In honor of Women's History Month, I'm bringing back #BOSS101 interviews every Wednesday throughout the month of March, with some women that are redefining the "B" word. I'm so excited to kick this month off with this gem, that I met last year at a mutual friend's birthday party. I was instantly in love with her personality (and bomb highlighter). She is creating waves in the beauty industry and truly redefining the "B" word when it comes to beauty, branding and a being boss. You have probably read one of articles or seen one of her viral videos on the likes of Cosmpolitan or Byrdie. When we met, my blog hadn't launched but I knew then, when it did I definitely wanted to feature her. I'm so glad I was able to catch up with her as she offered up some boss tips... get your pen and paper ladies! Maya took us to school with this interview. Class is in session!
Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m Maya. I’m originally from Portland Oregon and a proud Howard University alumna where I majored in journalism. I’ve always been inspired by the power of words and using storytelling as a way to uplift humanity, particularly women. I truly believe in radiating self-love and spreading positivity. The world needs more love so I put forth that philosophy first in everything I do.
Give us a little background on who Maya Allen is and what aspects of your early adulthood guided you to where you are now.
I’m constantly evolving. But being a dreamer has always been a constant in my life. I truly believe I was destined to become a writer. I was born with an undeniable connection to words. Growing up, I collected every issue of American Girl, Seventeen, and Teen Vogue magazine. My adolescent eyes would be entranced by the covers of my mother’s monthly subscriptions to Jet, Ebony, and ESSENCE magazine. The stories I read inside of these slick, glossy pages greatly contributed to my womanhood. I also collected journals and writing became a very personal and therapeutic hobby for me at a young age. And it still is today. I always yearned to see more women who looked like me in the magazines I felt so deeply connected to. This propelled me to pursue a career in editorial. Now as a beauty editor, I use my voice and platform to tell the stories I needed to read as a young woman. In the cultural climate of today’s society, I take my responsibility to spread representation in mainstream media as an honor. It’s what keeps me going.
Tell us more about your job at Byrdie and what the transition from Cosmopolitan has been like.
At Byrdie, I work on a team of the most talented editors creating fresh, forward-thinking content for the beauty-obsessed woman. I cover beauty, health, and wellness. The transition from Cosmopolitan.com has been amazing, because I’m still in the digital editorial space learning new ways to tell stories that will resonate with our readers. I’m fully immersed in the beauty world covering well-reported features, interviewing celebrities, and beauty experts. It’s been so fulfilling to see my writing transform overtime.
Speaking of Cosmopolitan, you were making waves there, creating a true lane for women of color before you decided to go. Why the switch?
I wouldn’t trade my time at Cosmopolitan.com for the world. It was my first “big girl” job in the industry and my experience was incredibly valuable. There, I learned how to think visually and package my feature stories on a bigger level. It was the most ideal start to my journey of becoming an exceptional editor, storyteller, and most importantly a hard worker who knows how to think strategically and critically in today’s digital age. My former bosses and team members at Cosmo have become mentors and close friends. I’m always seeking new challenges and ways to professionally stretch myself while building my digital repertoire. I’ve been an avid reader of Byrdie since its inception a few years ago. Learning how to cater my writing and editorial skills to a more niche, beauty-obsessed audience of smart women intrigued me to make the jump. It’s been an amazing experience thus far.
I had a similar situation, where I left a dream job for another job and people couldn't believe it. But I knew in my heart it was right. What piece of advice do you have for women who stay in jobs/CAREERS because of the influence of others?
I was so taken back by the overwhelming amount of responses I received after I made the announcement that I’d be starting a new job. I knew that I’d successfully tapped into a new demographic at Cosmo, which built a lot of my loyal readers who follow my work. But I had no idea that so many people I didn’t know were so personally invested in my career. To be honest, I didn’t know how to handle the overwhelming amount of Instagram DMs, text messages, calls, and emails that flooded my inbox inquiring about my transition and my next step. Some people’s unsolicited advice about my choice to evolve professionally were negative. And this feedback was coming from people I didn’t even know. I had to take a step back, center myself, and realign my thoughts away from all of the noise. I’m naturally an extrovert, but when it comes to my dreams I’m an extreme introvert and selective about who I share them with. This was a decision I made for myself and I knew that it’d serve me well and the millions of potential readers I was doing it for. My advice is to live life on your own terms. A strong sense of self will elevate you higher and higher. You’re the author of your own story so write it however the hell you want.
You have had a couple videos/photos go viral. What's your secret?
It’s so exciting working in digital media because I’m staying submerged in all corners of the internet every single day. I’m a beauty girl at heart, so I always know what’s having a moment. It’s not only about knowing the latest trends, but becoming an expert on how people like to digest and consume content. In terms of video and photo-heavy features, I credit lots of my viral content to being on the pulse of beauty. But I like to package things differently in ways that haven’t been done before. I always think to myself: how can I elevate this concept and tell this story visually in a new, authentic, and innovative way? I stay abreast of up-and-coming hairstylists, makeup artists, and influencers that haven’t been discovered yet. I’m constantly seeking inspiration and I use my sharp visual aesthetic with my editorial eye to create relatable content that speaks to all women.
What inspired you to work in your industry?
Growing up, I never felt included in the conversation in mainstream media. I grew up in a predominately white environment and was always the token black girl. Outside of my immediate family, I didn’t see the celebration of black beauty anywhere. Our rich culture, skin tones, hair textures, body shapes were excluded. You could barely find us on the covers of magazines, on advertisements, or on big screens. I wanted to change that. I wanted to use my infinite love of words to inspire women who don’t deserve to be an afterthought. It’s so fulfilling to work in beauty and create concepts that celebrate and empower women of color. There’s truly no greater feeling.
