Elaine rose to the position of editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue before deciding to leave Condé Nast. 11

from book

Over the next six years, success followed success. Eva Chen, the beauty and health director at Teen Vogue, elected Elaine as her successor. Four years later, Elaine was named Teen Vogue’s editor, and less than a year after that, she became editor-in-chief. She also reconnected with a childhood friend named Jonathan, one of the nice boys from her church. They got engaged the month she turned 30. Thanks to her promotions at Teen Vogue, Elaine had become what Shonda Rhimes calls an FOD – someone who is First, Only and Different. In her five-year career at Condé Nast, she’d become the youngest editor in the publisher’s history as well as its second black editor. Being an FOD comes with its pressures. Elaine sometimes felt as though she was expected to represent and champion all black people, to give them the voice and visibility that mass media had tended to deny them. She did this as best she could. For example, she wrote what would become a historic cover story featuring the black models Imaan Hammam, Aya Jones and Lineisy Montero. She published a conversation on black pride between singer-songwriter Solange and actress Amandla Stenberg. She facilitated a feature article on cultural appropriation, with singer Willow Smith as its face. Perhaps most importantly, she empowered people behind the scenes. In mainstream media, most photographers and hair stylists are white. But, as Elaine knows, if you want to change the stories, you’ve got to change the storytellers. So, for the cover featuring Amandla Stenberg, Elaine insisted on working with two black stylists, Julia Sarr-Jamois and Lacy Redway. It was refreshing and satisfying to be one of four black women on set that day. Elaine’s career was riding high, and she felt like she was making a positive impact – but then, all of a sudden, the decision came down: Teen Vogue, like so many other print publications, would fold in 2017. Elaine could have remained within the Condé castle and moved to another of the publisher’s magazines. But she’s never been one to avoid risk. And so Elaine chose to leave. Truth be told, she’d begun to feel burnt out. For months, she’d been experiencing physical symptoms associated with severe stress. All those years of hard work had taken her to the top – but they were also taking a toll. Furthermore, she didn’t think her story would end at Condé Nast. Elaine Welteroth is still writing that story. If there’s one moral so far, though, it’s this: she’s done enough, and she is enough. But that doesn’t mean she’s not ready for more.