Zibby Owens: Welcome, Gabrielle. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Gabrielle Korn: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. I’m so excited to talk about Everybody Else Is Perfect: How I Survived Hypocrisy, Beauty, Clicks, and Likes. Amazing cover. Love all these cross-outs. Instead of, I am perfect, everybody else is perfect. Fantastic. Congratulations on your book.

Gabrielle: Thank you.

Zibby: Can you tell listeners, what inspired you to write this memoir?

Gabrielle: I was the editor-in-chief of Nylon Media, a job that I got when I was twenty-eight. I was thrown into this world of having a high-profile position in a really visible industry. On the outside, my life looked really shiny and glamorous. The truth was that in order to reach that level of success so young, I totally sacrificed my personal life. I started feeling like I was surrounded by dualities. There was what my life looked like during the day. Then there was what happened when I went home, which was, I was a total mess. I was struggling with an eating disorder. I was dating people who didn’t treat me well. I was just throwing my whole self into work and doing things like fighting for representation and body positivity and wasn’t really listening to any of those messages myself. I realized that that was true for a lot of the women that I was working with. I started writing about this disconnect and the trap that women’s media creates and how we had all become part of the machine even while we thought we were fighting against it.

Zibby: Wow, that was a great description. Love that. One of the pieces of the book that I found super interesting is, you wrote a lot about being a lesbian in this industry and how at times in your life — I kind of wish you had put, and maybe in the final — I’m sure you didn’t. I kind of wanted a slide show of all your different looks because you often described how, at this point, your hair looked this way, and at this stage, you looked like this, and how now that you sort of can pass — this is you, I’m not saying this — as somebody who is straight, and so you wonder with some frequency when to bring it up. Is it weird to bring up in a work context? How do you handle that? You had this whole passage where you were ruminating on that, which I found super interesting. I was hoping you could talk a little about that, not to lead off with our first question talking about your sexuality. Let me just get right to it here with you, Gabrielle. I’m sorry.

Gabrielle: No, it’s important. I, especially when I was first starting out in media, was more often than not the only lesbian in the room. When I first came out, the first thing I did was cut off all my hair and within six months had just shaven my head entirely. It was really important to me at that point when I was nineteen to be visibly queer because it was such an important discovery and I didn’t want to have to explain myself. Within a few years, it started to feel like a performance. It didn’t feel natural. I had always been super feminine, at least aesthetically. I missed it. When I became a beauty editor, gradually, I slowly became more and more femme. What I lost was being read as queer. What I gained was being comfortable in my own skin. It eventually got to a point where I don’t really care if people read me as gay are not. I know it’ll come up. It’s fine, but it used to make me feel really uncomfortable, especially in women’s media which is, for lack of a better way to describe it, straight lady land. There I was feeling like I had a secret if I didn’t tell people or just feeling like an outsider even though I was an insider. I just kept trying to change my exterior to make it feel more comfortable, but it was more an internal struggle.

Zibby: And so ironic that you were writing about beauty and a lot of your issues were about how you should get your inside out. I think this is something not just with sexuality, but with so much stuff that so many people deal with every day, whether it’s some personality element or some part of your racial identity or any kind of thing that’s inside because we all hold so much in our interior lives. How much do you want to broadcast that to the world? In what way are you supposed to do it? I don’t know. I find it such an interesting question.

Gabrielle: Totally. I think with an identity that isn’t read as neutral — I think white heterosexuality is read as neutral. If you are anything but that, the choices that you make in how you appear to the world speaks volumes to what you think about yourself and what you think about your worth. It’s a constant conversation for everybody to figure out. How vulnerable do I want to be? Do I want my body hair showing because I love having body hair, or do I not want it showing because I don’t want to deal with people staring at me?

Zibby: And which people to let into that.

Gabrielle: Yeah, exactly.

Zibby: Some things, you can’t necessarily hide, not that you would want to hide anything, but some things are just so obvious. Others, you get to — I don’t know. I had this idea. This sounds so ridiculous. There should be a line of clothing where you can put things like “struggling with ADHD” or “just lost my mother” or all these things that you may or may not want people to know, but they wouldn’t know by looking at you. Then if they did know, they might have more compassion and empathy when they spoke to you as opposed to just making all sorts of assumptions based on maybe your blazer.

