Anna Wintour, Kelly Cutrone and Why Bitches Will Never Go Out of Style

Hey Glamazons!

Yesterday marked the debut of Kelly Cutrone's new Bravo show, Kell on Earth and today marks the launch of her new book, "If You Have To Cry, Go Outside...And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You." Her character, made famous on MTV's The City, is a melange of qualities made for TV stardom: she's a certified bitch, reminiscent of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and yet, she can be a kind and nurturing mentor as seen in her interactions with Whitney Port. 

With Cutrone as the star, the show promises to be full of bitchy, power struggles between cold, dehumanized bosses and hurried-looking assistants struggling with depression, insanity and bad hair days. Peppered with celeb sightings and New York Fashion Week shows, it's sure to be another addictive Bravo hit.

But it highlights a deeper issue I've faced several times in my career.

If pushed to the limit, I can certainly be a bitch. Exhibit A: If you mess with my siblings, I turn into a tiger with an insatiable desire to beat you into submission (not physically, but you know what I mean). But in general, I'm a friendly, warm, even giggly person.

I like to have fun and get along with people---and my work ethic is very much internally-driven (and kind of psychotic, I would stay at the office until the wee hours night after night) so bitching at me won't make me work any more diligently or effectively. It will only make me resent you. And me being bitchy, when unprovoked, just doesn't come off real (imagine Beyonce trying to curse, something to that effect).

My boss at The Magazine blamed my aversion to 'bitchiness' as a sign of my naiveté. A legend in the the industry, she had worked in Fashion for years at every major publication in the business. She'd styled every celeb from the latest 'It' Girl on the cover of Elle to the old Hollywood royalty that grace the pages of Vogue. She had every photographer worth his weight in film on speed dial. And according to her, she didn't get there by being nice.

Our theories clashed one day when I was fulfilling a last minute request to get robes for a celebrity to be featured on the cover. I had already called in robes and gotten them cleaned, but this celebrity only wore Tommy Hilfiger, a delightful little detail the production team discovered and shared with me the day before the shoot.

So like any trained journalist, I put the harassing skills I learned at my town newspaper to use. I started calling and emailing incessantly to get the robe to our office by 5pm to be sent to LA, which means the messenger would have to pick it up on a rush by atleast 4pm. The Tommy PR guy, who I adore fondly, was doing everything he could to get the particular robe to my office, including calling stores to borrow it (since it wasn't in the showroom). But when I gave my boss an update, she didn't think he was moving fast enough.

She told me to send him an email demanding that we get the Tommy Hilfiger robe right away or all hell (a la Kell on Earth) would break lose. Ugh...okay. I channeled my inner bitch and sent him a message that relayed the urgency and inadvertently, my desperation. I copied my boss, pressed send and proceeded to get back to panicking.

Ten seconds later, literally, my boss calls me in her office. The production manager is there, too. She tells me to sit down and close the door. She folds her arms. Her eyes are glaring and the air in the room is suddenly thick. My mind is racing. Did I remember to pack extra garment bags? Pick up the Ralph Lauren? Give her layout instructions to the Art Director? Order flowers for the Gucci PR Coordinator that just had a baby? I'm near panic attack when she finally begins her rant.

And it's about...my email?

For ten minutes, my boss, who curses out at the minimum one person per day, chastises me about my use of the phrases like "please," "I would appreciate," and "as soon as humanly possible." (According to her, the appropriate word was "NOW!") That was not the way to get ahead in this business and thank God she was there to teach me that now. The production manager, who had become a pseudo-celebrity working in the industry since the 1960's, agreed wholeheartedly. I couldn't have been more confused.

Fast-forward to another job I did writing for a TV show. On Day One, I have the quintessential eager beaver attitude of a new worker, introducing myself to everyone, engaging in small talk and connecting over shared loves of Karl Lagerfeld, Law and Order: SVU and Cold Stone ice cream. And then, I meet my boss. She seems totally normal at first. Long legs, beautiful, silky hair, a cheery voice and a razor-sharp mouth. She likes my writing style and energy and it seems like we are definitely going to hit it off. And then she pulls me to the side and tells me, "Don't take it personal if I say or do bitchy things to you. I'm not evil, just serious about my work."

Well, fortunately for her, I've dealt with a string of bitches in my fashion career and totally know not to take it personal (or rather, respond professionally and firmly and then cry privately in the bathroom). So it wasn't her command that bothered me. It was the tone. She said it as casually as her request to always respond rapidly to the PR people. As if handling her bitchiness in the right manner was simply a job requirement.

So I started thinking about my new boss, my old boss and Tommy Hilfiger-gate...about Anna Wintour, Nina Garcia and Kelly Cutrone....and about how there are few, successful women in this industry who aren't widely regarded as bitches...and I wondered, do we need to be bitches to be successful?

