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Teen Vogue sign
Teen Vogue sign
Original photo by Alyana Nurani

The Wonderful Women of the Teen Vogue Summit 2023

Updated Published
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

The carpet is a fluffy pink. Girls in skyscraper heels line up before the tinted-sunglass-wearing security detail. It’s 10:30AM on a cloudy Hollywood Saturday, and Her Campus at UCLA has officially arrived at the Teen Vogue Summit 2023.

I’d never been to a Teen Vogue Summit; all I knew was that a million photo ops, a handful of exciting interviews (Ashley Tisdale! Reneé Rapp!), and violently pouring rain was on the agenda, and I was so ready for it – I even had my poncho on hand. Little did I know, I’d walk away feeling renewed and refreshed to pursue a bold career, and to throw myself into figuring out what that career might be. I’d leave into the dark night (this 4:30PM sunset has me feeling like an angry raccoon) with a new, deep confidence in my future, and a desire to build the most fulfilling career I can. Hopefully, you can take away a similar sense of motivation from my experience!

Teen Vogue’s Editors’ Best Career Advice

I had the privilege of sitting down for a quick chat with Teen Vogue Editor in Chief, Versha Sharma, as well as editor and author, Alyssa Hardy.

Although Sharma is leading this huge event (in the coolest, most Euphoria-ish blue eye makeup), she talks to me like we’re equals. “We wanted to lean into career guidance and mentorship for this summit,” she says. “Young people are always asking, ‘how do I achieve x or y?’” Sharma wants them to know that their options are limitless.

When I ask her about imposter syndrome, she says it’s a constant, “it never goes away”, especially for women and women of color. She pushes through it with her intense work ethic, which she felt comes with being a child of immigrants (I felt that!) and therefore having no family connections, nothing to fall back on but really hard work. She wrote for her local newspaper in high school and was Editor in Chief of her college newspaper. She’s been outworking everyone since day one.

Sharma recently had a baby (the cutest person at the summit by a long shot), and when we discussed her current activism, she spoke about reproductive rights and abortion access. “Especially having gone through childbirth and pregnancy, I can’t imagine being forced to go through that,” she said. Sharma is also invested in the climate crisis – “we’re running out of time, so any progress on that issue is important” – and gun violence in schools. She says she’s reported on too many school shootings; she went to Parkland the day after the shooting, and says that the grief and heartbreak has stayed with her.

On a lighter note, Sharma is looking forward to Teen Vogue’s future. Teen Vogue has been helping women go after their goals for 20 years now, and plans to find new ways to do so. She’s exited to execute multi-platform expansion over the coming years. The social and digital elements are strong, but she wants Teen Vogue to dive into documentaries, docuseries, film and TV. A Teen Vogue Podcast is coming next year, so keep your ears open!

Before I talked to Sharma, I had the chance to speak with the charismatic and passionate Alyssa Hardy. Hardy is focused on sustainable fashion, and the labor ethics that come along with that. “Working at Teen Vogue, I felt a responsibility… to not just [recommend] whatever, to tell the whole story instead of just what looks cute (although I love what looks cute)”. Right now, Hardy is focused on how workers are fighting back against wage theft.

When I asked advice for college women starting their careers, especially writers, she provided a wealth of help for us. “There’s so much out there, so really hone in on your own voice, your own beat and passions. You don’t need to be an expert in everything,” she said. “Read a lot of the type of stories you want to write, and figure out why you like certain stories; is it the narrative writing, the data, the reporting?” Hardy also spoke about the struggles of young writers: “There’s a lot of rejection in the industry, whether it’s a job, whether it’s a story, whether it’s edits… you need to remember that not every rejection is about you, it’s just part of how you grow within this.” When asked what her favorite part of the Teen Vogue Summit was, she said, “Everybody’s outfits! Everyone looks so good!” Hardy was engaged and invested through our whole chat, even with the chaos of being in the bustling backstage area.

Onstage, Versha Sharma and Elaine Welteroth (former EIC of Teen Vogue, Project Runway judge, and author of More Than Enough) sat down for a conversation and Q&A on their careers. Elaine emphasized the importance of finding your mission. “Your purpose is infinite, and will always be rooted in your personal mission”. Clearly, the editors of Teen Vogue believe that we each have something unique and valuable to offer the world.

Heartwarming and Empowering Celeb Interviews

On the colorful outdoor stage, under a huge, greenhouse-like tent, Teen Vogue editors interviewed celebrities as we listened from the audience, eating our food-truck French fries and, in my case, writing down quotes that spoke to me.

First up was Dylan Mulvaney. The rain was thunderous on the roof of the tent at points throughout the interview, but Dylan had the energy to top the noise, speaking animatedly about tuning out hate and criticism, and about the importance of finding a circle of people to lean on in tough times. Dylan spoke about choosing brands that will support queer people outside of pride month, and hinted at upcoming acting projects.

