Impeccable grammar, came by her Ivy League diploma honestly, a precise and powerful writer, pulls off an extreme pixie cut, possessed of a preternatural willpower when it comes to staying in shape, and totes an envy inducing contacts list in her BlackBerry. Two years ago, she had the audacity to display a work ethic and skill and win herself a spot at ELLE courtesy of the reality show Stylista. On a recent Saturday afternoon when I was headed to the DMV and Costco, Johanna was headed to the Metropolitan Opera with her way-more-famous-than-us actor gentlemanfriend. Then, as the ultimate sin, she wrote a denouement post on her blog A Serious Job is No Excuse a couple weeks ago, explaining in measured tones but with brave candor why she walked away from her junior editor job at ELLE to return to D.C.
It’s a modern Cinderella story of sorts, which means the vengeful stepsisters of the interwebs came out in force. Jezebel, where women once went to read witty, empowering writing, gave all the detractors a convenient forum last week, with its post “Stylista Winner Quits ELLE, Burns Bridges.” While many commenters noted that Jezebel’s writer seemed to have missed the control and humility with which Johanna navigated her post, there were of course, the rest.
* ThatDamnMonkey obsessively catalogues references Johanna made on her blog to weight and dressing to look one’s best, helpfully providing a litany of out-of-context segments. (In a particularly deft bit of pot-kettle acrobatics, the commenter decries Johanna’s “woman-on-woman hate.”) This charge is laughable, as evidenced by an email I got yesterday from a mutual acquaintance, blogger FreckledK, who self-identifies as on the voluptuous side, pointing out that claims Johanna is sizeist are ridiculous. “She had taken the time in the past to respond to several questions I’d sent regarding what to wear, and this was during the time she was busy slaving away for that magazine. It was very good of her to do so, and I’m always going to be in her corner because of it.”
* DizietSma talks with a bitter sigh about Johanna’s “sense of entitlement” so rampant among her generation and then weighs in with similar sentiments about today’s darn kids in roughly 35 follow-up comments. Her prolific nature helps push the item to well over 300 comments, including those calling Johanna “despicable” and “awful.”
* Several assert they know exactly who the editor is described in her piece. They are exactly wrong.
* And rounding out the bunch, GirlsLikeWords writes, “I’m honestly surprised they kept her after the reality show quit paying her salary. The way her blog reads to me, it seems like she was treated unfairly/didn’t learn the power structure due to the fact that she was there because of a marketing stunt pulled by Elle to get more readers, not genuinely give someone a job. If it’s a job “a million girls would kill for,” clearly competition is fierce. Someone who walks in like that wouldn’t be welcomed. IMO.”
It’s all so painfully predictable. IMO. But it’s that last one that really got me. I clicked through to GirlsLikeWords’ blog. She seems nice. Pretty blond hair. Went to school in Oklahoma, which means she crossed paths with Johanna in days gone by. They both love writing. Both appear to be into fashion, in their own way. But GLW opines with breezy authority that Johanna must not have made enough of an effort at ELLE, had attitude and didn’t deserve to be there anyway because her success came from a marketing stunt.
It’s so easy, isn’t it? To think that the Johanna pictured in the publicity still above is the whole story, with her confident stance and dress that costs half our rent payment.
It’s not easy though when you’re one of the ones who got the phone calls during her time at ELLE, tears evident as she grappled with ridiculous personal treatment. And no, it is not as some commenters asserted (again, many with no inside knowledge whatsoever) a mandatory part of the game in the ladymag business.
I interned at Harper’s Bazaar in the late 90s. Yes, I interacted with a bitchy junior editor or two in my early weeks there. One dispatched me to fetch Immodium when her tummy roiled with hungover displeasure. But the senior editors there followed the lead of the late Liz Tilberis and treated their staff as professionals and not sorority pledges. The woman who became my immediate boss for most of my time there, design features editor Melissa Barrett Rhodes, was patient (I was a total collegiate rube wearing pink Gap twinsets in a world of Calvin Klein modernity), encouraging and egalitarian. When she had to go to a gallery opening, she’d invite me to tag along. I ate my first oysters and met my first Beastie Boy under her tutelage.
Coming from that environment, ELLE‘s juvenile circus (my words, not Johanna’s, for those of you concerned about the fire-retardant limits of the bridge) is unrecognizable. No sitting in the empty chairs even after you’ve been told to do so by another editor, the now-infamous “get me something c—ier” shrieking, etc.
And now she enters another juvenile circus. Flogging on the internet by those who don’t know her. The ones who don’t know that she thoughtfully picks out the perfect birthday gifts for her nieces and friends’ children. The ones who don’t know she immerses herself in fashion but is never happier than when chucking it for a Michigan sweatshirt and sweatpants and cuddling on the couch with her pup Monte. The ones who don’t know that what gets written online gets read by her mother and father, who aren’t quite sure why strangers are calling their daughter “despicable” and “awful.” The ones who don’t live lives interesting enough that they will ever need to understand that there’s only so much publicly flung, digital shit one can handle.
The great philosopher Ani DiFranco sings, “God help you if you are an ugly girl/’course too pretty is also your doom/’cause everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room/God help you if you are a phoenix and you dare to rise up from the ash/a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy while you’re just flying past.”
That’s my daughter in the photo above. I hope the internet is a kinder place by the time she can read it.