Oftentimes, society has a cruel and equally strategic way of placing its residents into confined, ribbon-tied boxes, in an effort to discourage abnormal ways of thinking, or thinking outside of the box. As creatives, myself and accomplished writer, Zara Barrie, can relate to the euphoric feeling of challenging the unforgiving norms of society, or, testing how far we can push past the box, until we ultimately break the barrier. Zara describes that her journey as a writer was not a straight and narrow path, as she believed that in order to be a successful writer, she had to fit perfectly inside the academic box. Now, after working for several publications and writing her newest self-help book, Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup: The Bad Girl’s Guide to Getting Your Sh*t Together, she has since learned that good writers do not fit in...anywhere. They’re on the outside. That’s why they write. In this exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to chat with the impeccable creative to discuss her newest book, Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup: The Bad Girl’s Guide to Getting Your Sh*t Together, valuable life lessons she absorbed from her journey as a writer and an individual, and her thoughts on the common stigmas and stereotypes that surround the mental health community.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to pursue a career in journalism?
Zara Barrie: To be fully transparent, I’m blown away that I have a career in journalism and writing. This is never something I expected to happen to me. My grades were a disaster (I day-dreamed my way through school). At the age of eighteen, I left my hometown for a theatre school in Southern California and ended up skipping out after my first year. I thought in order to be a writer you had to fit perfectly inside the academic box (I’ve since learned that good writers do not fit in...anywhere. They’re on the outside. That’s why they write).
However. My entire life I’ve obsessively devoured books and have always found the deepest solace, peace, beauty, connection, glamour, love, excitement, and danger (the good and bad kind) through the written word — so in hindsight, it makes perfect sense that I landed here.
As far as inspiration goes, I didn’t know women could create content that was completely raw and honest about their sexuality, mental health, and the beautiful messiness of their lives until I swiped my mom’s copy of, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. I think I was in the sixth grade when I got my paws on that iconic book and I was floored! Something clicked for me while reading Fear of Flying. I thought to myself, “...Zara, you can do this!” I didn’t think “this” was going to be writing, but I realized right away that I wanted to make art. The moment I saw that a woman’s art didn’t have to be “tidy” or “contrived” — I knew the creative life would be my life.
MM: Can you give an overview of your evolving journey in the journalism field and how it led you to where you are now?
ZB: I believe that my career *actually* started on a teenage social media blog in high school called, Livejournal. It was the early 2000s – long before our parents knew what social media even was, so we never had to worry about them spying on us. I wrote about my life almost every single day throughout the entirety of my high school existence on that little blog. I began to notice that the more honest I was about my experiences and the less I tried to micromanage how I came across, the more my writing resonated with my fellow teens. But, due to my ever-flailing grades, I didn’t think a career in journalism was a possibility so I studied acting, religiously. I still love acting. I ended up becoming a theatre director for a top teen theatre outreach program and loved it. But after a traumatic breakup at twenty-six, I felt hungry for a fresh outlet. I asked myself, “...How did you deal with life before you had wine, chit-chat, and other numbing mechanisms? What did you love to do for the hell of it — before the pressure to ‘make a living’ crushed your spirit?” The answer screamed into my ear: “YOU WROTE, BITCH.”
So I started a blog! And within six months of sharing, writing, and reporting on my very own little blog, I landed a job as a full-time staff writer at Elite Daily. I was quickly promoted to Senior Features Writer and was churning out multiple essays a day about mental health, eating disorders, love, heartbreak, and sexuality! It was amazing. Writer’s boot camp – too many deadlines to be precious. (The best gift you can get as a writer is to learn how to not be precious.)
After about three years, I left Elite Daily to be the Executive Editor of GO Magazine, a popular New York City lesbian magazine. That was really amazing because I’d been reading GO since I was a closeted teenager and it felt so full circle. I loved helping new writers find their voices, but even with a more “behind the scenes” role, I made writing for the site a priority. I continued to pen candid, first-person essays and cultivate my relationship with my readers. That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my career: stay close to my readers. Your readers' opinions and feedback regarding your work is FAR more important than any industry professional, trust me. Plus, jobs in this industry are so fleeting. A fancy title can be snatched from you overnight. A profound, trusting relationship with your readers is something no one can take from you.
I knew it was time to do my own thing after about three years at GO (even though I loved working for GO!) because I’ve always known that I’m meant to be my own boss, execute my own vision, and have creative control. I recently launched my own publication: thecrazysadbabesclub.com – a wellness site for bad girls.
MM: You recently just released your book, Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup: The Bad Girl’s Guide to Getting Your Sh*t Together, congratulations! As this isn’t your everyday self-help book, can you give some insight into where you drew inspiration from while writing your latest masterpiece and who it’s targeted towards?
ZB: First off, thank YOU so much for your kind words! Truly. It’s so vulnerable to have a book in the world. My inspiration to write this book is most definitely derived from my relationship with my readers. I can say with one-hundred-percent realness: they’re my muses. Also, of course, the work of so many badass women drives me: Lana Del Rey, Cat Marnell, and Grace Jones, to name a few. I create the most insane playlists to write to as well. Also, PINTEREST. Images and music are the gasoline on the fire of the creative process.
