#MGTop8: Elaine Welteroth, a Force of Millennial Wokeness

Elaine Welteroth gets our Sisters’ Keeper superlative in our first-ever #MGTop8. The #MGTop8 highlights fearless changemakers that are making an impact on elevating Muslim women’s voices. To view the rest of our #MGTop8, click here.

“It’s the only place where I can get news about ‘Riverdale’ and DACA”, a young activist told LA Times at the Teen Vogue Summit last year, which editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth brought to life for hundreds of millennial and gen-Z girls in California.

At 29 years old, Elaine became the youngest editor at Condé Nast and only the second Black woman to hold the title in the media company’s history. For most of us young women, Teen Vogue was a pit-stop for the latest celebrity drama and fashion trends, and many never imagined it would become the source of wokeness and information that we know it as today.

When you read the latest headlines on the Teen Vogue website, you will find material on the latest refugee moratorium, the economic crisis in Puerto Rico, and Trump’s decisions on Syria. Teen Vogue also became the first major American glossy magazine to do a whole series combatting Muslim women stereotypes called #AskAMuslimGirl in partnership with MuslimGirl.com. How?

Growing up with a Black mother and a white father, Elaine fell in love with magazines such as Ebony and Essence at an early age. Soon after graduating college in 2007, Elaine interned for Harriette Cole, Ebony’s creative director at the time. Only five months into the internship, Harriette invited Elaine to assist her on a West Coast photoshoot of Serena Williams. Her perseverance and passion persuaded publicists to let her backstage at fashion shows to cover beauty for Ebony, something the magazine had never done. Harriette went on to give Elaine a position at the magazine. In 2011, she was hired as a beauty editor for Glamour and only months later, was interviewed by Amy Astley, Teen Vogue’s former editor in chief, where they spoke of society’s readiness to critique Black women’s hair and how she wanted to change the perception of that, something she wanted to cover in her position. She got the job.

During the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the white supremacist rhetoric evoked by Donald Trump, Elaine knew that she needed to use her platform to engage the public on issues that matter to the most marginalized people. Her vision was beyond what the fashion world had ever imagined, and her dedication to changing the narrative and shifting the culture and perception of Teen Vogue in the modern age, from targeting an exclusive and homogenous population to an incredibly diverse and inclusive demographic, was the ultimate goal. Not only did she meet her own goal, but she set the bar for other fashion magazines, changing the foundations of what fashion can stand for today and reinforcing the idea that we are beholden to our society.

As Teen Vogue transitioned, the branding department also changed; Elaine would go on to oversee the magazine. She recognized that Teen Vogue needed to move beyond just covering beauty and fashion and that this was the opportunity to provide substance and feature a different type of girl, sharing stories on individuals who used their platforms to be role models and thought leaders. She was committed to encompassing issues regarding politics, social activism and sexual identity, issues the magazine has always avoided. In her first issue to print as editor, she had Willow Smith as the cover model and featured headlines like “Cultural Appreciation: Real Girls, Real Beauty, Real Talk.”

In addition to centering the voices of women from all walks of life, Elaine gave a platform to the most controversial of political subjects. Teen Vogue published an article by Lauren Duca titled, “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America,” a story that Elaine would set as the precedent for issues that would encourage the reader to participate in dialogue. On “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah, she was asked what so many people were interested in learning: How did Teen Vogue become a formidable source of political commentary? Elaine responded by saying “that Teen Vogue has as much right to be at the table, talking about politics, as every young woman does in America right now.”

Elaine has a track record of being determined to embrace diversity, combat cultural appropriation, and increase political awareness. In November 2016, she kicked off the “Teen Vogue Book Club” with Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hearston and launched a discussion of the book on Facebook Live led by feminists Rowan Blanchard and Yara Shahidi. For the rest of her tenure, Elaine included features on indigienous, South Asian, Black and Muslim teens.

While Teen Vogue witnessed one of the biggest of transitions under Elaine Welteroth’s leadership and perspective, she recently announced that she is leaving the Teen Vogue publication. So, what is Elaine up to next? We can only imagine that the grace and magic of Elaine Welteroth mean that she has way more up her always on-trend sleeves.

We are so fortunate to have an incredible leader and ally like Elaine and it is why we she lands in our #MGTop8 with the Sisters’ Keeper superlative. We thank her for her tremendous efforts and passion to change the conversation and create a platform to highlight the significance of educating and making a change.