Dylan Mulvaney interviewed at Teen Vogue Summit
Original photo by Alyana Nurani

Next up was Aoki and Kimora Lee Simmons. I’ve always dodged high heels because I’m five foot ten and so often feel like the Ghostbusters marshmallow man next to my friends, but these women have me reconsidering my flat-footed ways. I have never seen a taller, cooler mother-daughter duo in my life. They spoke on differentiating themselves from each other through openness and honesty, and the impact social media has had on the modelling industry. Social media has torn down exclusivity, but for some (especially models) it has also created the need to look good, all the time. Watching Aoki tease Kimora about her lack of social media-savvy really humanized these celebs; they were just like any mother-daughter pair.

The last major interview was with the one and only Sharpay Evans, aka Ashley Tisdale. The shrieks when she stepped onto the stage practically blew my eardrums out, and it was awesome. She spoke about entrepreneurship, and the struggles and ultimate reward that came with creating her wellness company, Frenshe. She discussed her mental health struggles, and the importance of taking time to take care of yourself and carve out your rituals into busy days. When asked how she juggles it all (family, social media, work, etc.), she said that she honestly doesn’t know! She’s still learning to make it all work, just like we all are. And of course, Tisdale spoke about her iconic Y2K fits (the dresses over jeans? The pink feather boa? It was an era.), and how funny it feels to have them blow up now. When she chose those outfits, she said, she was truly just marching to the beat of her own drum.

Ashley Tisdale interviewed at Teen Vogue Summit
Original photo by Alyana Nurani

Performances And Perks

In between interviews, we wandered the stands set up for Teen Vogue Summit’s various sponsors. There was a booth to register to vote, booths for The Body Shop and Buxom cosmetics. The National Women’s Law Center was raising awareness for the need to update and strengthen Title IX, and our favorite Coach pop-up truck was giving out those killer lattes (killer, I mean, because I keep inhaling the mountain of cinnamon off the top like I’m doing the 2012 cinnamon challenge). Coffees in hand, we hurried back to the stage for a performance.

When Coco Jones stepped onstage in my favorite fit of the event – a long, light pink skirt and top with a metallic pink snakelike tube wrapped around the waist and neck – I knew she was going to blow us away. After a performance that had the audience screaming at her resounding, powerful high notes, Jones sat down for an interview to talk about her recent successes (5 Grammy nominations!) and her best advice for people chasing their dreams. She encouraged us all to work towards our goals with confidence and resilience. “Get crazy about what you love and get consistent about you love”, she said. “Success, to me, is doing something rather than nothing.”

Closing the show with a bang was none other than the multi-talented Reneé Rapp. I knew she could sing, I knew she could act, but I had no idea how funny she’d be. In her interview, she cracked joke after joke, sending the audience into hysterics when she explained that her first celebrity crush was Justin Bieber because he looks like a lesbian. She touched on heavy subjects like eating disorders and understanding her queerness with her signature aloofness and big grin, interrupting herself to respond to every “I love you” from the audience with an “I love you” back.

Rapp spoke about touring, making another album, and of course, the upcoming (and HIGHLY anticipated) Mean Girls musical film. Rapp said she made sure to make Regina George “a likeable bitch”, which is all we could have asked from her. She then goofed around with her band and performed songs from her album, Snow Angel, including “Talk Too Much” and “Tummy Hurts”, and the crowd lost their minds (rightfully so). There couldn’t have been a more positive, fun end to the Teen Vogue Summit 2023.

Renee Rapp performing at Teen Vogue Summit
Original photo by Alyana Nurani

My Major Takeaway

Personally, seeing these women excel in careers they clearly love while simultaneously having thriving, well-rounded family lives reminded me of the type of woman I want to become. The doom and gloom that comes with the thought of entering the workforce has been temporarily dispelled. There is a way to create a life you truly enjoy; it’s half about developing the passion and half about developing the grindset (what an atrocious alpha male term, but it had to be used).

The Teen Vogue Summit 2023 was more than just booths, speakers, and photo ops. It made me feel like a total girlboss (non-derogatory) in the making. It was a mental reset on my career. So often in college, I sit in an echo-chamber of career complaints – “I don’t have any passions, this is too hard, I didn’t get the internship I wanted, how is this major going to get me a job anyway” – so to be in a room filled with women who had the opposite mindset was revitalizing. Stepping off the fluffy pink carpet, I felt settled into myself. Ready to take on finals, my degree, my career. We can create our futures, and we can make them unimaginably exciting.

Alyana is a third-year English and philosophy student at UCLA, from Toronto, Canada. She is the Editor in Chief of HC at UCLA. She loves stories in all forms, whether that be watching coming-of-age films, getting lost in a book, or putting on a show. You can also catch her playing team sports and crocheting plants in her free time.