SoCool & SoCosmo: A Conversation With Hearst Beauty Director Leah Wyar Romito

Confession: I’m a beauty-holic.

I’ve WebMD-ed the definition and am officially declaring a formal diagnosis. With a decade’s worth of Cosmopolitan beauty articles memorized and backlogged, I’m convinced I deserve a PhD in all things hair, nails and makeup.

Bad breakout? Say bye, b*tch to sugar. Oily skin? Just learn the power of powder (Laura Mercier Baking Powder, it’s life changing…trust me!). Blowout season? A round brush gives a bombshell bounce!

With Cosmopolitan as my beauty textbook, chatting with Hearst's Executive Beauty Director was the ultimate take on office hours. Not gonna lie guys, I totally freaked; how cool?!

In an exclusive, 30-minute interview, beauty maven, business mogul and star of American Beauty Star, Leah Wyar Romito gave me the full rundown. From internship advice to insider secrets, check out what the trendsetting, beauty guru had to share!

SH: If you could go back and tell your 20-year-old self one thing, what would it be?

LWR: Buckle up! When you are a 20-year-old, you’re living for the moment; but you’re also thinking about what’s to come—and what’s going to be in your future. You’re not prepared for anything until you are living it in a fast-paced manner. When you graduate, you are thrown into this fast and unpredictable world. All your life you’re in grade school, and you know you’re going to junior high. You’re in junior high, and you know you’re going to high school. You’re in high school, and you know you’re going to college. You can’t see past graduation day—It’s like a black hole! There’s nothing that is predictable about the next step.

It was very uncomfortable for me because I was such a planner. I like to know what’s happening next; but you just don’t know—so buckle up and enjoy the process! Eventually, you will be employed and you will decide what your passion is. Go hard and make that dream come true.

It sounds scary, but I say that as a positive thing—it’s all going to be fine! Will you have a level of stress? Yes, you have to have it. It’s what motivates you. It’s what teaches you. But, if you’re just going crazy, you’re not enjoying it.  You don’t want to look back and regret that you didn’t find something enjoyable in the process.

SH: As someone going through the internship process right now, I’m curious: What leaves a lasting impression?

LWR: Something that comes to you in a generic way never catches your eye. Do what nobody else does—set yourself a part. There’s a part in all of us that wants to know that you did your homework. That’s super important. Personalize your message; get out what you need to say.

SH: How have you navigated the world of magazine journalism and gotten to where you are now (Executive Beauty Director at Cosmo—amazing!)? To what or who do you attribute your career success?

LWR: There are two people: Colleen Sullivan and Joanna Coles. Colleen was the first person to hire me. At the time, she was the beauty editor of Health Magazine. She took a chance on me. She hired me when I didn’t have a degree in journalism or any magazine internship. I think she intuitively knew that we would click and work well together. She really wanted somebody to help her with anything. She was willing to be open-minded and take a chance at training somebody. 100%, I owe her so much. She taught me the lay of the land. She taught me not just the editorial side of magazines, but the business side of magazines. To be honest with you, my biggest strength is knowing how to make money off of what we do. I think most of that is because of her training.

The second person, of course, is Joanna Coles. As you’re rising through your career, you have peaks and valleys. You hit these milestones; it’s easy for a little bit and then you need to set another goal. As you go up the hill, the peaks become less steep. With history and time, you know how to do your job. After a while, you say, “you know, I’ve really done what I can do in this area, what’s my next big goal?” Joanna made me realize that you never stop learning and you never stop reinventing—especially in magazines right now.

SH: How have Joanna and the Cosmo team adapted to the changing landscape of journalism?

LWR: It’s all about innovation—only the innovative will survive at this point. Joanna reinvented my last five years. She’s completely changed how I approach my edit product. We do everything in a faster, more efficient and more innovative way. Joanna opened up so many doors for me; it’s such an important part of being a person of her level to try to open doors. Joanna is a mastermind at making people as important as they can be.

SH: Having a sneak peak into Cosmo’s offices through SoCosmo absolutely mesmerizes me—I see what you’re saying about Joanna’s motivating leadership style. What’s it like to have a show following this process?

LWR: The truth is, we all have watched reality shows…there’s an element of manufacturing. But, Joanna is true and authentic. SoCosmo shows her pushing us; she is tough but fair. She makes sure we are never resting and cruising—that we are always trying to think of the next, big thing. She manages in a way that is so inspiring—she pushes you to be better than you are right now.

SH: What is the biggest challenge in your job?

LWR: I now work with five magazines, not just Cosmo (Spoiler alert! This story comes out next episode!). The managing aspect is a lot harder. The new obstacle is finding pockets of downtime to allow the creative process to happen. I am constantly executing and making decisions. Meetings with team members and editors take up much of my day—it’s hard to find time to be creative and think of a big idea.

My husband told me to practice calendar hygiene. Which means: I need to clean out my calendar and make time for those pockets of downtime. As you move up, you are constantly people pleasing and trying to go to every meeting. But, at some point, it becomes so overwhelming that it paralyzes you from actually implementing the big-thinking type things. You have to almost say, “No I’m not going to go to that meeting.” You have to learn to carve out time for yourself.

SH: In your new job, I'm sure reporting to multiple editors-in-chief and Joanna Coles (Hearst's Chief Content Officer and former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan!) can get to be overwhelming. 

LWR: The key to dealing with people who are above you is to create a relationship with them. You need to feel that they are listening to you. You need to feel that they have confidence in you so that you can be honest and give constructive feedback. And that takes time—it’s not going to happen overnight.