Gabrielle: Completely. I think as people grow up, we realize that absolutely every single person is struggling with something that you’ll never know about. Realizing that allows you to have empathy for people and be kind even if it’s hard. I think there’s definitely a period of time that most of us go through when we don’t realize that and we feel like we’re the only person struggling and everybody is staring at us. It’s just not true.

Zibby: Yeah. The T-shirt line would have to have lots of different options.

Gabrielle: Totally. Customizable.

Zibby: Also, so many of the issues that are hidden, it’s the specific combination of those things that makes your own experience unique. I’m speaking in generalities. I’m sorry. When I read this part of your book, it just sparked this whole thought. Your eating disorder kind of feeds into this — no pun intended. I’m sorry. That was terrible. I have not had enough sleep. That’s why I can excuse myself and my bad puns today. Tell me about that part of your life and how it stands today. How did you get from there to here? How do you cope with having it all in the past? Go there.

Gabrielle: The thing about having an eating disorder is that until it’s diagnosed, you don’t know that it’s an eating disorder. You just think that it’s what you’re supposed to do and how you’re supposed to eat. I was really not aware of it for a really long time. Looking back on my life, I can remember different periods of time that I became really skinny because of things that were happening that were beyond my control. It probably started in middle school and came and went during high school and then came back right after I came out and was really struggling to figure out how to find my queer community, how to reimagine my place in the life I was already leading. The only representation I had access to was, of course, the women on The L Word who were rail thin and six feet tall. I was like, oh, that’s what I’m supposed to look like, great, I can do that, and just kind of stopped eating. It came and went for the next ten years, I would say. It came back with a vengeance when I started climbing the ranks at Nylon. What was true was that the skinner and, to that end, blonder that I got, the more attention I got, the more money I got, the more I was noticed by straight style photographers. The correlation between my weight and my success was very, very real. I was chosen by my boss to be on camera and to be the brand face.

It really felt like if I wasn’t this skinny, this wouldn’t be happening for me. I’m not sure if that was untrue based on what I know about how the industry works and that particular generation of people who were making decisions for me. It just spiraled out of control during that period of time. What ended up happening was I got really sick. The person I was dating at the time who I was trying to break up with was basically like — I had been in therapy. She was like, “You have to tell your therapist that you’re not eating.” I told my therapist. Then everything kind of fell into place after that. She convinced me that I needed to see a doctor. The doctor set me up with a nutritionist. I had this group of women that I really respected saying to me, “You have anorexia. You need to learn how to eat.” I eventually just had to realize that it was outside of my control. I had lost the privilege of making decisions for my own body because I was doing a bad job.

I wrote about this in the book. The thing that really got to me was in analyzing my different levels, the doctor told me that my T3 was dangerously low. T3 is something you get from good fats like fish oils. It lines your brain. It helps the synapses connect. She was like, “This is affecting your thinking. It’s going to take you two years from your recovery to fully heal from the damage you’ve done to your brain.” I was like, my brain is the only thing that I believe in. Being smart is the thing that I’ve always had. If I lose that, I don’t know who I am. It’s not worth it to lose that. I committed myself to my recovery. It’s an uphill battle. I think it’s something that will always be with me. There’s nothing like being quarantined for a year to really flair some things up. I also am in a loving, nurturing partnership. I’m in a better job situation. The things that felt like they triggered me just have been removed. What’s really important to note about eating disorders is that they happen in context. People don’t just catch anorexia. There are things in your life that make you feel like you have to be a certain way. Keeping that in mind, I’ve been able to really forgive myself for certain things. I wasn’t doing these things in a vacuum. I was responding to things around me. If I can be aware of those things, then moving forward, it makes it a lot easier.

Zibby: First of all, thank you for being so open. I’m sorry for totally — I feel like I have the right to pry, which I do not, just because I read your very private memoir. I feel like I get to continue the conversation that you had with me, but you didn’t know you were having it with me.

Gabrielle: I’m glad you asked because it’s important. There were moments when I felt like this is too personal. Oh, god, what have I done? I had some really great conversations with my agent about it. She was like, “This is not about you anymore. This is about the people who need to hear this.” That makes it feel less scary. Since you’re watching me over video, you can see that I’m someone who turns red when I’m nervous.

Zibby: I’m not trying to make you nervous. I hope I’m not making you nervous. I’m sorry.

Gabrielle: No, you’re not. It’s just vulnerable.