Fashionistas, Beauty Girls and working women in general, what do you think? Fellas, do you have to be tough to be taken seriously? Discuss.




Ashley said...

I definitely think there's a difference between being serious about what you do when you have limited time(like Anna Wintour)... and being an up-and-coming power tripper who think their a*holishness is accomplishing something when it's really not b/c they're mimicking people with reasons... New power is like new money. It's unbecoming. Yes, if you have to cry you should probably take it outside. You have to be tough. You have to be efficient. But there's a difference between that and rude. People like that don't consider that people WILL choose not to business with you or give you as much flexibility if your attitude is wrong. They don't have to. You're not Anna.

Cortney Gift said...

it's a balancing act of flexing on cats and also not taking it personally when they don't get what you need . . . I've been a bit terser with people lately when they are misrepresenting my brand/ lack of communication/ overall disorganized and it's done wonders for results . . . when I pick my battles! :) Sometimes tactless, aloof, and straight B!tch attitude is where it's at!

Beautylicious said...

You should never have to be a bitch in the professional atmosphere, but if you are pushed to the limit, you need to pull that person aside and communicate your issues. I'm far from a bitch in a work atmosphere and more of a bitch in a social atmosphere when pushed to the limit of course. I've had bitchy former bosses and while they are deemed "successful" I notice they share the pattern of being miserable when it comes to home / family life. Karma is a bitch, being a bitch at work being is just allowing the bad karma to come to you.

Elle Are Sea said...

I think it may be a matter of societal perception. A man who takes charge and speaks with authority is getting it done; a woman who does the same is a bitch. Having said that and read your examples, however, I feel that so much more can be accomplished by changing tone and having a fruitful discussion instead of a "bitch-out" session. So many times women in power positions feel threatened by younger women, and vice versa. I also agree with Ashley, though, in that sometimes curtness is mistaken for bitchiness. I say, be who you are, keep on cranking the good stuff out, be proactive and productive and you can get far by not being "bitchy."

Chantal B. said...

AMAZING article. To get ahead in this fast pace industry, HELL EFFIN YES you do need to be a bitc when it comes to work. Aside from that, you still joke with those around you but justify the line of WORK and PERSONAL.

Bernie, COCOACHiC Beauty said...

Let me go to "church" on this one.
"Bitch" in business is not a monolithic characterization. It can range in being applied to the maniacal, egotistical, insecure personas depicted on reality tv and ever-present in certain industries (fashion i.e. Coutura's blog feature "testimony", entertainment, etc). All the way to being applied, simply, to a woman who is Being In Total Control of Herself. It can be subjective. Many people can't decipher and choose to haphazardly mislabel strength and assertiveness as overbearing and aggressive. The messenger is being shot because the receiver doesn't like the message (words, tone, or instruction) or the messenger. I've been on both sides - had wonderful female bosses, married & not, personal issues (I would assume, as who doesn't have them, no one's perfect) and it didn't interfere with business, and they happen to be nurturers. Yet, this didn't mean there weren't times that they were assertive with me. Then I've had bosses you could never please - they take pleasure in humiliating and blocking progress even when you try killing them with kindness - I perceived their home life to be stable, not that this necessarily influences things as some people are adept at separating the two. All this to say that: 1) sometimes when subordinates or colleagues choose to disrespect or discount a point of view, the "bitch" label is convenient as most people don't like to admit when wrong or give credit out of pettiness or competitiveness; also there is a societal proclivity to negatively ascribe black professional women as such; 2) being in business and getting ahead means being firm and this can take on many forms and tones; 3) let's not get it twisted that "bitch" applies only to the boss as I've encountered countless coworkers, peers and even my own direct reports that can be attitudinal without overt cause. No, you don't need to be a "bitch" to get ahead. You need to be comfortable with being firm, not be perceived as a pushover, as people mistake being nice or sweetness for weakness, and be okay with the fact that sometimes people will call you a "bitch" - out of truth, envy, rebellion or ignorance and you reconcile it within your spirit and move on, onward & upward that is. Preaching adjourned.

Total Life Prosperity said...

A very similar situation happened to me and just like you I've found myself confused. Its like where to draw the line between assertive and bitch. Sometimes I feel like black women automatically get thrown into that category as well as the "angry black woman" category when they are demanding. A black company exec told me as a young, black manager I have to be tougher then men. Its hard because I don't want to be treated like a push over, and I dont want to come off as a bitch either...its a tough, ongoing issue I face everyday. Your post inspired me to write one of my own. Check it out: http://totallifeprosperityblog.com/2010/02/04/not-bitching-while-black/
Thanks for sharing!

yummy411 said...

thanks so much for sharing! i love your 'inside' stories!

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