Jane and Say Media—who need to make money and land advertisers, mind you, with me leading their beauty department—for letting me write about deep-throating dicks the size of pine cones and foot cream in the same story. I’m not just there to shock and awe and get hits and traffic. I personally don't give a fuck about traffic, which infuriates everyone at my website.
Why? Isn’t that the whole thing with the web? Traffic? I know my editors are always harping on about it.
Maybe it's because I worked in magazines for eight years—I never gave a fuck about circulation. The online game is whatever. If I was a gimmick and wanted to get hits for the site and loads of attention I’d be writing 300-word outrageous posts every day. I'm not ambitious like that at all. I’m there for Jane. I didn't come to the site to be the zaniest "performance artist" beauty editor ever, like people have accused. I came to work with iconic magazine editor and founder Jane Pratt. I thought the site was going to be much more of an "online magazine," quite frankly. Whatever the hell that is. A joke. Besides the great lie many other once-print editors have probably told themselves before making the switch to web. I never wanted to work for online.
Because I hate the whole blogosphere thing. I hate the "lady blogger" thing. I am a person in a woman’s body. I am a person before I am a girl. For example, I have never been one to just defend women because they are women. Remember that Patti Smith thing? People flipped. Emily McCombs gets really mad when I get resentful about being called a lady blogger. Maureen O'Connor, a writer I enjoy a lot at Gawker, called me a lady blogger in a hed, and I was like, "No! Not Maureen!" Because I would never call her a lady blogger! She’s a writer! I am a feminist as much as anybody, but my interests are in the world of human beings, not just... lady interests. We cover everything about moms and vaginas on the site and there's nothing about, like, I dunno... art. And people will say, "Well, you write about art then," but I have my columns to do, you know? I'm the beauty director. But I am going to start writing some arts coverage. I have interviews coming up with Clayton Patterson, Maripol. Look for them. Anyway, I hate being called a lady blogger. That’s why I write long posts. I’m a writer for a website, why does my gender have to come into it?
I play in a band that has three girls and one boy. We get called girl band all the time and asked what it’s like to be a girl in a band. Drives me nuts.
That’s so annoying. Are you singing feminist lyrics?
Not particularly. We get associated with riot grrrl just because we are women playing loud.
That really bothers me. It’s the same thing with black people when a poet is called “a black poet.” Shut up. Women artists. It’s so dumb.
It’s a frustrating thing.
I recently told this little girl I know to apply for an internship at Details and she was all put off like she wouldn’t get it because it’s a men’s magazine and I was like, “It’s Details! It’s good writing!” Same with VICE. Rolling Stone is still a men’s club. The reason I write about drugs so much is that it’s always been a boys club—the shameless drug user writers club at least. Women always write the recovery memoirs.
I’m going to tell you right now that there is a voice that comes out in me when I write for Jane that says "I’m getting better," like all reassuringly, which caters to women—and I do it without realizing it. Sometimes it’s true. But I’m really not planning on getting better. It's like everyone is always encouraging my recovery. Women do it in real life and online. So I often write in this fake way that reflects that, that I'm on that track. It's weird.
Do you feel like you have to say that? Is there pressure?
I’ll just put it out there. I am fucked up. I have been fucking up. They don’t trust me. I have two months of amazing, then I have two months of terrible. I get sober, off pills, then I get depressed because I don’t feel hot and I can’t feel good about myself.
I think it’s so good to talk about that. Every woman goes through those issues constantly. I do. I struggle with weight and how it affects my work and how I view myself as a person. It affects my confidence. But that has to do with the whole lady blogger thing. It’s so encouraging to say, “We’re perfect just how we are” but it’s not true. It’s nice to say, but it’s not true.
OK, remember I wrote about that juice diet thing?
Yeah, the really expensive designer cleanse you did where you lost 8 lbs in a week and everyone flipped.
Well, after the thinness of the juice cleanse wore off I got so depressed about my body that I went back on pills to get thin. Then, I got bitchy and unreliable again. Now, I am kind of crazy. I haven’t seen my friends in weeks and I don’t sleep. Right now, I’m sick. I’m in trouble. You know what? I guess it’s just OK. That’s just me! [Laughs] That’s the thing! I’m a mess and I always have been. It’s surreal to write honestly. I have never not been on drugs. The big thing that HR and I have contentions about is the fact that I work on drugs. I don’t know what to tell them.
Do you ever worry you romanticize drugs to your young readership?
Writers are not role models. I think that drugs can be a beautiful part of life, but would I put a child on a stimulant? Absolutely not. They fucked up my life, but at the same time they made me kind of "supernature," you know? Like that sick song from the 70s by Cerrone that everyone should listen to immediately.
Why did you first go on Adderall?
My dad just sent me the bottles. He thought I was flunking out of school, so that’s what he did. I didn’t tell anyone about it and just took them. It made me who I am now. I was a little more talkative than other people. I could write a bit better. I was a little skinnier and crazy-eyed. I got more attention than other people. It’s like the same term they use to describe narcissistic people, which is “conspicuous existence” and it’s the same thing on speed. You have a conspicuous existence. I have never not been on speed since. If anything, that’s what you are addicted to: you become a little more special than other people. I’ve always been an enhanced version of a human being. Of myself. I’m addicted to that. When I went off of it, you know what happened? I became normal. I looked normal. My ideas were normal.
I always found your battle with thinness something I love in your writing. It’s so real and it makes me feel better about my own battles with it and the knowing side of me that says I shouldn’t obsess over this stuff.
Listen, fat acceptance is not something I am interested in. I understand it’s important for some people but not for me. It’s not an option for me. Yet I wouldn’t have written that juice cleanse thing without the huge backstory, it wasn’t fair.
What do you mean?
I got the zillion-dollar Ritual Cleanse for free. I’m a thin person, naturally. I did not participate in the XOJane real girl belly project. I have never been remotely interested in looking like or being in any way a real girl. I don’t like the real girl thing. I believe in idealization for publications. People want to see aspirational images, read about aspirational lives. I don’t care about acceptance. I don’t want to project anything real. I want people to look at my beauty section and want to look like me, to buy the things I like. I want them to want to smell like me even though they can’t smell me through the computer. That’s the point. It’s beauty, babe! But always remember—I’m a total sicko.