How important is networking and relationships when it comes to your brand/business?
Good relationships are one of the core values of success. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mentors who’ve been there for me through every step of my professional journey. There’s a big difference between organic and forced relationships, though. Since the beginning of my intern days over six years ago, I’ve made it a point to be kind to every single person I come in contact with—from the Editor-In-Chief down to the messenger who delivers packages all day and the janitors who are at the office with me late at night when I’m still working. I’ve made it a priority to build authentic relationships and friendships with people in the industry because it’s important. I’ve cultivated those relationships because you never know where that person will end up or how that relationship can professionally propel you further. My former bosses while I was interning have turned into close colleagues and friends of mine. However, people make the mistake of strategically building relationships with only themselves in mind. I can’t stress enough that it’s not only about you. I wish I could show some of the messages I’ve recieved that simply state: Hi, I know you don’t know me but how can you help me? When approaching someone for professional advice you have to come correct. Do you read their work? Or do you just follow them on Instagram and think they’re cool? Those are two very separate things. I’m a strong believer that all relationships need to be reciprocal. My mentors teach me things and I learn from my mentees, it’s a constant exchange of knowledge, which comes from experience, and I value that. My “brand” (I use that word loosely because I feel like it’s used too fluidly nowadays) is not about me—I do everything to be of service to other women. When you realize that the core of your career is bigger than you, you’ll excel. You’ll naturally want to connect and collaborate with dope people and do dope shit. It truly takes a village.
What’s one piece of advice you have for women that want to work at A magazine?
You better get ready to work, girl. And I truly mean you need to be willing to put in the work. Lots of women reach out to me and tell me they want to work for magazines but nine times out of ten they have such a glamorous perspective of the industry—it’s not 100% glam. Actually, if we’re being honest, most of my career has been a combination of sleepless nights and early mornings at the office. With that being said, enter in the industry for the right reasons. Interning is so incredibly valuable. Take your internships seriously because they can turn into your job. Be the first one at your office and the last one to leave. Build a good rapport and solid trust with your editors so they allow you to take on responsibilities beyond the traditional “intern” role. To do that, act as if you’re an integral member of the team and allow your work to show for it. Pay attention to detail, go above and beyond, know when to speak up and when to be a sponge on the wall and soak up your experience. Understand that to write well, you must practice the craft daily with the intention to improve.
What Challenges do you face as a woman in your field? Specifically, what challenges do you face as a black woman?
Black women, understand that we’ll always need to work twice as hard. If everyone’s at 100%, I’m aiming for 150%. It’s the way of the world we live in, and we’re more than capable to handle everything that comes our way. As a black women working in the media, I truly believe it’s my innate responsibility to put on for my sisters every single day. I’m constantly pushing our stories to the forefront of my coverage because the world needs us. With that being said, I feel a lot of pressure from that duty to push representation forward and tell our stories the right way, since they’ve historically been told the wrong way or not told at all. However, I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by magical black girls in my life who constantly pour into me. That love I receive transcends and touches every aspect of my life—professionally and personally. So, in retrospect every challenge becomes a blessing in disguise.
When trying to build your brand and expand your reach, what components do you find most valuable?
Be genuine. With the rise of social media, everything is becoming oversaturated and clouded by a facade. People are judging your life based on your Instagram page, which is nothing but a highlight reel and not real life. In order to move and maneuver in these waters, showcase authenticity. When your purpose goes beyond the surface of self-righteous pursuits, everything will fall in line.
When we embark on a journey of building any sort of business or brand, we imagine it going a particular way. How do you deal with inevitable disappointments?
I’m my biggest critic so this is tough. Being a perfectionist is a double-edged sword because not everything is going to go as planned and I’m still learning how to be completely unafraid of failure. When I’m in the midst of disappointment, I hold on tight to the belief that everything that is for me is for me and will not pass me by. I’ve gotten so many NO’s and doors slammed in my face (literally and figuratively) but I’m so grateful that I didn’t let that stop me. People are surprised when I share my disappointments because for some reason it seems like I’ve had the ideal career. There have been times when I’ve felt so low in my career. I’ve nearly lost myself in my work before, which became a vicious and unhealthy cycle. I’ve learned to never lose who I am working to please someone else, no matter the job, position, or title. I had to pick myself back up. Instead of sitting in my thoughts for too long and harboring self-doubt, I step away and remind myself of my why. Being gentle with myself, practicing gratitude, and self-care has saved me.
What inspires you?
Black excellence. I’m so proud of US. I jump at the opportunity to sing our praises, showcase our beauty, and remind everyone of our magic. I truly believe Black women are God’s gift to the earth, so my sisters are my number one source for inspiration.
What Quote do you live by?
It’s impossible for me to pick just one. From the woman I was named after: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”—Maya Angelou
From Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
How do you redefine the B Word/What’s your Boss Word?
Be unapologetic. I know that I have a gift and I’m on a mission to reach the highest, truest, fullest expression of myself.
Any parting words to inspire and help a woman reading this that is inspiring to build her brand, her career, and/or a side hustle?
Know that you’re that girl. You have a superpower and no one can take that away from you. Celebrate your life, your losses, your wins, and your failures, because they’re all a part of your testimony. I don’t look like what I’ve been through because I know my very best is yet to come. This is just the beginning.
If you're not already, go follow this gem @mayaalenaa to catch her glowing up your insta feeds with her latest beauty photos and articles.