Zibby: I have so much respect for you for sharing with the world everything that you’ve gone through. I also feel like sometimes it’s a little different when you write about it. I feel like I can pretty much write about anything because I’m just putting it on the computer in front of my own face. Then if somebody reads it and talks to me, even if it’s something stupid like, “My son went to school and I feel sad,” and then somebody sees me and is like, “Are you doing okay?” I’m like, oh, you know that I’m sad? It’s a nameless audience versus a face. Now here I am prying.

Gabrielle: No, it’s great.

Zibby: I’m very interested in eating disorders personally. I studied them, majored in that in psychology in college, and worked at an eating disorder clinic. It’s a personal interest of mine for various reasons. That’s in part why I was interested. Actually, I don’t know if you’ve seen Taylor Swift’s new documentary. Have you watched that by any chance?

Gabrielle: I can’t say I have.

Zibby: I don’t even know why I did. I have a teen daughter, among other children, who should’ve been watching it instead of me. My husband and I were like, “Hey, in the mood to watch a Taylor Swift documentary?” I was like, “I really want to watch it.” In the documentary, she said the same thing as you, which is she didn’t know she had an eating disorder either. She just thought that’s what you were supposed to do. She was getting really famous and all this stuff. Everybody wanted her to be thin, she felt. She’s like, “It was an eating disorder. I was not eating. It was an eating disorder.” She had to then deal with it. Now she feels like people are just as judgmental with her for having recovered from it and not being as rail thin as she was before. Anyway, if you’re super bored.

Gabrielle: Me and Taylor Swift have a lot in common.

Zibby: It’s one of those things. Actually, yes, we’re all just people trying to make it through this crazy world. Even though she has performed in front of millions of people, she struggles with some of the same exact things. It’s not so different in a way. Yes, we might not all have the same trappings. Off on my Taylor Swift tangent. Tell me a little bit about writing this book. I was saying how I felt writing, but maybe you didn’t feel that way. How did you feel writing this book and putting your feelings out on the page like this? Was it really challenging, or was it something you felt just so needed to be said?

Gabrielle: It was both. I had moments where the writing came really easily and moments where it was really painful. I was like, I need to figure out how to do this, how to write about these things without retraumatizing myself, because you do have to sit in the memory of hard things and figure out, practically speaking, what is relevant and what’s not relevant. How do I describe this thing? It’s taking this objectivity to your trauma that I think is, in a way, really helping and in another way was awful. The hardest part was that for the majority of the book, I was working an insane job and had no time. Basically, the majority of what I wrote happened on the subway in my phone in my notes app because that was my forty-five minutes a day where someone wasn’t asking me questions, hopefully. It was hard to find time. Then when I had time, it was right after I left my job at Nylon and I had nothing but time. That was also hard because I had to write a new conclusion to the book. I think my feelings hadn’t fully settled about what had happened. I had to try to have empathy for my future self about how I would feel about the things that were so immediate. That was also really good because that kind of became my healing process too, was forcing myself to reach some sort of resolution and have a positive takeaway from things that ultimately didn’t feel positive at all.

Zibby: Wow. That’s the definition of learning and coping. This was your tool. We all get to hold it. What is your new job? You referenced that you have a new — what’s your new…?

Gabrielle: I am at Netflix. I joined the editorial and publishing team, which is kind of marketing. It’s social media focused. I’m running the social media platform that is dedicated to the LGBT community.

Zibby: That’s amazing.

Gabrielle: It’s really, really fun. Social media was one eighth of what my job used to be, so it’s really incredible to be able to just focus on it and know that I know how to do it and that’s just what I have to do. It’s also really amazing that I didn’t create this job. I wasn’t the person who said we have to do representation. They already knew. They created the department. I’m just stepping into the role. It’s so different.

Zibby: That’s great. Do you have any social media tips? Anything I should do? I feel like you’re the guru now on every level.

Gabrielle: I guess it depends on what your goal is. I think the most important tip for social media is to take break from it, honestly. If you want to grow your platforms, you have to use all of the new tools as they’re created. That’s how the algorithm will prioritize you.

Zibby: I’ve heard that. Like the Reels and all that?

Gabrielle: Yeah. Personally, I cannot do Reels.

Zibby: I am not good at Reels.

Gabrielle: I just won’t do it.

Zibby: I recorded myself walking through the house or something. I was like, this is not funny. Nobody wants to watch this at all, me cleaning up my kids’ toys. This is so boring.

Gabrielle: It’s such a specific kind of whimsical humor. I’m like, I’m tired.

