Essence Gant

As Told By: Essence Gant from Buzzfeed

Last updated on: 2019

As Told By

Meet Essence Gant, Beauty Director at Buzzfeed

She’s here to break the beauty internet. Essence Gant is the Beauty Director at Buzzfeed, where she hustles to get readers all the trends, news and funny memes on all the things in beauty. After first getting started in the industry at a magazine that supported black businesses, she moved on to her current role at Buzzfeed. Essence now aims to shape the inclusive way Buzzfeed covers women’s lifestyle content. Read more about a typical day in her life and how she feels about the new digital landscape in the beauty industry!

1. Tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get your start in the beauty world?

I surprisingly have a Bachelor’s and Master’s in social work, so my experience in beauty and media was very limited before I began working in the industry. I knew that I always wanted to work in entertainment in some capacity, though, so while in grad school in upstate New York, I’d often skip class to come to the city and network. Long story short, I met a reality TV show writer and blogger at an event and told her that I could be her intern. She was happy for the free help and I was happy for some experience that would hopefully lead to a job. I updated her blog regularly with beauty and style content. A few weeks before I graduated, she recommended me for an editorial assistant position at Hype Hair magazine. 

I got the position and began working there two days after I graduated. I was there from 2011 to 2013 before the publication got bought and I was laid off. I couldn’t find any work other than some freelance gigs for about a year, so I had to work part-time in retail and I was privileged enough that my parents could cover my bills during that period. In 2014, I landed a job covering women’s business at Black Enterprise magazine. I learned a lot about the value of supporting black businesses, but I actively looked for other work while there because women’s lifestyle was my passion. In January 2015, I met a girl named Naja at a networking event and we actually stayed in touch, which hardly ever happens in NY. A few weeks later she texted me about an open beauty editor position at BuzzFeed. I applied, got the position and I’ve been here ever since.

I started at Buzzfeed as a beauty editor, got promoted to senior beauty editor, and now beauty director. It’s been a long journey from 2011 until now and I’ve cried a LOT, but I’ve learned so much and I’m grateful for my whole experience.

2. As the Beauty Director at Buzzfeed, what does a typical day in your life look like?

BUSY! Digital media is busy in general though because the internet never stops. No two days are ever really the same, but I’ll walk you through some common things that are bound to happen. 

I usually start by checking emails on the train before I get to work because I get hundreds every single day. It helps me to start with a clean inbox so I can spend less time checking emails when I arrive at the office. When I get in, I usually make a hot green tea because I’m one of those psychos who doesn’t drink coffee (take my working American card, I don’t care!) From there, I’m either working on a story, editing someone else’s story and giving feedback, and/or going to meetings most likely about editorial or branded content, or diversity and inclusion. Working on branded content as beauty director is new for me. As beauty editor, it was strictly editorial and I only had to interact with the publicists of brands. Now, I’m also working with the sales teams of brands to help them discover the best way they can work with the company. It’s exciting because I love stretching myself and developing skills I never had to use or knew I had. 

Normally at the end of the day, I’m picking up packages from the mailroom. Our mail staff gave me my own shelf in there because I get so many beauty products. If there’s a new product on the market, chances are I got it weeks or sometimes months before it hit the stores. Part of my job is knowing what’s out there and how it works so I have to test out a lot of products. 

As far as weekly or monthly occurrences, I could be speaking on a panel, attending a beauty or fashion launch (the cross country or international ones are my faves!) or directing a photoshoot. I’m also a creator for BuzzFeed, meaning I’m one of the faces of the company. It’s a cool program in which we’re developing our own experts and influencers in house, so those of us in the program get to create social content for brands we believe in. 

3. What is one thing you have accomplished in your career that you’re extremely proud of?

There’s a lot so it’s hard to point to one particular thing, but overall I’m extremely proud of my role in shaping the inclusive and sensitive way BuzzFeed covers women’s lifestyle content, particularly beauty. Traditionally, mainstream outlets haven’t made a serious effort to normalize representation, but we have and I’m proud that I’ve been able to lead in that way. 

I’ve featured beauty stories with all women in hijabs, all black women, all Asian women, a range of women with varying hair textures, body types, etc. And I don’t have to make any mention of that in the headline. I just do it because it then normalizes those vast faces of beauty, and normalizing is how beauty standards are set. I’ve never opened a major fashion magazine and saw a headline that read, “Here are 50 cis gender size 2 blonde white women.” But that’s usually what’s in the magazine over and over and it’s not even mentioned; it’s just there as if it’s the norm and then we’re conditioned to believe that’s the standard. I try to fight that narrative by making diversity just as normal.

Essence Gant

4. How do you and your team get inspired when coming up with relatable and trendy content for your readers?

THE INTERNET! Instagram, Twitter, YouTube. We’re really in touch with people on the internet because that’s where it’s at now. Social media influencers are like the new celebs, so we lean on them and even just cool kids on the internet for trends. There are so many talented people who create content that’s funny, informational and empowering. We’re more relatable and non-prescriptive in our content, so we like to connect directly with the people and then incorporate our own expertise. 

5. What does representation in the beauty community mean to you?

I think it’s quite simple. Representation is a consistent reflection of everyone — every identity, skin stone, body ability and body type, gender and so forth — at every level. Behind the camera, on the billboard, writing the content, leading the department. And that representation can’t just be when it’s “trendy” or good for marketing, because that’s tokenism and it’s counterproductive. It needs to be ongoing so that it’s just as normal as cis, straight white women sitting at every level of the industry. 

6. How do you think the shift from traditional marketing to a mostly digital landscape will continue to affect the beauty industry?

I think it will hold the beauty industry more accountable than it’s had to be in the past. Young people run the internet and they care about more than how great a product works or how chic the packaging is. They care about a brand’s values and where they stand on social issues. Are they inclusive of skin tones, gender identities, body abilities, etc.? Millennials and younger people typically use social media platforms as a tool to advocate for those things. Social media is also how the beauty industry reaches them because a lot of us don’t really see TV commercials or buy magazines anymore. You have to meet us where we are ⁠— and we’re on the Internet. 

Brands like Fenty meet us where we are on platforms like Instagram. Fenty sees us and reflects us in everything from their messaging to their selection of campaign models. I think that’s where the whole beauty industry is headed: using social media and digital platforms to sell products and share stories in a more inclusive, socially conscious way.

Essence Gant

7. What advice do you have for other female writers or someone interested in pursuing a career in the beauty industry?

Just do the work, to be honest. If there’s no opportunity to do the work at the moment, create your own so that you can show what you’re capable of. I went to undergrad and grad school for social work, so I didn’t have any experience or connections from internships in media or women’s lifestyle. In grad school I took the time to go to industry events, which was crucial because it was my way to let media employers that I knew its content and could write it. It was extra work on top of my classes, a social work internship and a part-time job, but at the time it’s what I had to do to create some kind of portfolio. So that’s always my answer: just do the work and don’t let any circumstance be an excuse.

8. What beauty products could you not live without?

I can’t live without a good serum, SPF, and red lipstick. At the moment I’m using Mary Louise Miracle Serum, Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen, and The Lip Bar in Bawse Lady.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Interested in learning more from professionals in the digital marketing and beauty industries? Check out the rest of our As Told By series.

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Shannon Brown
Shannon is a social media and copywriting intern at Taylor & Pond. When she's not working, you can find her devouring tacos, binge-watching beauty gurus on YouTube and reluctantly taking her mom's spin classes.