We need more women founders on offense
I read Glossy: Ambition, Beauty, and the Inside Story of Emily Weiss’s Glossier in one sitting, as soon as it was published. This wasn’t a casual read. I had previously run communications at Glossier, and from the moment I opened that millennial pink cover, I was on high alert.
Perhaps that’s why my first feeling after finishing the book was relief. The communications profession trains you to prepare for the worst, to expect the unexpected.
But there was very little new reporting in Glossy. The author, Marisa Meltzer, stitches together decades of Emily Weiss and Glossier lore, much of which she had observed firsthand as a longtime follower of the beauty industry. For Glossier fans, this would mostly be a fun, gossipy read, populated by characters they knew from Instagram.
But after relief came discomfort. Emily is critiqued throughout the book for being too private, for not wanting to talk about her personal life, for sometimes refusing to go on the record. Marisa first approached us about a book project in the spring of 2021.
She said she wanted to write comprehensively about the state of beauty, a follow-up to Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, and planned to speak with founders and leaders across the industry, along with makeup artists and consumers. We had worked with Marisa in 2019 on a feature for Vanity Fair and found her to be smart, fair and fun; we encouraged Emily to participate.
I left Glossier just a few months after that first interview, and had found my way to an entirely new career chapter by October of 2022, when the publisher’s announcement revealed that the book was a “tell all” about Emily — to the apparent surprise of the Glossier comms team, some of the investors and team members interviewed, and Emily herself (she was on parental leave at the time). That context helps explain the book’s opening scene where Emily breaks down crying when meeting Marisa at the Crosby Street Hotel. And it makes it much harder to swallow the author’s criticisms of Emily’s wariness and desire for privacy. In related news, Amazon just announced it’s doing a TV adaptation of the book.
And while Glossy isn’t another female founder “takedown,” it also isn’t a book that would be written about a male CEO. The dominant critiques of Emily focus on her privilege and ambition, two traits I can’t imagine being used to undermine the successes of her male peers. Marisa is a savvy Glossier historian, but her writing gets weirdly personal when it comes to the company’s founder. In her prior book, This Is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World — and Me, Marisa shares her own experiences with diet culture alongside Jean Nidetch’s unlikely entrepreneurial journey, and in doing so, humanizes her protagonist even as she grapples with her legacy. In the case of Emily and Glossy, however, Marisa’s presence in the book often has the opposite effect.