Zibby: I’m not good at it. Not that you’re actually asking, but my goal is not so much to build my platform. It’s to make it better. My Instagram is private. Maybe I shouldn’t say this. I don’t let that many people follow me because I put a lot of personal stuff out there. I was getting very nervous by some followers. I was like, I don’t care if I have a zillion followers. That’s not what I’m trying to do, at least for my personal page, but I would like to make it better and more engaging. I use it mostly to write. Like you were saying with your book, I have something painful happen and I put it — I can’t believe it’s become this, but it’s my real-time diary in a way even if it’s a paragraph of how I’m feeling. I get so much immediate feedback. It’s amazing. I have found it to be, not for my podcast page, but at least for my personal page, this untapped resource like a support group of sorts. Different people rise to the top of the bubble depending on what the issue is. That’s interesting too.

Gabrielle: It sounds like you’re using it in the exact way that you should be using it.

Zibby: Okay. Thank you. I’m glad. I can always do it better. I like to do everything better than I’m always doing it. I feel like you can relate to that.

Gabrielle: Of course. I’m familiar.

Zibby: Just going to go out on a limb and say that. I’m sure you’re super busy, but in terms of writing, where do you stand with writing in your life? How do you get that need met now?

Gabrielle: I have actually been doing a lot of writing this year, or in 2020. Just having reasonable work hours has been life changing. Not having a commute has been life changing. It’s never been hard for me to think of things to write. It’s been hard for me to find the time. I really committed myself this past year to filling my free time with writing instead of just thinking, oh, I should write that down. I started writing a novel.

Zibby: Ooh, that’s exciting.

Gabrielle: Thank you. We’ll see. It was the most fun I’ve ever had doing a thing. I’m hoping that it resonates with someone somewhere. In hindsight, I just wish that I had taken three weeks off from work to write Everybody Else Is Perfect. I could’ve saved myself so much sleep if I had just done that, but it really wasn’t possible. I was so tied to my office. I’m really envious of people who are full-time writers who can just do that and live comfortably. I think it’s a really hard thing to do. I like having my health insurance.

Zibby: Also, having heard from lots of full-time writers, the excess of time can be a constraint as well. It can be overwhelming when your day is cleared to write and be creative. The image of you writing on your phone in the subway is from another lifetime, the being packed together and holding up your phone and that whole thing, but you fit it in because you had to. It’s like, give a busy person something to do… Like you said even still, when you had all day, that was also hard. I feel like some writers, although grateful, and I don’t want to speak for other people, but it can be oppressive having that much time and having to produce something of high quality when so many other distractions are always around. It’s always glass half full, I think.

Gabrielle: Totally. I think it’s also important to be experiencing the world while you’re writing about it. There is a really real reason why I didn’t have any ideas for a book when I was twenty-two. That’s because I hadn’t lived at all. If it weren’t for the experiences of the past ten years, I’m not sure if my perspective would be something that could fill a whole book. You have to have experiences to have something to say. I think that’s also what makes it hard when you have nothing to do but write. It’s just you. It’s so solitary. You talking to yourself only gets you so far, at least for me.

Zibby: It’s true, especially for nonfiction. That’s completely true. Imagine how much more you’ll have to say when you’re my age. I’m forty-four. You’re going to have so much more that’s happened. Then I think of people who are seventy writing their stories. Every year, there’s more material. Even something that I was thinking of doing before the pandemic — I had left this half-finished book proposal. I looked at it recently. I was like, oh, because I hadn’t lived the last two parts of my book. Then I put them in. I was like, okay, now it’s done. What is your parting advice to aspiring authors? I know we’ve talked a lot about writing, but if you have any parting advice.

Gabrielle: The thing about writing is you have to just do it. I think within the aspiring, it’s so easy to feel like if you just wish for it hard enough it’ll happen. It’s not going to happen like that. You have to just commit yourself to doing a lot of hard work and making time for it and putting yourself out there and pitching it.

Zibby: Yep, that’s pretty true. That’s great advice. Thank you. Thank you for your book, Everybody Else Is Perfect. Thank you for letting me talk to you — I’m a total stranger — about all these personal issues. Thank you for being brave enough to share them, and respectful and all that stuff. Thanks.

Gabrielle: Thank you. It was a pleasure talking to you.

Zibby: You too. Take care.

Gabrielle: Bye.

Zibby: Bye.