My book is for: Girls who grew up too fast, creative people with a fire burning inside of them that they haven’t quite learned how to channel into something productive and beautiful and healthy, anyone who feels shackled by shame, people who want to better themselves without losing themselves, anyone hungover, anyone who feels stuck in a hamster wheel they’re desperate to break free of, girls who smoke cigarettes after yoga, boys who couldn’t help but wear blue nail polish to grade school even if they knew they were going to get beat up, party girls, wild-contradictions, anyone who has ever been afraid to feel, anyone who has had their house burned the f down and is ready to rebuild their castle from a point of nothing. Girls who’ve done drugs and slept around, people longing for a connection, over-spenders, anyone blessed with a big imagination who knows there's something better for them, but they aren’t quite sure what that thing is yet. Addicts. Hopeless romantics. Anyone who feels as if they’re flying through outer-space not knowing when or if they’re going to land on solid ground. The girl searching for her purse on her hands and knees at the end of a long night.
MM: What do hope your readers will take away with them after reading, Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup?
ZB: My number one takeaway: FORGIVE YOURSELF.
MM: How did your writing style for, Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup, differ from your work for GO Magazine or your blog?
ZB: To be honest, my writing always has the same voice, the same vibe, the same essence, regardless of the format. I didn’t dramatically shift anything — if anything my writing has always been more suited to books, as I’m one wordy woman. And I’ve always felt that sometimes the internet dumbs down their audience too much. Do you know how many times I’ve been told, “...You need to simplify this for our reader who has no attention span!” If the writing is interesting, it can hold even the most ADHD-ridden, scrolling-addicted human’s attention (I say that as someone with severe ADHD). That being said, writing a book allows you to dive deeper because of the sheer length of it. And, you don’t have to tie anything up in a pretty pink bow in a book. You can dive into the uncomfortable places but you don’t have to come back up for air right as you’re getting to the interesting parts, because you have a 1200 word limit and three ads wedged in-between your words. You can sit at the bottom of the ocean floor for a nice long time in a book.
MM: You are an advocate for the mental health community and continuously share your own experiences through your writing. What are your thoughts on the common stigmas and stereotypes that surround the mental health community, and how can these stigmas be diminished?
ZB: The number one thing I always say is that “wellness” is rooted in truthfulness. I think in mental health land we’re always being slung advice: Meditate. Morning Routines. Yoga. And all of that is great, for sure. I do all of those things (most days). But none of those things are effective if you haven’t confronted your past. Faced the demons of trauma. Examined your eating disorder or the root of your depression and anxiety. It can be really tempting to gloss over those things (and run into the arms of juice-cleansing instead) because they’re wildly uncomfortable, but until you do, you will never heal. Also, every single mental health “expert” still has bad days. They relapse on their own advice. Wellness isn’t linear. But, you don’t have to have perfectly crossed over to the other side of Peacefulness & Tranquility in order to share your story. To have something deeply profound and inspiring to others to say. There is this weird notion, in particular for women, that you have to be fully resolved in your issues in order to discuss them. I think it’s very powerful to discuss your issues as you’re still working through them. There is a raw honesty and profound clarity that comes from being in the thick of it still. So share away. Even if you’re knee-deep in the shit, share. The truth is the only thing that matters. And your truth, even if it’s messy and unresolved, will heal more people than any hack or tip ever will.
MM: If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
ZB: Stop confusing feeling empty with feeling pretty. Feelings won’t kill you, running from them with booze and drugs, can. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you wear jeans with three-inch zippers your shirts will always be crop tops when you so slightly stretch, so stop being outraged that you keep getting detention for wearing a “crop top.”
MM: Have you ever experienced any notable challenges throughout your career?
ZB: Oh my goodness, so many! My first book proposal was rejected by thirty-two top editors from publishing houses! Creative careers are so challenging because art is subjective. I’ve been rejected more times than I can count. But, I swear to my higher-power (Lana Del Rey), if you keep going, the right thing will stick. Just keep creating. You can cry, you can weep, you can question yourself — just keep writing through the discomfort and something will happen.
MM: Do you feel you have a social responsibility with your growing platform?
ZB: Even when I had 100 followers, I felt the weight of social responsibility. In fact, I think I came tumbling out of the womb feeling like I had this strange, social responsibility to use my voice to lift up others. To speak out against hate or bigotry. To be honest about my struggles. It’s not something I think about it, it’s a part of me. I was always the teenage girl getting into heated debates in social studies class over women’s reproductive rights when I was in school. I adhered anti-death penalty pins to backpack in suburbia. I knew being outspoken would render me alienated, but I’ve never been able to help it. The need to fight for what I believe to be right has always been a bigger desire than fitting in.
MM: Who is Zara Barrie, to you?
ZB: A heady, outwardly-glam-inwardly-scrappy, girly girl lesbian, with a SICK, TWISTED sense of humor, and a heart of gold. A girl who gets depressed, sad, and questions everything, but for whatever reason, will not give up.
MM: What would you say your personal style is like?
ZB: Complicated Sad Girl Long Island Teenager meets Park Avenue Chanel Dripping Old Lady. Think giant quilted Chanel purse with scuffed Dr. Marten boots and torn tights. Think crimson red faux fur and pearls with winged black eyeliner and blue-black hair. Think teal hair extensions and acrylics with gaudy gold vintage jewels reeking of an old school Eau de Parfum, like Guerlain’s Shalimar.
MM: Who is your ultimate style icon?
ZB: The Olsen twins, right when they broke free from their poppy tween career and started wearing weird giant oversized dresses with weird giant oversized sunnies and weird giant oversized bags whilst clutching little cigarettes with giant oversized to-go cups of coffee. Somebody call the chic police on that look. File a report.
Photography by: Meghan Dziuma